Ultros is a stunningly beautiful metroidvania that manages to excel at tying together a meaningful story about environmentalism and a game that's delightful to play.
Beautiful art style
Extractor tool can be finicky to use
Enraged animal bosses can be easy to defeat
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Platform reviewed: PlayStation 5
Available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC
Release date: February 13, 2024
In some faraway sector of the cosmos lies a strange spaceship, emanating colorful clouds of light and encircled by projections of swimming fish. There is a mystery surrounding this odd relic, and your job in the bright metroidvania game of Ultros, developed by Hadoque, is to uncover it and find a way out of the beautiful cycle in which the ship has you and all its inhabitants trapped.
After crash landing onto this strange ship, you soon find out that it isn’t really a ship but a giant cosmic uterus named The Sarcophagus that is holding an ancient, demonic being known as ULTROS. The only way to prevent this evil being from being unleashed on the universe is to relive a cycle over and over again, each time killing off one of the slumbering ancient beings that are found in The Sarcophagus, which gives the demon power.
Inside the spacecraft, you’ll find a vibrant ecosystem home to various strange beasts and flora. You can harvest fruit that is scattered around the multiple levels of the ship and use it to replenish health and acquire new skills. You’ll also come across various kinds of seeds that you can plant in fertile patches across the map. These will provide more food to consume and can give you a helping hand in all kinds of ways. For example, during my time navigating the maze-like levels in Ultros, I have found myself using berries to remove walls of mechanical cogs and give me a platform to access higher levels. Both are incredibly useful means to unlock new areas of the map to explore.
It’ll take you quite a while to explore everything Ultros has to offer with its expansive levels and sprawling tunnels - many of which hide secrets; there’s always more to find and plenty to do in this metroidvania. There are also distinctive sections that vary slightly in their appearance. For example, there’s the Geggamoja Refinery, which is full of sharp spinning blades, rivers of orange liquid, and industrial architecture. Then, there’s the Temple of Motherhood, which resembles a peaceful garden full of maternal statues and ancient relics.
Exploring everything that lies in Ultros is a joy; the art style is breathtaking, and the map design encourages you to make your own way around the ship, completing the main story and finding plenty of hidden secrets as you go.
Food or foe
While it is lovely to wander around the levels in Ultros, it isn’t always easy. Almost every room is home to some kind of creature, and at the end of the day, these beasts are wild animals, so taming them isn’t simple. But killing them isn’t always the only way forward.
Equipped with only a small hunting blade, the ‘Unrest Tanto’, you have only a few ways to defend yourself. Early on, you are taught the basics of quick and heavy attacks, as well as how to dodge and strike in a combo move; these basics will see you through most of the fights. However, you can also access new combos like ground-pounds or jump kicks via the game’s skill web. Luckily, the controls are smooth and easy to master.
The lady in red, a huntress known as Vasa, is an integral part of you honing your abilities as a player. It took longer than I’d like to admit to defeat her, but once I did, I was proud of myself.
Oftentimes, it's easy to ignore using combo attacks in games, opting for button mashing as a substitute. But, instead of allowing players to take the easy way out, Ultros encourages combos for the sake of the animals that you kill. Killing creatures with the same attack over and over will poison them, making their death more painful. But if you can mix up your attacks using different combos, it will prevent the creature from becoming poisoned.
Sometimes, you are forced to kill animals to progress to the next room, to attain food and health, or just because if you let them be, they’ll kill you. The deeper you venture into Ultros, the more aggressive and powerful the creatures become. This also means that some of the weaker animals at the first stages become less of a threat, so you can leave them be. There’s even a skill you can acquire that masks your scent, meaning you can pass through hordes of low-level creatures unnoticed unless you begin attacking them.
Most of the creatures in Ultros aren’t too dangerous to handle; however, before you can enter the chamber of a sleeping ancient, the beings that power Ultos, you’ll have to defeat an enraged beast. These act like bosses in Ultros and boast their own special abilities. They'll often require new skills to be defeated. Maybe you’ll have to master quick and successive combo attacks, dodge incoming projectiles, or simply climb on the beast's back to access a weak point. Every time I encountered one of these animals, it took me a couple of body hits to figure out which patterns and strategies I could use to get the kill. After doing this, defeating the beasts became relatively straightforward.
The moral of the story
It’s easy to see the overarching theme of environmentalism in Ultros. Be it the respect that each creature demands or the fact that players are encouraged to sow seeds and not just take and devour resources, you can’t help but feel like you’re working with the ecosystem rather than against it.
Developer Hadoque has ensured Ultros has a fantastic range of accessibility features. There are ways to blur the background or decrease the saturation of the vivid and bright colors, making it easier to focus on the character. There is also an option to change the subtitle font from cursive.
Ultros isn’t without fault. One of the tools you access towards the beginning of the game is an extractor. This item gives you the power to double jump and can have extensions added to it, which will help you traverse The Sarcophagus, whether that be cutting down plants or propelling you through the air. Unfortunately, the extractors felt finicky to use at times, especially when using a controller.
Some of the fights also felt relatively simple thanks to the heavy reliance on a small number of set pieces, which became predictable. However, it is still a fantastic metroidvania and a real credit to the imagination of the developers at Hadoque.
My time in Ultros was thrilling; it was immensely enjoyable to immerse myself in this mysterious and psychedelic world. Even after spending hours exploring The Sarcophagus, I’m ready to head back in, knowing that in some long-lost corner of the map, I’ve left a rock unturned.
Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.