Ultros is an upcoming “psychedelic metroidvania” that takes place aboard a “cosmic uterus” called The Sarcophagus and it’s just as crazy as it sounds.
Players take on the role of Ouji who’s described as a “sojourner”, she’s an outsider there to mess up the status quo on the ship housing the demonic entity Ultros. Along the way, players will encounter horrific fauna, beautiful flora, and a handful of NPCs who’ve built their lives around Ultros and The Sarcophagus.
Gameplay in Ultros takes place in “loops”. It’s almost like a roguelike, as progress is virtually reset after every leg of the adventure. After slaying a boss, players will dispatch a sleeping “Shaman” which awakens Ultros before going back to try again, however the Shaman stays dead. The goal is to explore the The Sarcophagus and slay all the Shamans while discovering the secrets of Ultros, its caretakers, and the significance of its birth.
If the plot sounds vague and weird, that’s because it is. The aesthetics of Ultros are like David Cronenberg meets Vaporwave and I mean this as a high compliment. It’s gross, colorful, unsettling, and at times kind of regal. Not to be outdone by the visuals, the soundtrack is amazing too and ranges from ethereal vibes when exploring to these high octane techno beats during boss fights.
Similar to the strange aesthetics, the story is equally unnerving. There’s only a few sapient characters wandering the cosmic uterus and they tend to speak in metaphor and prophecy. There’s clearly something going on, and we’re relevant to the story, but we don’t yet understand our significance. Time will tell if this opaque story is worth all the exploration.
Combat is melee-focused with the player only making short-range attacks. Small enemies can be juggled and slammed into other enemies for extra damage. You can grind enemies for meat which can be used to heal and also to gather nutrients.
Nutrients are used to unlock abilities in your Cortex which is like a skill tree. These appear to mostly be quality of life changes like additions to your combo or some new moves. Big upgrades like double jump have to be reacquired every loop but things remain mostly in the same place. These loops are more of a narrative device than an actually limiting gameplay mechanic.
Ultros also has more than a bit of puzzle solving. Along your journey, you’ll collect seeds which can be planted and have a variety of effects. All of them produce fruit which gives health and nutrients, but some can help solve puzzles and will require some skill when the planting locations are in the walls or ceiling. For instance one pathway was blocked by gears which were destroyed when I planted a tree in the ceiling above them, the trunk of the tree pierced through the barrier and allowed me through.
Ultimately Ultros is an exploration and narrative heavy metroidvania with an aesthetic and music that sets it apart from its peers in the genre. While the combat takes some skill, the exploration is more interesting in my opinion. I’m looking forward to the full release next year.
Ultros is set to release February 13, 2024, for Microsoft Windows (through Steam) and PlayStation 4.