Certain shortcomings prevent this game from being a great Metroidvania, such as obnoxious bosses, a few quirks with the controls, and difficulty navigating in Max’s mind.
Genres: Metroidvania, Platformer
Developer: Redblack Spade
Publisher: Redblack Spade
Release Date: 20 May, 2021
I’m always on the lookout for upcoming games that might be interesting to review, and that’s how Fearmonium (FM) came across my radar. It caught my attention right away because it looks downright weird, perhaps drawing some inspiration from Cuphead with its aesthetic. However, FM makes me think more along the lines of the black and white Betty Boop era. Although the title includes the word fear, the trailer didn’t make the game look scary, but more like a mind screw. Since I still have some sanity to hold onto, let’s dive headfirst into the circus.
I wouldn’t have associated this visual style with a Metroidvania, but the world would be dull if it followed what I expected. Either way, it has many of the features you’d come to expect out of this genre. Save points act as teleports for convenient travel, new areas introduce different hazards and enemies, and in order to get all of the secrets and fully explore you have to unlock and make use of a variety of abilities. Some of these can be used freely, such as the ground pound, but others drain your stamina, like the wave dash. Additionally, since other clowns are your allies, you can obtain their assistance in combat, but using them draws from the same stamina pool as your other moves. With them serving different roles, it’d have been nice for each to have their own cool-down system.
Although there seems to be some variance on whether you obtain all the potential secrets and upgrades available to you with your current gear, FM is quite linear as far as when you’ll fight the bosses. With each of the bosses granting a new move, such as a double-jump or slide dash, it opens up new possibilities and routes that were previously blocked off. This somewhat dictates when you’ll explore areas as well, since many of them are inaccessible as you first start checking them out.
The opening screens show that it’s recommended to play FM with a controller, which would have been my choice even if it didn’t help with anxiety. With new abilities and moves slowly but consistently unlocking as you play, outlining all of the moves and controls isn’t very useful. Either way, I’d say that the controls are a mixed bag. For the gameplay and challenges presented, I wouldn’t say that the controls will hinder someone’s progress, though it might disrupt it. For example, intermittently while bashing enemies with the mallet, my attacks would get turned around and suddenly face away. Some abilities seem overly sensitive, such as the ground pound, while the slide dash feels unresponsive. I and others have managed with the controls well enough, but I’d really like to see some adjustments made.
The setting of FM is rather abstract, as you play a female clown that’s stoking an old fear of clowns in the mind of a young male named Max, and the only way you’ll become powerful enough to be a phobia is to travel in his mind and twist his memories into bleak, dour nightmares. Max isn’t quite young enough that ruining his life is disgusting, but with him only in his teenage years, it’s nonetheless still pretty disturbing. You’ll meet a few prominent NPCs, with Lady Depression being the most distinct and important. Other NPCs vary in quality, with some being annoying due to their overly wordy, long-winded dialogues. I think condensing how many there were in the game, but maintaining their importance all the way through would have given more prominence to them. For example, Felix started off strong, but disappeared shortly after joining you.
The blend of an early era cartoon design works pretty well with youthfulness, and many of the settings and images fit into the mind of a young male. An aspect that didn’t make sense to me was that as a phobia, many of the enemies you fight are supposed to be pleasant memories. However, many of them aren’t shown in a way that’d look inviting or comforting to a kid, being far creepier than a clown with a mallet. With that in mind, the quality of the aesthetics ranges from not bad to fairly ugly, with the comic book panels being one of the worst looking parts. Since it’s not drawn very well, it doesn’t wind up carrying the tone that was intended. Aside from the rough sections, the visuals will catch people’s eye, like was the case for me.
Unlike the graphics, I wouldn’t say the music is unsettling or spooky. It does have a moodiness to it that leans toward being dour, which helps build the unhappy atmosphere, yet it wouldn’t cause a shiver to run up your spine. When I listened to the music, I couldn’t figure out what the source was for the notes, so I can only conclude it comes from a sound effect system. I think it fits the game’s dynamics well enough, but with some of the sounds being a hair grating, I can’t say I particularly enjoy the OST. The sound effects suit the game too, such as the breaking lights, fireworks, and when you take damage.
- Mental health has been the subject of quite a few games, especially regarding the dark and unpleasant aspects of life. However, FM carves own its own niche, feeling enough like its own thing to be distinct.
- The creepiness and weirdness of FM is conveyed well through its visuals.
- If you’re able to find them, there’s a decent amount of upgrades.
- There were times I had no idea where I needed to go, and even after checking all of the dead-ends I could see on the map, had to pay for the hint system. So, on the one hand, it proves itself useful, while on the other hand, shows that the game may be a bit clunky if it’s needed.
- Upgrading all of the abilities would take a lot of needless grinding, especially as you might buy some refills on items.
- I hate how slow the slide dash is. If that’s how Mega Man controlled, people would be incensed.
- Enemy behavior is very consistent, so once you understand how they function, you can follow their pattern and counter them. A few are rather easy if you simply duck their attacks. Even then, killing every enemy sometimes isn’t the best choice, as running past them is easier and will reserve more of your HP.
- At first, I thought the secondary weapons were going to be lackluster or worthless, but I found them almost necessary in order to beat many bosses. Fighting them with the mallet only would have been quite hard.
- It might be worthwhile to take some notes of obstacles you can’t get past, since several of them are pretty out of the way.
The game developer doesn’t think their own game is that hard, and I can understand why. The platforming doesn’t require overly precise jumps, enemies have simple attacks to figure out, there’s several upgrades to find, and there’s some optional hand-holding available if you’re willing to pay for it. However, as FM has almost entirely been made by only one person, I think they’ve lost perspective on the ways it can be hard. You lose all progress if you die in-between save points, and there’s very infrequent ways of regaining lost health since enemies don’t drop health pick-ups, so it’s incredibly easy to die before you get to the next save point. Especially since blind players won’t know the right ways to go.
For many boss fights, I was on a trend of beating them on my second attempt, until the bully boss acted as a sudden brick wall. That happened immediately after I’d scoured the map for missed secrets, so I’d already exhausted my attempts to get anymore upgrades. A few of the other bosses were also challenging at first, though ironically due to an OP ability that grants invulnerability, I was able to one-shot the last 3 bosses. If it weren’t for this ability though, I’m positive I would have rage quit, because the bosses in the latter half aren’t designed you hitting them with your mallet, but heavy use of secondary weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the bosses halted someone’s progress in FM, and think they need some recalibrating. The developer has made a few changes to FM already based on feedback, and this isn’t a bad showing for a first ever Metroidvania. If you dig the weird, and don’t mind some rough spots and difficult bosses, I think you might enjoy FM.