I've been hankering for a Metroidvania game lately, so when the latest Steam Next Fest kicked off earlier this week, I was specifically searching for search-action games about stacking combat and exploration upgrades. Steam's trending list quickly led me to Afterimage, a 2D Chinese fantasy Metroidvania with copious amounts of Hollow Knight in its DNA – not a bad thing since Hollow Knight is my favorite game of all time – and it has been delighting my eyeballs and kicking my butt cheeks this afternoon.
I've barely dipped my toes into Afterimage through its Steam demo, but I've seen enough to look forward to its full release, currently scheduled for April 25. Developer Aurogon Shanghai has cooked up a visually stunning action game about a girl named Renee exploring a shattered world abandoned by its gods. Environments are fall-over gorgeous; vibrant and exquisitely layered streams of color and imagination. There's a quaking ancientness to the world, and it's filled with a mix of imposing and endearing critters. I don't have a good handle on the story yet, but Renee and her sprite friend Ifree are likable, especially with Chinese voices enabled.
It's also filled with really, really hard bosses, as I learned after roughly 30 minutes. The first boss is a pushover wolf with like three attacks, and I was honestly a little worried after fighting it. Slashing a dude three times and then tactically backing up two feet when it signals heavily telegraphed attacks didn't exactly set my soul ablaze. But the first proper boss has been turning my entrails into extrails for most of my demo time, and that's with me dumping every skill point I've got into upgrades and equipping the best armor and sword I've collected. I even found a side boss to unlock the dash – which really should be available from the start of the game – and hoarded some health potions since my Hollow Knight-style focus heal is a little weak and only good for one shot.
Alas, I've had to reclaim experience dropped on death at least a dozen times now, but I'm getting closer to victory each time. I'm reaching this boss's second phase more regularly and even got her down to about 15% health on one attempt. The win will be sweet, and it will be mine.
The fact that I'm already so determined to keep playing Afterimage is a big point in its favor. It feels good to control (and recognized my Switch Pro controller perfectly), and I can tell from skill tree upgrades featuring scythes, greatswords, whips, dual blades, and elemental magic that I've just scratched the surface. I was hooked purely by the visuals to begin with, but it's got a surprising amount of game on its bones. This one's going straight on the Steam Wishlist, which is really what Next Fest is all about. You've got until February 13 to try the demo yourself.
Here's another unexpected Chinese Steam hit: a live-action prison break game.