We'll start with a relatively arbitrary grouping and say that the Spanish have a huge amount of passion in the gaming industry. The recent metroidvania Blasphemous was pervasive quality and is still supported to this day. It's not the only one on our list though, as the Iberian Peninsula has given us gems and landmark titles like the Commandos series or with Runaway during a difficult time for point'n'click adventures, as well as underrated titles like Lords of Xulima. So it's no wonder that Souldiers from Spain's Retro Forge Games is brimming with quality and is a clear contender for metroidvania of the year, given Team Cherry's silence on its long-awaited title, Silksong.
Already from the beginning the game predisposes with its chibi Japanese aesthetics: the depiction of miniature characters is quite common in the land of the Rising Sun, as we saw in Octopath Traveler. As a result, I personally had a subconscious and direct comparison with the excellent Celeste despite being completely different genres and in how they deal with the platforming element. You see, Souldiers is a metroidvania that emphasizes both the combat and the platforming element (as it should anyway?) without focusing exclusively on the latter like the pure platformer Celeste. The story starts off quite simplistically with the battalion we belong to being cut off from the main regiment and trapped in a cave after an earthquake. Suddenly, a Valkyrie comes as a deus-ex machina to rescue us, transporting us to the world of Terragaya the world/dimension that lies between the world of the Living and the Dead. Here we are called upon to face a major threat as a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.
It is more than obvious that Souldiers has been made with great care and attention. Unlike other metroidvania where we have a hero who progressively acquires his entire skillset or who gives us some flexibility from builds (e.g. Hollow Knight), the game is differentiated in that we have three classes to choose from: scout, archer, caster. These three archetypes are nothing different from what we are used to, but they carry their own abilities and weaknesses that make the gameplay quite different each playthrough. However, this is only one aspect of it since the game has both items and abilities that we add to our arsenal and balance things out in terms of character weaknesses. Of course this didn't diminish the fact that the Caster, despite being perhaps the weakest class, is also the one that can "cheese" quite a few encounters in many cases.
Of course, like any self-respecting metroidvania, Souldiers gives gradual improvements and gives extra incentives to revisit different areas. The backtracking for the duration of the preview build we tested (a not so petty 10% of the game or so) was very bearable with the Dragon Sword checkpoints helping immensely as points of teleportation from one point on the map to another. In contrast to its cartoonish visual approach, the game's combat is quite robust and precise adopting elements seen in e.g. Blasphemous (dodge is your friend) combined with a resistance-weakness system. Enemies depending on their type can have different resistances and weaknesses to different elements of nature which can enhance our attacks. As expected, these are not unlocked immediately but rather as the plot progresses, adding a fair challenge at the beginning and reducing the grind later on.
I can say that I'm extremely excited about what I saw in Souldiers. Although it starts off quite slow by Hollow Knight standards, the game has a huge amount of soul (pun not intended). The pixel art grabs you and you can't help but love what you see on the screen. The mechanics are pretty tight and its combat is solid. The only element that requires some familiarity is inventory management but even in this aspect, there is a wealth of information given to the player to help them understand what exactly is best for their chosen build. Souldiers releases on June 2 and is already on track to be one of the best indie titles we'll see this year.