Anytime I can get a whiff of a Metroidvania style game on a show floor like PAX I am there. I’m very glad I got to make time to explore Worldless, the first game from No Name Studio, published by Thunderful & Coatsink. Much like most Metroidvanias today, it’s much more than “is it like Metroid?” or “is it like Castlevania?” Worldless scratches that exact itch but goes beyond it to define a really interesting mesh of those ideas into something very fresh.
It’s visually very minimalist, hopefully conveyed by the screenshots here. You play as a femme figure that appears as just simple lines connected in the shape of person when exploring, but becomes a more fully realized body in moments of action. This plays into the world and enemy design too, all giving the first impression of simple shapes that take form when combat lights up or when things get more intense, which I loved. In a crowd, everything visual stands out in Worldless, and was very memorable, and considering there was no name, no defining “character design” of the protagonist, this is an artistic achievement to me.
Where the Metroidvania influence comes in is just in the exploration, moving left to right on that 2D plane and finding things that help make you stronger or enhance your traversal. It was just a timed demo on the floor, so in fifteen minutes I found some small upgrades that would let me unlock new combat skills in a skill tree, and then one major mobility upgrade that let me dash a pretty good distance in any direction, including straight up. After finding this I was able to get around significantly easier, and just exploring the very simple but responsive environment really clicked for me. I just couldn’t get enough of the super simple but super compelling visual style.
Now combat is where things get really interesting. Worldless mixes real time and turn-based combat. The few basic enemy fights I saw early on were ones I could start or just avoid. When starting the fight, we would volley back and forth between my turn and the enemy’s. When it’s your turn, you can use a basic physical and magical lightning attack as much as possible while a three-ish second time limit meter ticks down at the bottom of the screen. Later on in the demo, after exploring the skill tree a bit, I unlocked a second ice magical attack. Different enemies might have different elemental or physical weaknesses, and it seemed like some enemies would make themselves vulnerable after they exhausted themselves in their attacks too.
The pace is similar in the enemy combat phase, with the enemy pummeling you as much as they can while on a time limit all while you alternate between a physical and a magic guard. There seemed to be tells, almost like Punch-Out, where depending on where a glint appeared above the enemy that would give you a hint as to whether magic guarding or guarding with your shield would be better for the attack, but I’ll be honest, I did not pick up on the timing in the limited demo. I got hit a lot. It was pretty forgiving, either because it was early on in the game, or just because it was a demo. I did get to the very last fight of the demo, the only mandatory fight, and it seemed like a big boss with a lot to learn and strategize around, where its weakness would rotate depending on the position the creature was in.
The goal in each fight was focused around weakening or disabling the enemy enough to absorb their power. If you failed the fight you wouldn’t game over, you’d just be kicked out of it back into exploring to try again if you like. By absorbing an enemy, you’d get points to put into your skill tree, unlocking new abilities like a parry and new magical and physical attacks. Worldless’ visuals left a really strong impression on me, and mechanically it was a very refreshing mix of RPG and exploration that honestly was unlike anything I saw at PAX.
I’m really interested in the scope of Worldless and to see what combat and exploration looks like after a few more upgrades. Whatever shape the game takes when it comes out in 2023, I’m excited to see it.