I’m not the kind of guy to go around calling games soulless, but in this case I don’t want to waste time. A.R.E.S. is a miserable, joyless experience hacked together from a gross misunderstanding of all that is good about platformers. It does nothing well, is thick with boneheaded design choices, and won’t even last you much more than an hour even if you DID enjoy it. I feel like that should be enough to ward anyone off of it, but just to be sure I’ll happily dig further into the trash pile this game is.
A.R.E.S. refers to you, the lucky combat cyborg sent to the JUNK SECTOR to save it from a mysterious robot-corrupting gas. JUNK SECTOR is a space station of literal garbage, through which you will blast robots and crates to reach some tiny anime scientist and unravel the mystery of the evil space fart. Along the way you will find new weapons, loads of literal garbage to upgrade them with, a whole mess of unimportant characters, and a really bad rendition of the plot of Prometheus. And buddy, we’re just getting started.
Platforming through JUNK SECTOR is stiff, awkward, and features little variety. Most of the levels consist of hallways full of crates to jump over or shafts of platforms to scale. You start with a double jump and a roll but your character drops like a stone and the roll is over a static distance so don’t expect any fluid maneuvers here. There are plenty of enemies to blast and you can do so with free range of aiming, dispatching most in just short bursts. Enemies tend not to be very threatening (even on the base difficulty of Hard) unless there’s no room to deal with them, which is a common issue with the cramped levels and zoomed-in camera.
Shooting things or locating hidden items earns you salvage, three kinds of junk currency you can use to make items or upgrade your weapons. This unfortunately is way more of a hassle than you might be thinking because there are no health or ammo pickups, you have to craft healing items and grenades. Yes, that means you can cripple your ability to upgrade gear if you’re having trouble with the game, or lock yourself out of items if you want to squeak out an upgrade without a buffer. Grenades are pretty important too because they’re used to access the game’s secret areas and are used to air dash, for some inconceivable reason.
On the other hand you can break the bosses by crafting dozens of healing items and mashing them into your metal body every few hits. You won’t really need to because the bosses aren’t terribly difficult, adhering to familiar patterns of leaping or rolling or telegraphing big beam attacks. Even on “Hard” it’s not a very challenging game, and you’ll get through it in an hour or so because there are only five levels. You read that right, five levels. No secret levels, not even any backtracking. Five linear levels are all you get here, each done up in bland, featureless tech motifs that look nothing like habitable environments. And it’s not even until the very last level that they contain anything besides crates, traps, and enemies.
The gameplay in A.R.E.S. is utterly deficient, failing to provide any sort of gratifying movement, combat, or goals to slog your way through. Fortunately that deficiency extends to the story and world-building as well, so don’t feel like you’re missing anything by skipping this title. There’s one person to save, one super weapon to fight, and one big bad with an incredibly cliche M.O. for setting this whole thing off. The story especially hews close to those lousy PlayStation-era Mega Man X games, and really the entire game feels like a bad pastiche of the mistakes those titles made ages ago. So much effort was made to imitate something that wasn’t that good in the first place that nobody bothered to check if they were making even worse mistakes here. But they did, oh Lord did they ever, leaving A.R.E.S. as one of the blandest, most boring platformers I’ve ever forced my way through.