Review: Virgil’s Purgatory
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During the last Platformebruary I played a tiny indie platformer called DevWill. It certainly didn’t break any molds but it stood out to me as a solid rendition of classic mechanics pioneered in games like Castlevania. Though DevWill is one of the developer’s newest games, their older ones are still worth a look and that’s where I was introduced to Virgil’s Purgatory. It’s a rougher product certainly but just like DevWill, it displays a solid command of platformer fundamentals and forms a pretty entertaining metroidvania besides.
A brief opening cutscene sets the stage, with two solemn fellows paying respects at a desert grave. The headless corpse interred therein is dropped into some kind of dark reflection of the living world, and from there the adventure begins to do… something, I admit I didn’t make it to the end. In classic Metroid fashion the world is open to you both to the right and left, though you’ll soon come across doors with conspicuous symbols on them for the items they require to open. Scrounging around will get you to new areas like a shadowy village and caves of living skulls, as well as turn up bosses like a skeletal ape that need to be beaten for the item to progress.
Combat might sound a bit daunting as a headless corpse, but right at the start you don a cattle skull like some sort of jaunty chapeau that can be hucked at enemies. The arc on it is going to take some getting used to, as will the hits you take when you whiff a shot and have to press past an enemy to retrieve your skull. This makes combat a much more measured affair, which is a good match for the slower pace of the game in general. The world isn’t terribly big but you’ll be crossing it quite a few times, and angel statues which restore your health are few and far between. Be prepared to die a few times, and write down those codes you get from beating bosses because there are no saves and no continues.
Virgil’s Purgatory is a primitive platformer by any metric, lacking basic quality-of-life features and balance that fits its limitations. But the mechanics are more unique than most indie platformers can claim, and the presentation as a faux-GameBoy game is simply excellent. I’ve got a thing for those classic handheld graphics and Virgil’s Purgatory makes the most of them with moody backdrops and bold monsters chasing you around. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon reliving the halcyon days of handhelds, just be prepared to struggle with it like you did in those days, too.