Even with the worst games, I can usually see what was intended by the developer. I can see how a challenge didn’t work out the way they expected, or a mechanic that’s just no fun to anyone aside from its creator. But Izeriya baffles me. There are so many basic, obvious, absolutely elemental mistakes made here that I can’t fathom anyone considering this fun or even finished. The variety of mistakes are breathtaking on their own, from design faults like poor balance and level design to actual bugs like hitboxes and whatever the hell is going on with moving platforms. Izeriya suffers the worst of so many worlds, it’s a wonder anything about it works at all.
The titular Izeriya was a city, once grand and powerful, now reduced to placid, overgrown, Castle-in-the-Sky-esque ruins. Its collapse coincided with a great evil taking up residence there, and the bobble-headed Trix has decided to be the one to vanquish this evil for good. Naturally, Izeriya is not a hospitable place, filled with deadly creatures, deadlier traps, and a gauntlet of puzzling rooms that must be bested before facing the guardians of each area. Armed with a sword and an entry-level fireball spell, the deck is stacked against Trix but some careful platforming, awkward combat, and a little explotation of mechanics will help see him through to victory.
At least, I expect it will. I punched out when I got to the last of the game’s three hubs, each consisting of four levels and a boss. That doesn’t sound like much, I’m sure, but the 40 or so minutes spent getting to that point were some of the most trying of my life. And not for the difficulty of the levels, but for the constant, overwhelming design issues that made everything so much worse than it needed to be. Chief among them is balance, because these levels are absolutely jam-packed full of enemies. That wouldn’t be an issue if they were easy to dispatch, but all of them are as fast as you, take anywhere from 4 to 10 sword swings to defeat, and do constant touch damage when they get near you. Some hallways have a half-dozen monsters or more just waiting for you, and one level halfway through mixed bats, fighters, and mages that shoot persistent homing fireballs in big pit you have to run through.
As awful as that sounds, how you deal with it is even dumber. Instead of fighting, your best option is to just run past everything. There’s no flinch or stun when you get hit, and enemies only do slivers of damage on their own. In a big group they can melt you, but as long as you stay moving the levels are short enough and filled with enough health potions to keep you afloat. You do need to fight a few things though, like bats and ghosts that will chase you through tricky platforming sections. It was in these moments that I discovered possibly the dumbest part of Izeriya, the hitbox for your sword. The hitbox is massively offset to the left of your character, meaning you can hit enemies two arm-lengths out of reach to your left, but enemies on the right can be halfway inside you and completely untouchable.
Combat is only the most obvious place Izeriya fouls up the formula. The further you get into the game, the more instant-death spikes, arrows, chains, and other traps will infest areas. They’re not even instant-death, either, as when you touch one you can keep moving and jumping and getting hit for a second as the screen fades to black. Some levels are full of blind jumps and positioning you can’t possibly know without throwing yourself down on some spikes first. Movement is stiff and sticky, getting impossibly weird on moving platforms that will clip you into oblivion and ladders that make the deathtrap climbs from the original Half-Life look good. And both of the bosses I fought appeared impossible until I found exploits in their patterns that allowed me to sit still and whack them into submission.
I can give Izeriya credit for having a decent, if unremarkable, pixel art style, but that’s about it. Every aspect of the controls, combat, levels, and balance were torture to experience. And the worst part is, the whole game could be decent, if unremarkable, with just a little tuning. Fix the sword hitbox, take out 80% of the enemies, make the last 20% actual threats, remove half of the death traps, rework the bosses, and you’ve got a perfectly baseline platformer. Of course, now that I type that out I can see it’s a lot of tuning, and not really worth the effort for a game that’s going to be unremarkable no matter what. Let’s just chalk this one up as a learning experience for everyone involved (I hope) and get on with our lives.