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Review: Intrepid Izzy

When it comes to the Dreamcast indie scene, the name "Senile Team" is surely familiar. You might know them best for bringing us Beats of Rage, the moddable open source beat 'em up engine for Dreamcast (and other systems) that provided the basis for countless community-developed mods of series from Splatterhouse to Resident Evil. Or maybe you've had the pleasure of playing their first commercially released game; the excellent Rush Rush Rally Racing (or its update Rush Rush Rally Reloaded). Either way, it's definitely clear that Senile Team has pedigree when it comes to the Dreamcast, and now they're gearing up for the imminent August 20th release of their latest title, Intrepid Izzy.

The Kickstarter campaign for Intrepid Izzy went up back in 2017 with PC, Dreamcast and PS4 releases promised. The Steam version has been available since July 2020, but it's the Dreamcast version that many people, including us at the Junkyard (obviously) have been eagerly awaiting. Prior to Intrepid Izzy's Dreamcast release, I was supplied a review copy. Staying true to the Junkyard, however, this review will reflect only my honest opinions, with no influence from the developers or distributors.

The game starts with our protagonist Izzy, who is presumed to be a bit of an Indiana Jones explorer-type (she's known to be Intrepid, after all), opening a treasure chest in a temple only to release an evil blue genie whose main priority after finally being released is chaos on the world. From the initial cutscene, you are immediately given a taste of the game's carefree sense of humour, which often leans towards the drier side of things, and can occasionally get a bit bizarre. Just right for us at the Junkyard, then.

So how does Intrepid Izzy play? In the simplest terms, it's a 2D action platformer, with lovely, hand drawn artwork and fluid, cartoon-like animation (created with custom-made animation software) that gives me vibes of the ever-popular Shantae series. But to just call it an "action platformer" wouldn't be doing the game justice, because Intrepid Izzy is actually pretty deep, dude. While the initial stage is a rather left to right affair, you soon realise that the game has a very non-linear approach to its levels. That's right, Intrepid Izzy's core gameplay is what trendy gaming pundits might refer to as "metroidvania." I'm talking levels within levels, with a focus on light puzzle solving and backtracking. Get that key to open that door there, find a helmet to ride the minecart to a new area, find a new costume to grant you the power to get past an obstacle you passed earlier, and so on. 

Putting on Intrepid Izzy feels like you're embarking on an adventure, and one that is relatively easy to jump into whether you're a seasoned veteran of this style of explorative platformer, or a complete newbie to it, like I am (unless Kirby & the Amazing Mirror counts). Intrepid Izzy's platforming feels and controls great, and with the constant intrigue of treasure and new areas lurking around every corner, it gets pretty addictive. On countless occasions while exploring, I was conscious that I needed to save and come off so I could continue adding to this review, only to find myself attempting one more puzzle, or leading myself down one more passage.

As you traverse the game's many maze-like levels, you will encounter magic mirrors that grant you quick passage to the game's various other levels, as well as a fast track back to Awesometown, a pleasant town that functions as the game's central hub. You will be returning to Awesometown frequently to recover health by sleeping at Izzy's house and making repeat trips to the town's restaurant to replenish recovery and boosting items (which you purchase with coins that you've picked up throughout your quest). Less frequently, you will be dropping by the house of a bearded wizard, who can upgrade your health at the cost of enough heart fragments, which are hidden sparingly throughout the game's levels. Finally, perhaps taking a page out of Shenmue's book, the last building of significance in Awesometown is an arcade where you can play some basic but fun arcade games - such titles include "Plerg", "Ultra Bazoop" and "3D Wheel".

The other big gameplay element of Intrepid Izzy brings us back to Senile Team's Beats of Rage roots. Implemented alongside the platforming is a beat 'em up combat system that is used to solve environmental puzzles and dispatch enemies. You'll be using these fighting moves throughout your journey to rough up various foes, including huge screen-filling bosses. There are also plenty of occasions during exploration where you will enter a room, only to be locked in, with your only path to escape being to defeat a few waves of enemies. These bouts happen quite frequently, to the point where you soon realise that the combat in Intrepid Izzy is just as important as its platforming. 

Luckily for those of us who love to mash buttons in Capcom vs. SNK 2 (y'know, because making a mental list of all the combos is too much of a daunting task), Intrepid Izzy's combat controls are simple and easy to pick up, and feel completely fine on the Dreamcast's polarising control pad. If you prefer, the game also supports arcade stick functionality too, which is awesome. The game utilises four buttons for Izzy's moves: jump, standard attack, special attack, and a look button. Of course, you can combine a jump with an attack and a special attack, and the special attack can also be used by rocking the control stick or d-pad in a quarter motion (Street Fighter style) and pressing the standard attack button. The special attack will also change depending on what costume Izzy is wearing. Izzy's special attack charges when purple gems are collected, which are littered throughout stages.   

You will find costumes throughout your journey, and as already hinted, they will grant Izzy new abilities. This is probably the third and final pillar of Intrepid Izzy's core gameplay. The flying squirrel onesie allows Izzy to be blown upwards by drafts to reach higher places, and glide for a bit after jumping from a platform. The mining gear gives Izzy dynamite to use on enemies and to open up blocked pathways. The vampire costume lets Izzy turn into a bat to fit through small gaps. As well as allowing Izzy to murder everything in sight with a katana, the ninja costume grants her the ability to scale up vertical passages and power up batteries that open doors. 

As I'm sure you can tell, the main reason for tracking down these costumes is to gain access to brand new places, with the added benefit of new attacks for some increased ass kicking. Once you have more costumes at your disposal, the game opens up a lot more, and you will start to run into fewer roadblocks while exploring. But if you do run into one, it's only a short trip back to Awesometown via magic mirror, where you can swap Izzy's costume at her house. This is the only place she can change her costume, meaning you will have to strategise which one Izzy has equipped before entering a specific area, or going up against a certain foe, Mega Man-style. 

Throughout my playthrough, I couldn't help but notice how smooth everything ran. So smooth, in fact, that for a second, the reality that it was playing on my main Dreamcast, which is temperamental at the best of times, escaped me. Intrepid Izzy runs as a new Dreamcast game in 2021 should run. The game transitions between its many facets seamlessly, with loading screens that move along relatively quickly, with a percentage sign to let players know how much is left to load, which gives anxious Dreamcast gamers like myself some reassurance that the game isn't just going to crash (I'm looking at you Power Stone, V-Rally 2, Virtua Fighter 3tb et al...). The game also has no issues running through a VGA cable plugged into my OSSC. Intrepid Izzy looks and performs great, running at a consistent 60 frames per second, with no slowdown for the majority of the game. It's safe to say that me and my Dreamcast have had some trust issues in the past, but when it's playing Intrepid Izzy, I feel safe in the fact that it runs beautifully. 

As well as the game's performance, I also started to take notice of how much attention to detail Senile Team have put into refining parts of the gameplay in an attempt to remove the kind of quirks that would cause frustration for players. Just one example of this is when you find something of importance within one of the game's labyrinthine stages (such as a door lock that you need to find a key for), it will be marked on a map in the pause menu, and noted as an objective. This means it's really easy to locate when you need to find it again. The map is also a useful way of seeing where in a level you're still yet to explore. The map itself is relatively limited, but it does its job at telling you the things you need to know, such as where the magic mirrors are - another great feature of the game that means you don't have to trek back through an entire level just to get back to Awesometown.

Another thing that made the game so much more enjoyable for me personally was the lack of lives. If you die, you are dropped straight back at the last checkpoint or the last place of significance you encountered, with only a brief loading screen to sit through. There's no Game Over screens here. The game does gradually get harder as you progress, with more complex platforming and more powerful enemies. In my playthrough I did die a lot. One boss, a vampire clone of Izzy, took me many tries to beat, mainly because I'm a bit reckless, and her life bar was huge. I would definitely have seen a game over screen if one existed. I probably would've thrown my controller across the room. But I didn't, because Intrepid Izzy doesn't feel punishing. Even if you die, you have unlimited chances to have another go. Nice.

I also want to briefly mention the cool soundtrack by Ben Kurotoshiro, who also composed the music for Rush Rush Rally Racing. While some tracks are less memorable than others, they are all definitely lively and keep the action moving along. One of my favourite songs is the one that plays during the "Going Viral" level. So good.

While the game is a total joy to play, it isn't completely free from frustration. After finding the Flying Squirrel outfit, I did manage to run into one or two "technical" issues, although nothing too serious. One of these issues occurred while I was exploring the level "Aztec Greece." A tall stone was blocking a passage, so I pushed it into a pit below, then carried on, only to be met with a ladder that was blocked by multiple stones I couldn't push or break. As I couldn't proceed, I had to double back and go back the way I came, only to find the tall stone had reset back to the top of the ledge I'd pushed it off. As it was on top of a ledge I was unable to jump and push it, so I was trapped. This meant I had to quit the game and load from my last save. Luckily - in another instance of Senile Team thinking about the player - there are frequent save points dotted throughout levels (that allow you to save in a matter of seconds), meaning I didn't lose any progress at all. This issue with objects resetting did happen to me once again in the same area, with an unlocked door shutting again when it went offscreen. This issue didn't seem to repeat in any other level, and after playing through more of the game, then returning to Aztec Greece, I wasn't able to replicate these problems again, so maybe it was just a one off that hopefully none of you will encounter.

Another glitch I encountered was during the minecart level, where somehow I managed to jump out of the minecart. I couldn't get past one of the loops in the track on foot, so I just had to take damage until I died and respawned back in the minecart. I tried to see if I could jump out the minecart again after this, but I couldn't replicate that either. Bit annoying, but no biggie. The minecart stage was also the only section of the game where I encountered pretty noticeable framerate drops, as the minecart zipped along at high speed. Luckily, this area is only brief, and after it the game went back to running completely fine with no frames dropped (none that I noticed, anyway).

The two glitches I ran into made up probably a measly two minutes of multiple hours of play. While I felt it was necessary to mention them, I don't want anyone to think these incredibly minor issues take anything away from the fantastic overall package Intrepid Izzy is, because the game has everything a great action platformer should have: great gameplay and controls, charming artwork and beautiful animation, varied and well-themed levels, and a great sense of humour. Just recently, the Dreamcast has seen the release of probably two of its best indie titles ever; Bitmap Bureau's Xeno Crisis and Retro Sumus's Xenocider, and I have no reservation in saying that Intrepid Izzy is right up there with them, wearing the crown as the King (or Queen?) of Dreamcast indie platformers. The many years of development experience that Senile Team have under their collective belts shines through here - resulting in an incredibly polished final product. When you get a chance to play it on August the 20th, you'll surely agree that it is worthy of such high esteem.

If you weren't a Kickstarter backer, the game is available for pre-order now through WAVE (UK and USA) and DragonBox Shop (Europe) and will also be available to purchase from several retro game stores around the UK. In times like these, it's incredibly important to support our local retro game stores, so click this link to find your closest store that is stocking it. Who would've thought in 2021 you'd be able to purchase a brand new Dreamcast game in a brick-and-mortar store? What a crazy world we live in.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

Excellent review Lewis, I missed the Kickstarter back in the day but have been watching the games development over the years and now it's finally here I can wait to receive my copy from Wave.

DCGX said...

I'm pretty hyped! I backed the CE, so it's going to be a bit, it seems, before I get my copy, but I can't wait!

Tom Charnock said...

Superb review Lewis, still waiting for my copy but very much looking forward to it after reading this!

FlorreW said...

Looking forward to my copy as well , looks so polished <3

TBSRobert said...

The Bit Station will also be opening pre-orders in the near future for those in the USA and Canada. Along with a sweet new website!

Unknown said...

Sounds really good this. Might pick it up in the near future