The year was 1994, and the game was Super Metroid. Arguably the best of the 2D Metroid games, and one of my first video games. Oh, we had an NES, but that was my older brother's machine, and he guarded his Final Fantasy and Zelda saves jealously. But the Super Nintendo, that was mine, and it saw frequent use for years. The Metroid series along with games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night helped spawn the 'Metroidvania' genre of platform-adventure games of which Daniel Remar's Iji is a proud member.
In Iji you play as, well, Iji. Iji is a human who has been enhanced with nanotechnology after Earth is abruptly invaded by aliens. Her new nanotech field provides her with a kind of shield and also gives her the incredible weaponry that every action-platformer hero needs to survive. You start with a humble shotgun but as you progress you can collect seven more weapons, from the familiar machine gun and rocket launcher all the way up to odd weapons like the alien Shocksplinter. If that's not enough for you, there are eight more weapons that you can unlock by combining the original weapons. There's even a hint that there might be one more hidden weapon, if you can find it.
This impressive arsenal isn't just handed to you right away, of course, you have to earn it. As you progress through the game, you'll pick up blue nanofields that act as experience. Gain enough of them, and you'll go up a level. Stop by an upgrade station, and you can use the level to improve one of your seven abilities: Strength, Health, Attack, Assimilate, Crack, Tasen, and Komoto. There are also two upgrades each for jumping and armor that you collect during play.
With all of this going for her, you would expect Iji to be some military, tough-as-nails soldier type, right? Wrong. Iji is just an ordinary girl who happened to be in the right place at the right time... or is that the wrong place at the wrong time? In any case, she's not adjusted to killing aliens, which is something you'll have to cure her of.
Or not. One of the game's strengths is its story, told via dialogue with important enemies and through terminals scattered around the levels. And this is one of those games where how you play affects what happens in the story. If, like me, you go through the game guns-a-blazing, you can expect to find yourself regarded as a callous, cold-blooded killer. So maybe you'd prefer to let Iji remain a pacifist and fight only the bosses. It's up to you.
Analysis: Wow. This game is made of pure awesome. It spent four years in development, and every minute shows. The combat is a blast, in more ways than one, and it's surprisingly fun to just sit back at times and watch the two types of enemies exterminate each other. The story is amazingly deep and will easily suck you in if you give it a chance. Towards the end, I actually felt bad for having killed as many enemies as I did!
At times, the art and music may seem simplistic, but you will quickly realize that this is an intentional style. Iji knows that it owes a lot to the games that came before, and this surface look and feel is a clear homage to them, with any suspicions of inadequacy thoroughly crushed by the sheer amount of detail that went into the game. Light fixtures will break when you jump into them, for crying out loud!
Length is often a sticking point with games, but Iji's four difficulty levels, variable story, and hidden extras are plenty to keep you playing for a while, even after you beat it the first time. And that first play-through will be tense. The game tells me it only took 3.5 hours, but I had to spread it out over three days, and it felt a whole lot longer than that. I'm dumbfounded as to how you could finish it in just half an hour, but the records page says that's the developer's best time is 29 minutes, 33 seconds.
In fact, I only have a couple minor problems with this game. One is that when you stop to read a logbook, nothing else stops, but you can't move. This can make it annoying to try and follow the story while skimming through text hoping that nobody attacks you. The other was a bonus minigame that I could only get out of by randomly hitting keys until something got me out.
Do either of those seriously impact my opinion of the game? Not in the slightest. Iji is fantastic. I mentioned Super Metroid for a reason: for my money, Iji is even better. You may or may not agree, but Iji doesn't cost a cent, so what are you waiting for?
(Note: Linux users, be advised that while you can play Iji under Wine, if you've got Windows sitting around, use it! Wine handles the sound effects just fine, but you lose the music, and it is worth a little extra effort.)
Download the full, free game.
Thanks to PureQuestion for sending this one in!