For folks living through the psychedelic-influenced culture of the late 1960s, the art of Peter Max was instantly recognizable. His bright colors and stylized version of surrealism represented a trippy, drug-induced version of reality. Max’s imagery was embraced by such pop icons as the Beatles and countless others. What does that have to do with video games? For one thing, the visual aesthetic of Peter Max is partly behind the new action platformer, Ultros.
Ultros’ art isn’t a direct copy of Peter Max’s art style, but the day-glo colors and swirling organic shapes certainly suggest it. There’s a bit of Art Deco ornamentation thrown in for good measure. Altogether it suggests a recognizable yet unearthly world of exotic plants and animals.
The premise of Ultros is pretty trippy, too. You are a space traveler of sorts, and you crash land your ship on The Sarcophagus, a “giant, space-drifting, cosmic uterus holding an ancient demonic being known as Ultros.” As you explore, fight, solve environmental puzzles, and even do some planting/crafting, your character explores meta-themes of mental health, life, death, and karmic cycles. It sounds heavy, man.
Like most video games, Ultros’ narrative generally plays second fiddle to its action and gameplay. It’s a 2D platformer/Metroidvania and at least from the hands-off preview I attended, looks to embrace traditional action game mechanics. Ultros’ combat looks very fast-paced and challenging, with a variety of upgradeable weapons and a growing suite of abilities to learn. Generally, the enemies are organic life forms like plants and giant space insects.
Ultros adds a few clever twists to the action genre. One of these is the ability/requirement to take seeds dropped in combat and through exploration grow them up. The mature plants can be harvested and consumed for things like health boosts and special abilities. Moments spent gardening also provide a break in the action.
While we didn’t get to see them in the preview, Ultros has an interesting rewind function, allowing players to revisit sections of the story or levels to make discoveries or unlock previously inaccessible paths. It isn’t a roguelike, but of course, looping back to revisit old areas is a mainstay of Metroidvanias.
Slated for release in 2024, Ultros looks like an interesting and engaging blend of traditional 2D action and an eye-catching art style that hasn’t been often seen in games. I look forward to getting my hands on it and seeing if it plays as great as it looks.
Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.