Ender Lilies – developed by Live Wire and Adglobe, published by Binary Haze Interactive – is a challenging, dark-fantasy action-RPG. Its brand of 2D side-scrolling platforming and combat will keep you on your toes, especially when going up against bosses and elite minions, but it’s not nearly as brutal as many of its peers (a good thing in my books).
A dark and decaying kingdom, the monstrous remnants of citizens afflicted with blight, corrupted guardians, benches that act as checkpoints, an amnesiac protagonist with a purity of spirit that can cleanse the world… Ender Lilies doesn’t exactly have the most novel premise but it sets the scene and provides a narrative hook. Each boss you fell reveals more the backstory, detailing the fall of the kingdom and the protagonist’s past.
You take control of a young priestess awoken (revived?) by a “sprite” – the freed spirit of a fallen warrior. What follows is a gruelling trek through the ruins of her former kingdom, defeating mobs of lesser enemies on the way to bosses, all the while growing in strength and gaining new abilities. Again, it’s a basic structure we’ve seen many times before but it’s well-executed, with satisfying combat and gorgeous presentation.
Traversal and combat are mechanically simple – jump, attack, and dodge will get a skilful player through most encounters – but, naturally, you gain new traversal skills (think double-jump, ground slams, and swimming) along with the ability to summon sprites. These sprites – the souls of bosses or elite foes you defeat – allow you to bind a new secondary ability that can range from an area-of-effect attack, defensive shield, or a summon that’ll aid you in battle.
Observing attack patterns, twitch-dodging, and finding gaps to strike is the order of the day. Thankfully, should you find yourself surrounded, the dodge has a generous number of invincibility frames. It’s not a nimble roll, however, more of a desperate lunge that takes a second or two to recover from. As such, you can’t just spam it without a plan.
Every skill you master comes to the fore during the challenging and visually spectacular boss fights. These are always multi-phase battles that start manageable before your foes ramp up the speed and complexity of their attacks (alongside a swelling musical score). These can feel like sudden difficulty spikes in contrast to basic mobs but there is always a pattern to learn. You’ll never have to rely on twitch reflexes to avoid attacks if you’re observant and patient.
Finding the right moment to strike or a breather to use one of your limited life-restoring charges is key to success. When you do fall, you’ll find yourself back at the last checkpoint, but any progress – think levels gained, sprits, relics, shortcuts – remain intact. There are also checkpoints before each boss, so no annoying ‘Souls-like avoidance runs.
Although it often feels like you’re simply battling from left to right, Ender Lilies offers branching paths through visually distinct locations, each with its own set of enemies and a boss. Sure, you’ll eventually have to defeat them all to progress, but this structure allows you to take your time and explore first. Each new zone becomes increasingly complex and is packed with secrets that require abilities you only gain down the line. This structure encourages you to master the combat, find secrets, and level up a few times before tackling bosses. Thankfully, fast travel is unlocked early, so back-tracking never feels too time-consuming.
The priestess levels up automatically, boosting her basic attributes like HP and damage. Rather, it’s your choice of equipped sprites and relics that allow you to build a character that plays to your strengths (and offsets your weaknesses). Secrets contain collectables that boost health, mana, and more slots for relics that add passive bonuses. You’ll also stumble upon several caches of “blighted souls” and other creatively named materials, which allows you to enhance the power of your primary and secondary attacks
One major gameplay gripe I have with Elder Lilies is the lack of feedback when you’re taking multiple hits. Ender Lilies is a game that plays best with a gamepad but if you’re not using a device that supports vibration – or prefer it off as I do – there is no clear audio or visual feedback, and I often found my health bar shredded in seconds without realising the imminent danger.
With grim but hauntingly beautiful 2D visuals, foreground and background objects that add depth to each scene, detailed sprite work and fluid animations, Ender Lilies is incredibly atmospheric. The music is a particular highlight, with a focus on melodic piano tracks and backing vocals that feel like they belong in a fairy tale. I’d argue the music often feels at odds with the grim visuals but that only adds to the unsettling atmosphere. Ultimately, it’s a game that looks and sounds as good as it plays, enhancing the overall experience.
It almost feels unfair to bring it up as it applies to so many 2D action games, but the biggest problem I have with Ender Lilies is the feeling that the setting and premise are increasingly unoriginal. Ender Lilies is mechanically satisfying to play and presented beautifully, but surely there are other settings, other threats, other protagonist archetypes, and other narrative motivations that could be used to frame the action?! That said, if all you’re interested in is the gameplay, Ender Lilies is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre.
Publisher: Binary Haze Interactive
Developers: Adglobe, Live Wire
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC
This review is based on the PC version of the game which can be purchased here for 21.99.
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