Game Review: “Intrepid Izzy” (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch)
It’s short for Isabelle, methinks.
Publisher Ratalaika Games recently released the retro-inspired 2D platformer Intrepid Izzy for modern consoles.* Developed by Senile Team, Interpid Izzy started its life as a small-scale indie project for the SEGA Dreamcast successfully crowdfunded in 2017.
While the game is fairly light on plot, the titular “Intrepid Izzy” seems to be some kind of explorer who happens upon a magical treasure chest. Unfortunately, Izzy accidentally releases some kind of evil blue demon – or sorcerer – or deity – who was trapped in the chest (it’s not clear to me exactly what he’s supposed to be – just that he looks like an evil version of the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin). Naturally, Izzy must clean up the mess she’s made before this ancient evil conquers the world, so she embarks on her mission to stop him at all costs.
As Izzy, players must traverse an interconnected world in search of four gems that ultimately open the door to the final confrontation. Izzy can punch, jump, jump kick, uppercut, crawl, and slide through the environments and the hazards they present. Not knowing much about Intrepid Izzy before picking it up for this review, I have to say that I went through a very SEGA-centric evolution of understanding when delving into it.
When I first took control of Izzy, her punch and jump kick mechanics made me think that I was playing a very well-polished Alex Kidd game. I later picked up the first of several costumes, each with their own unique attacks and abilities, and the game transformed into a modern take on Kid Chameleon. Very soon after, however, once I took note of how much I was backtracking and collecting maps to see just how expansive some of the stages truly were, I realized that I was playing a game more like Monster World than anything else.
No matter which SEGA classic was being called to mind at any given time, I consistently had a smile on my face, because Intrepid Izzy is a joy to play. The control is nearly perfect, and the combat mechanics are a very satisfying way to beat down the bad guys (rather than the tired “jump on enemies’ heads” mechanic).
And you will come across plenty of bad guys, including the typical array of pests and opponents, including scorpions, spiders, blobs (which wear a fez, for some reason), mushrooms, bats, ghosts, mummies, ninjas, and a number of nondescript plant… things, most of which resemble a Venus flytrap in some way or another. Like most retro platformers, these enemies have very predictable attack patterns from which they never deviate, so a little practice is all that’s necessary for dispatching them with relative ease. Of course, there are also spike pits, swinging mace balls, fire-spitting cannons to contend with, too.
If you run into trouble and find that your typical set of attacks isn’t sufficient to progress, there are plenty of ways to gain the advantage. Throughout each stage, you can collect purple crystals that build up your special attack meter, which can be tapped with the simple push of a button. You can also find hidden heart pieces that can be used to extend your life meter, and you can also collect coins from chests and defeated enemies that can be exchanged for power-ups from the restaurant in your home base of Awesometown (a little silly, but it’s certainly no worse than the planet “Paperrock”).
In addition to the restaurant, there are a few other areas of interest in Awesometown. Not only is it a safe place to save your game, but there is also an arcade with a few simple gameplay challenges to take on if you need a break from monster-mashing. These include a horde-shooter titled Plerg!, an underwater treasure hunting game called Ultra Bazoop, and 3D Wheel, which is basically a simplified version of SEGA’s arcade motorcycle racer, Super Hang-On. Why would one title a motorcycle game 3D Wheel when they clearly use handlebars? Insect politics, I tell ya’.
The most important location in Awesometown is Izzy’s house, where she can not only restore her health and special attack meters by taking a nap, but it’s also the only place where she can change her costume, as doing so outside of her home would be scandalous, no doubt. Over the course of the game, you will find several outfits, including a dynamite-wielding miner, a sword slashing ninja, a flying squirrel onesie (which is ridiculously cute), a vampire suit with the ability to transform into a bat, and the “perfect disguise”, which is Izzy’s typical star t-shirt and jeans with the addition of a Groucho Marx mask. I never found a purpose for that last one, but each of the other costumes have some very important attacks and attributes that are necessary to proceed.
Much like other nonlinear action/adventure games (or “Metroidvania”, if you must), paths are often blocked off until you are wearing the right costume, collect the right item, or solve the proper puzzle. This leads to the backtracking that is so prevalent, and occasionally frustrating, in these types of games. Fortunately, there is a network of teleportation points scattered across each stage in the form of magic mirrors, which can be used to jump from one area to another. To smooth the process even further, you eventually find a portable hand mirror later in the game, which lets you jump to any mirror at any time.
Almost all of these important upgrades such as the hand mirror and the various costumes are protected by the game’s bosses. These include a Minotaur, a skeleton knight, leviathan, giant plants with human heads, and Yzzi – an evil version of Izzy. Sure, these are admittedly a bit generic in terms of creativity, and much like the standard enemies, their attack patterns will become quite evident as you take them on. I wouldn’t say that many of these battles are tough, really, but they are still fun enough to play, although a couple drag on a little longer than I would have preferred (i.e. the leviathan).
As you can almost certainly glean from the screenshots, Intrepid Izzy is a very colorful game, and it’s worth mentioning that I never thought of it as a “girly” game while I was playing it.
Izzy herself doesn’t have the most remarkable standard outfit, but she animates very smoothly and you will undoubtedly spend most of your time in one of her costumes as soon as you start unlocking them. Given that the enemies are so predictable, their animation sets are also pretty limited. They are all drawn well enough, but I’m not sure that I’d point to any one of them as being an inspired design.
I will note that the game becomes oddly violent when you obtain the ninja costume though, as humanoid enemies will slice apart in bloody chunks when they die. The same is “sort of” true for some of the plantlike enemies, too, although they split apart into what looks like slices of kiwi fruit, which may give you Fruit Ninja vibes. Even with all of the slicing and dicing, it’s all very stylized and cartoony, so I’d still say that Intrepid Izzy is appropriate for audiences of most ages.
The stages all offer a unique flair and and are visually easy to navigate. They include Blobby Blob Dungeon, Aztec Greece (which has a colorful background akin to Sonic’s Green Hill Zone), the horror-themed Haunted Woods, the East Pole, which is a snow-capped version of feudal Japan, and the Chocolate Mines, which includes a high-speed mine cart ride, loops and all. There is also a stage called “Going Viral” where Izzy must enter her own blood stream to defeat a disease, but you can only play this area once and can’t return to it without starting a new game.
Once the game starts, there’s no special story cinematics, and what little plot is delivered through the characters’ text balloons. There are a few voices, though, as Izzy has her own shouts and grunts when she jumps or delivers certain attacks, and she also yells “hadouken!” whenever she uses her projectile move.
On the music side, Intrepid Izzy’s soundtrack consists of several catchy, upbeat tunes. I particularly enjoyed the music for the Aztec Greece, which was serendipitous as that is probably the stage where I spent most of my time. The other tracks aren’t quite as remarkable, but they are all reminiscent of solid, 90s platformers.
To round out some lingering gripes, I will say that it took a bit too long to find your first costume (the aforementioned squirrel onesie), so it’s possible that some players may get bored with Izzy’s standard attacks. It is also slightly annoying having to continually go back to Awesometown to change into the costume you want. Not only that, but certain doors and passages that are opened with a suit’s special abilities don’t stay open, so you really do have to jump back and forth a lot. At least the the hand mirror helps. That said, Intrepid Izzy isn’t a very difficult game for platforming veterans. The biggest challenge is finding all of the hidden items like the heart pieces or the ten oysters scattered throughout the world. The latter doesn’t do anything other than unlock an achievement, but it’s still a small incentive to explore.
To hit the really nitpicky stuff, the pause screen could use some more flair, such as showing the stage map without having to go through the menus. It would also be nice to revisit the “Going Viral” stage as it’s the only area of the game that you can’t go back to. Maybe as a time attack challenge accessed from the title screen?
Overall, Intrepid Izzy is an approachable, well-constructed 2D platformer that is fun. Sure, it borrows a bit of its charm from other retro classics (“Hadouken!”), but it’s certainly an enjoyable game in its own right. So much so, that I kind of wish there was some kind of “New Game Plus” mode or something else to extend the experience a bit. As it is, I did pretty much everything that the game asked me to do, including finding all ten of the hidden oysters, setting high scores across all three arcade games, and of course – defeating the final boss.
It may be a bit too simple for the hardcore audience, and without some kind of post-game content, there’s not tons of replayability to offer other than starting over from the beginning. Still, at roughly ten bucks for three-to-four hours of gameplay, it’s not a bad deal. So if you’re a retro gaming aficionado that enjoys a good 2D action/adventure/platformer game, then Intrepid Izzy is absolutely a solid choice for the price. And if you ever find yourself getting bored with it, you can perhaps stop by the Awesometown game center to play some arcade games on the way… Hey! Kind of like Shenmue, eh?
Intrepid Izzy is available now for Steam PC, PS4, PS5, Xbone, SeXbox, Nintendo Switch, and of course, SEGA Dreamcast.
*Disclosure: A digital copy of Intrepid Izzy on Xbox One was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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