Deux or Die key art

Infernax: Deux or Die update ups the amount of players and pain with new couch co-op campaign

I am sure that many of my dear readers are familiar with Infernax, the brutal side scroller dropped across multiple platforms in February of 2022, and has since made a large impact among various circles of retro gaming enthusiasts and gore loving gluttons for punishment. While the game has seen updates since launch, adding quality of life fixes and new characters, Infernax is set to receive its first major content expansion in the form of a couch co-op campaign cleverly titled “the Deux or Die update.”

Unfortunately the stars had never aligned for me to make time to play Infernax, but the lack of knowledge did nothing to deter my curiosity, and while I was at PAX east 2023, I embarked on a journey to play the Deux or Die demo, to see what I had been missing, and what would be coming in the near future. Thankfully, writer for Infernax as well as DreadXP friend and collaborator Hunter Bond was on the scene to escort me through the wicked world of Infernax, and to help me expand my knowledge on the ins and outs of the upcoming co-op mode. Over the course of our adventure we spoke about the differences that came with Deux or Die, aside from comradery, as well as some aspects of the development and reception of the title.

As I set up my microphone and ensured it was working, I thanked Hunter again for taking the time to meet with me. As we started our run, I opted to get the authentic Deux or Die experience and chose to play as Cervul, the new character, and the squire to the first player. As we began, I asked if there was any variation in the squire if the first player changed characters?

Hunter: Yeah, so it’s definitely the squire is only second player. The only variant being that a lot of people know that there’s a gun mode, which you can unlock with the Konami code, that applies to both characters, actually. But yeah, you can play all the variant main characters in the game with Cervul, the squire. You can play with him as your second player, but there is a limited amount of variability for player two.

Being as blunt as I often am, I told Hunter that I had little experience with Infernax, and I wanted to know if playing as Cervul was the kind of challenge where my inexperience with Infernax would doom me, or would a lifetime of retro gaming give me the muscle memory I needed to survive?

Hunter: Yeah, I mean, as long as we work together, it’s just that Cervul is a little harder for some people, just because he doesn’t have a forward direct attack… Cervul does get skills he can unlock that help him have more survivability and direct forward attacks. But it’s definitely meant to encourage you to play together. We could have just copy pasted Alcidor, but we didn’t want to do that.

As we began, I commented on the quality of the art, which featured Cervul alongside Alcidor. 

Hunter: Yeah, we redrew all the art, we rewrote the main storyline to integrate in player two and added a lot of dialogue options and stuff. So it’s still the same general storyline with the variability of the various morality paths… I mean, it was just important to make it feel like we didn’t just tack the second player on. I mean, a lot of people were kind of surprised that this was the update that we made instead of just adding more overworld or adding more quests. Instead, we went for a co-op update, but that discussion started almost immediately post launch, that the creative director felt very strongly about instead making it a co-op game, instead of just making more overworld.

I told Hunter that I thought it was the right move, I am a firm believer that co-op play makes games last longer. As we made our way through the stages, I got my first chance to level up Cervul’s arsenal, and Hunter took a moment to tell me a bit about what was new.

Hunter: So yeah, you can upgrade your power and health as standard. But then instead of magic, you have all of these options, the crossbow will give you a direct forward attack, and is usually one of the easier utility ones to start with. But the shield is, you know, an active shield that blocks at two levels and can be dropped. I usually suggest the crossbow if people don’t have a strong feeling about it. You hit A to fire it, and then once you fire it, you hold down X and a little reload bar will come up, by default, he doesn’t have a forward attack at all.

I loved the idea that there was no ammo for the crossbow, and instead, something much more precious was required, your time. As I told Hunter as much, I backtracked to collect some coins that we had missed, as I am a glutton for shiny things in games. 

Hunter: I feel like I had really strong feelings [about the coins], I was one of the people who put a decent amount of time into the coins. They’re really hard to leave behind, which means it works.

I commented that it must be nice to know exactly what a gamer wants, exactly what makes a coin desirable.

Hunter: You know, what makes it easy is, what if you made a game for yourself? It helps when what you want overlaps with a group of people, right? I always laugh because one of the things we were curious about, because this game unapologetically wears its inspiration on its sleeve, so we knew that it was likely to be popular with people who liked the games were inspired by, but we were curious to see, if someone is 15, and they have absolutely no nostalgia for Zelda 2, Castlevania 2, or just the NES action platformer genre in general, are they gonna care? Like, one of my favorite things that happened before release, while we were still in development, was at a PAX South. Day one, this kid, probably about 15 comes up. And this is a pretty tough demo, you know, usually you can count on maybe one hand the number of people who usually beat it in a show. And so that kid came on day one, you know, he didn’t even get close. And I was like, “oh, that’s kind of a bummer, right?” Because I was like, he’s never coming back. But he showed back up and he got pretty far, almost beat the boss and then died, and then he left. And then day three, doors open and that kid is the first one at the booth. And he stayed and it took him like two more tries, but then he beat the demo. And that was one of the first times I went back and told the rest of the team, like “I think it’s going to work.” Because if it does appeal to people who are not 35 year old people who played NES games, right, then it’s going to appeal to more people than we thought, cool, good, yeah. Because, you know, we talked a bunch about how many modern things do we want to add? How many quality of life improvements do we make before we’re not really making a game that’s a direct homage?

I could totally dig what Hunter was laying down, as a retro game enthusiast, I know all too well how hard it can be to revisit your old favorites once the rose colored glasses come off, and I can only imagine it is hard to walk the line of accurately capturing nostalgia without falling on antiquated gaming conventions. At this point during the gameplay, we had gotten to another checkpoint, and I was cashing in all of my XP to become stronger. I avoided any upgrade that would give me more health or reduce damage, as I told Hunter “I don’t like to bank on failure.”

Hunter: It’s funny, because when testing the game, I found a bunch of spots in the game to grind XP. Because when I was testing the game on a non-debug build, it’s a hard game. So I would ideally want to power level a little bit just to like, cushion it. And so we found all the spots that you can do that because that’s where I did it. I found all the spots, it was too easy to grind, like a ton of XP. Because there were some unforeseen consequences to some design choices. And as a result, I found a way to loop it so that I can max level in like 15 minutes. And they were like, “Yeah, that’s too fast.” Because everyone on the team works, we have full time QA, we have a really really good QA guy and a second QA guy who’s part time but the whole team chips in on QA because you never know which way someone’s gonna break something.

I bluntly told Hunter that when it comes to videogames, there is unfortunately no such thing as foolproof. 

Hunter: We were happy that the game launched without too many major issues. There were some on Xbox more than anything that were a result of cloud saving and stuff, that was kind of tough. But then across the board, most of them launched without too many major launch issues, which was nice for a game that has a 10 year old codebase. Because the game was off and on in development for 10 years to the point that some of the code underlying the game is converted to run in Unity but some of it is Flash basically.

At this point we encountered an NPC who was toiling away, scooping shit from soil to cart endlessly. When we spoke to him, he greeted us, and after an awkward pause, acknowledged Cervul as his son.

Hunter: This guy, so this is my favorite throwaway dialogue in the game. So the implication being that his squire is the son of the local town manure shoveler.

I told Hunter that I was going to make my shit shoveling dad so fucking proud

Hunter: His dad’s really bitter about it, actually. Yeah, you got to talk to him again, and he’s like [embarrassed]

Distraught that my digital dad was disappointed in my squireing, I told the medieval boomer off and continued questing with Hunter. 

Hunter: It was important when we wrote it, the creative director didn’t want to have me write a ton of easy low hanging jokes in the game, felt pretty strongly about the narrative not taking itself seriously but like, … it’s aware that goofy, right. Like some of the dialogue is comic book level  villain stuff, because it’s evil, but also like, the game is about as medium-dark as it can be. You know, I always say tonally, we don’t fall as hardcore as Blasphemous where it’s really intense, visually and like, when you read the item descriptions, it’s like “oh, man, whoa, that’s dark.”

It made sense to me, and it reminded me of Army of Darkness, (a film that influenced a character in Infernax) which was a very dark world with serious conflicts, being saved by a man filled with one-liners. 

Hunter: Right? Yeah, a lot of the more obvious jokes come when you leave what would be the main narrative. Like, when you make choices that direct you towards like, not the main path of the game.

As we spoke we approached another save shrine and Hunter told me more about the squires various abilities.

Hunter: Let’s see, that’s his active shield. He has a banner that gives us attack speed and movement and then he’s got bandages, it gives you healing for yourself or me. You just swap it with the bumper and then use it. You get one until you go back to a save shrine. They refill every time you sleep.

I once again reiterated that I don’t like to bank on failure, and will instead be pumping Cervul up with anything that would boost his attack. 

Hunter: I get it, the banner is pretty great, you can drop it. So when we go to the boss fight, if you drop it, it’s an AoE effect. So that stays and you can pick it back up. And then on the next level, once you upgrade it, you can actually bash people with it. So that’s why his skill ceiling is higher, you can stack that shield and that effect and then you can be attacking from behind your shield with the speed boosts.

As we continued our quest Hunter spoke more about the nature of capturing nostalgia in a way that is an accurate homage to the classics of the genre, but still features the polish and pizazz of a modern title. 

Hunter: It was important to us to hit the goal of making a game that is not the actual way the games that inspired us were, because a lot of them feel very different than you recall. We wanted to make it how you remember playing it. Like, don’t go back and play it, don’t do it, just remember how you liked it, don’t go back and play it actually. Because a lot of older games didn’t really age exactly as you remember them.

I commented that Golden Axe was a hard pill to swallow when it came to games that aged poorly. 

Hunter: I was just playing that recently and I forgot [how poorly it aged], because there are some beat-em-ups that aged great… Streets of Rage is great, the D&D brawlers, Shadows over Mystara is great, still great. They’re real quarter-churney, like when you play them emulated where you’re not actually paying quarter for quarter you realize like, “oh yeah, this boss is just just cheese balls.” Like it’s ridiculous.

I know what that is like, as I have dumped many a quarter into trendy arcade cabinets. It’s shocking that some of those were allowed by the FTC considering they were a straight-up scam. 

Hunter: I remember as a child one of the most, like, formative memories of arcade gameplay for me was, I must have been, I don’t know, five, six, and we were in Vegas. And that was like one of the first times I saw a huge arcade. I’ve been to arcades, but 1990s Vegas was like a whole thing, right? And so I had like a big old thing of quarters, and there are some other kids there, and we beat the Simpsons arcade game. And I remember it blew my mind because we beat it and I was like, “I wonder what you get?” And you get a credit, that’s what you get. You get one free credit for beating the game. And I was just like, “Wait, we got to play this again? We just beat it!”

I told Hunter that I loved that the prize for beating an arcade game was always more arcade game. As we made our way into the castle courtyard, fate turned for the worse, and Hunter gave me the deets on the dire situation we had found ourselves in. 

Hunter: So we’re in the danger zone now, because the demo is such that when you hit 15 minutes, you don’t respawn, and we’re about to hit the castle where it gets real. Yeah, all of this was training… You will die, this will kill you… Yeah, this is much, much harder than normal single player mode because it’s rebalanced for two players.

I snarkily told Hunter that I was confident I could make it through the rest with only 3 HP.

Hunter: Yeah, I mean, it’s not like, incredibly challenging. Nobody’s successfully beat the demo yet. NBD! 

Then I died. 

Hunter: Watch out! Oh, no, all right. Now the question is, can I solo this entire section? I don’t know. I can’t, I absolutely can’t.

Then Hunter died, and our run, which felt like it was going so well, came to a stop. 

Hunter: We got pretty far. That’s about a quarter of the way into the castle. So yeah, there’s a boss right at the end too. So, it’s challenging.

I was disappointed in myself, as I had truly failed as a squire, such is the world of Infernax. I asked Hunter how many people had successfully beaten the co-op demo?

Hunter: We haven’t seen any yet. You know, we ever saw a bunch of people actually beat it at the first PAX West we took it to. But yeah, I haven’t seen anybody beat the demo in a while now. And so far no one’s beaten the co-op demo yet… It’s just hard. You know, when you make a game hard, they’re hard. 

With that I thanked Hunter for taking the time to not only speak with me about Infernax: Deux or Die, but also to play through it with me, and I made a warrior’s oath to return and complete the co-op quest at PAX!

During the remaining two days of PAX I made another two attempts on the demo, bringing an Infernax speedrunner for one of them, and still was unable to complete it. Not a single gamer at PAX east 2023 had what it took to best the Infernax: Deux or Die demo, mayhap another warrior at another convention will have what it takes. 

For the rest of us, the couch co-op update will be launching on April 5th, 2023, so you can gather your closest compatriots, or handle both characters simultaneously, and conquer the challenge for yourself. Infernax is available on PC, Xbox, Playstation, and even the Nintendo Switch. I recommend playing it on the TV unless you have the willpower to not snap your Switch in half out of frustration!

And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for the latest and greatest in ghoulish and gruesome gaming, then head back to DreadXP and read more of our scary scoops!