ULTRA-INDIE Daily Dose: Please Give your Heart to Return

Return is an in-development “Art Driven, Souls Like, Side Scroller” by Dead Unicorn and Jabbu which lives up to that title. The player returns to Earth after 200 years of ecological collapse, the story follows an astronaut meant to leave forever until a ship malfunction forced them to return for repairs.

The game does fashion as a Souls Like but doesn’t needlessly complicate itself with every detail of the formula. The player starts with a sword, gun, and ammunition along with some healing potions. The sword has 2 swings in its single combo. Instead of being lacking the player moves seamlessly making for a harmonious experience.

Dodge and Hit are the basic one-and-two dance steps in combat although the can gun comes in for a flourish whenever you need to get one step ahead of your rival just make sure you have the ammo. While there are only 5 types of enemies in this ALPHA demo each style into its own archetype, the 2 giant snails are either nipping punching bags or bullheaded chargers, the Golems swings slow but hard and tosses heaving stones, the boss Golem even more so. The reanimated skeletons are pretty frail but it’s their quantity, not the quality that matters.

The combat in Return carries a grace and percussion that is loved in souls likes. Weaving between attacks feels delicate whether it’s a full roll, a backstep, or a simple shuffle through enemies to their backs while their swings hit only your shadow. The player’s own swings are swift and the combo comes off quick allowing the player to strike twice in a single breath before preparing for the enemy’s response. Two guns are available, the first is a beretta-type pistol the second being a standard automatic rifle, both have a percussive impact whenever they fire, even light shots connect with the decent force for softening up targets. As I took on hoards of skeletons to my surprise I found the auto rifle also pierced through the entire congregation as I survived a short while longer.

Instead of cashing souls-I mean experience points in the player levels up as they gather more which I presume increases the strength of the character’s combat. The one concern I had was the health bar. I expected there would be some landmark or enemy drop that would offer me health recovery (the healing potions only do 10% each) however I found not even the checkpoints did and I ended up spending my money mostly on recovering health. I’m unsure if there are further plans for this or if I have missed a critical detail.

While it is an ALPHA build Return is plenty an experience. it very much is a vertical slice of a satisfying game with enough environmental storytelling and encounters to keep the pacing fresh without bogging the player down with entangling webs of complicated euphemism and passive details. I can suggest that players don’t expect a high-octane combat experience like Hollow Night and Dead Cells. The thrills are there but they are finales and choruses to a gentle melody.

Return doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to atmospheric ambiance. Despite the engaging tracks the sound design and environmental art saturate the player with the glassy stillness of the wilderness. If you ever go far enough into nature towards fall and winter you can find moments where the world has become completely still, all you can hear is your own breath. That’s it, nothing else. It’s not a silence you can hear inside as even the hum of a furnace or water pipes, or any of the thousand whirling components inside all our appliances. Not unlike Nier Automata dare I say even more than that game Return finds the melancholic stillness that only nature can provide.

If you would like to try Return you can play it now at Itch.io. You can also support the developer through donations or wishlist it on Steam.

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