The Tarnishing of Juxtia is a 2D platforming soulslike developed by Actual Nerds and published by Mastiff alongside Neverland Entertainment. I played as the final pawn of the goddess Juxtia sent to fight through dangerous paths and grotesque foes in a world foul and tarnished. All in all, I felt as if the game didn’t deliver what it promised until it was essentially over.
The narrative was par for the course with other dark fantasy no-names questing for a questionable entity, but the presentation was phenomenal. So much layered care and detail went into this gorgeous pixelated universe going through varying states of triumph, isolation, and decay. The music never failed to set the tone, whether it be an eerie finding, a jovial masquerade, or a monstrous battle.
As is standard, I was managing hazards with limited healing items to unlock a boss fight. Upon death I had one chance to recover my speck, the game’s currency and experience. Notably, blocking and parrying were repurposed as spells that could be unlocked later in the game. Instead, the combat focused around rolling and an Energy Rush system that would boost my mana and stamina replenishment once I landed a big enough combo. I was fascinated with this daring design choice, but it felt severely out of place against too many enemies and made a lot of weapons irrelevant.
The wind-up on heavy attacks, full weapon combos, and even some spells left me vulnerable for way too long to be useful. Armor had no lasting value since the best pieces came in sets and would outperform preceding sets, across all stats, by a few points. Although I could equip two weapons, I only had the resources to upgrade one of them, and I had little desire to replace my starting sword. While I loved the quick responsive movement, the combat took some getting used to, but my enjoyment of both was mutually exclusive. Fighting anything not on my horizontal axis was out of the question, and the delayed turning mid-attack reinforced that sentiment. Luckily, no boss fights required platforming, and most of the other enemies could be bypassed.
The world was laid out in zones with wonderfully diverse perils, but each area grew cold, formulaic, and forgettable. I was immersed in the narrative and art subtly rerouting me towards the correct path, but this trait was only shared by two locations. The rest of the stages felt as if the path was inconvenient simply for the sake of being inconvenient. Extra content was hidden away for me to scavenge, but since the map presented itself as a chore, I was feeling more duty-bound than adventurous. By the third area I was sprinting past enemies and potential secrets alike, granted they were mostly dead ends.
Initially, each boss was breathtakingly unique, but fighting against a handful of random moves didn’t evolve past alternating attacks and rolls. I felt as if success lingered on a lucky cycle rather than mastery. I’d be more forgiving of depth, but too much frustration came from camera shake, overlapping effects, and poor audio balance rather than difficulty. In fairness, only one frustration presented itself during any given time and not en masse. However, too many arenas required tedious runs from the nearest checkpoint, and all of them had increasingly longer unskippable dialogue.
Too much of my time was spent doing essentially nothing, and by the time I got to the part where all the game elements were firing off on all cylinders, I had finished it. All the bones were there in a very pretty sepulcher, but this soulslike is lacking a soul. The Tarnishing of Juxtia is available July 26 on Steam for $24.99 with a discount at launch.
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