A game's setting can make or break the experience. Think of the first time you opened the door at the beginning of Elden Ring and the Lands Between sprawled out before you or when you descended the underwater elevator into Rapture in BioShock. Most of these settings are wholly imagined spaces, but that's not always the case—sometimes modern cities get a makeover for games like Fallout 4 or The Last of Us 2. Such is the case with Altered Alma, a new Metroidvania set in Neo-Barcelona, and I'm looking forward to seeing what sorts of flavor this can bring to the genre.
The game follows the journey of Jack, a young mercenary with a fiery red ponytail, a Quantum Blade, and a bone to pick with the futuristic metropolis's thugs and kingpins. Her journey will find you platforming, fighting, upgrading, and exploring the way you might in any other Metroidvania, but with a few twists and turns—some of which are born out of its setting.
"We want to bring the city to the forefront," 2Awesome studio lead David Jimenez says. “So when we design a biome, a room, or even a simple prop, we try to take inspiration from our real-life experiences to give it our spin. In Neo-Barcelona, you find aliens, robots, augmented humans, and weird, unexpected creatures. For example, Park Guell, we changed that from a tourist attraction to a jungle-like area where lizard-like creatures live, taking inspiration from the actual dragon statues by Gaudí."
There's something uniquely thrilling about playing a video game set in a reimagined part of the real world, especially one you're familiar with. Swinging Spidey through Manhattan and going "Hey, I've been there!" or eyeing the Capitol building in DC from a distance in the Division takes something that feels like it should be familiar and subverts it, making it a whole new experience.
The surrealist Salvador Dalí is a key part of Spanish culture, but he's even more interesting when a huge painting of him is the backdrop for a boss fight shooting lasers at you from its eyeballs.
The setting isn't the only way Alma is subverting expectations, however. Introduced at your home base, the spaceship Kastefa, is a dating sim system that affects many other parts of the game. You'll revisit old friendships and forge new ones as you invite people to join you in your quest, upgrading your ship and offering new tools for Jack to use.
"Having NPCs in your base that open shops and crafting stations is great in metroidvanias and RPGs, and adding romance options there takes it the extra mile," Jimenez says. "We want the player to feel a real connection with the characters in the game, and the chase for that deeper emotion is what pointed us in this design direction."
I can't think of many better cities to have a romance in than Barcelona, even if it is with a bright pink alien named Harry. The city's neon signs, retro movie posters, and streams of flying cars like Coruscant give the whole place a distinct cyberpunk vibe. Combat looks sharp and snappy, and using the Quantum Blade as a throwing knife you can warp to looks like a sweet way to traverse these mean streets. The one boss fight I saw reminded me of my first encounter with Hornet in Hollow Knight, which is high praise.
Altered Alma doesn't have a release date yet, but you can check out 2AwesomeStudio on Twitter.