Cuba's 'first major indie game' is a gorgeous platformer about bad decisions and environmental catastrophe, so long as you can get over the checkpoints

A figure with glowing eyes and bloody hands stares into the camera.
(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Saviorless is beautiful, which is handy, because I've had to look at the same parts of it again and again in the few hours I've spent with it to write this piece. Released this week on Steam and Epic by Cuban studio Empty Head Games and billed irresistibly as the country's "first major indie game," Saviorless is a 2D side-scrolling platformer that looks for all the world like a very pretty, very sombre Saturday morning cartoon.

It's visually arresting at every step; the world a kind of muted post-apocalypse wrought by an unintentional environmental catastrophe. The herons have been hunted to near-extinction, the buildings all have an inconvenient tendency to collapse, and what few people remain besides the player character seem to have eaten their own sins. Seriously: One of the few lifeforms that exist in abundance are parasitic worms that burst out of the people you meet at inopportune moments, staining the art's clean lines and bold colours with dull, wet gore.

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

The vibes are impeccable, and they're what keeps pulling me back to the game. Don't get me wrong, the platforming isn't bad, but the game hasn't felt like anything I've not played before in the hour or two I've spent in it so far. 

It plays, mostly, like a kind of slower take on the old Abe's Oddysee/Exoddus games, or maybe the 2D Prince of Persias. Your character—Antar—is just a kid in a kind of shift dress after all. His combat ability begins and ends at jumping high and crouching, making every enemy more of a puzzle than a straightforward combat encounter.

Mostly. Because Saviorless does do something a bit interesting in the gameplay I've seen so far: Every so often, Antar takes a nap, at which point you transition into controlling a 10-feet tall horse demon named Nento, who is both very keen on usurping Antar as the game's protagonist and who actually has some limited combat skills. 

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

Where Antar's boss fights consist of dodging abilities while you use mechanisms in the level to get the upper hand, Nento's playstyle sees you dodging their attacks before moving into slash at them with your claws. A little later on, you gain access to a kind of third player character who has some of Nento's combat moves as well as an airdash, spicing up the traversal and combat a little as you continue to make your way through the world.

My only real problem with the game so far is its checkpoints. Like I said up top, I've seen the same parts of Saviorless quite a few times in my playthrough. That's not because the game reuses assets, it's because Antar dies in a single hit from anything and Saviorless has a wearying tendency to send you back just a little further than you'd like when he does. 

(Image credit: Dear Villagers)

It's not egregious, you aren't restarting the whole level or anything, but it's my firm belief that any game that kills you in a single hit and requires tight, careful timing needs to be extra generous with its checkpointing. The game isn't too hard, but you will definitely bite it a few times unless you're a true prodigy, at which point you'll have to spend longer than you want getting back where you were (and, perhaps worst of all, going through the same short cutscenes all over again).

But these are just quibbles. On the whole, I've enjoyed luxuriating in Saviorless' pitch-perfect vibes so far. If this is what we can expect from Cuban game development, consider me incredibly eager to see more.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.