Seraph’s gameplay concept is a relatively simple one, it’s a combat focused action platformer where the players focus is placed on evasion and manoeuvrability. By taking away the need to aim at specific targets, the player character is free to duck and weave through a stream of bullets without concern as to where their own are flying. This reduced control affords more complicated level design and enemy attack patterns, however unfortunately for Seraph, a sense of monotony strikes sooner than these systems take to flourish.
Similar to many bullet hell titles where the players own lasers home in on targets, or consume most of the space on the screen, by automatically locking onto enemies with her weapons, Seraph only asks the player to evade the enemy gunfire and physical attacks. While this may sound simple, the progressive difficulty and layering of enemy attack patterns makes this a complicated task.
Ducking and weaving between enemy bullets and physical attacks is at the heart of Seraph’s gameplay and that doesn’t really change as the game progresses. Physical attacking enemies try to lunge at you, while others attack you from afar with projectiles. Each of these mechanics is designed to keep you moving and they do a decent job of doing just that. Gunning through the games, blasting demons apart as you go is enjoyable, and almost reminiscent of the run and gun playstyles featured in popular titles like Doom or Titanfall.
Seraph herself possesses a few tools to that enable her to be more manoeuvrable, including a double jump, and dash ability that provides a brief period of invulnerability, enabling you to dodge through bullets and enemies. Despite this, the experience can become repetitive. The adaptive difficulty system continually turns up the notch as you successfully beat each level and that’s fine, but it was rare that the core gameplay deviated from its formula. Although the number of enemies on screen begins to increase as the game progresses, the enemy variety is particularly lacking. From the first few levels to several hours into the game you’ll find yourself encountering the same enemies, providing the same set of challenges. It doesn’t create a very interesting gameplay dynamic in the long term.
Initially you might think Seraph’s levels are metroidvania by design, but this isn’t the case, and while they’re open in a similar manner to that which you would expect from a metroidvania game, each level is quite contained, and doesn’t require considerable back tracking. Once you’ve completed the level objective that’s it, you can leave through the level exit. This simplistic level structure fits the fast paced combat orientated gameplay style and the secrets the levels do hold are rewarding to locate. It’s a shame that each level is set to a relatively drab environmental aesthetic however, and the minimal variation from one level to the next does little to alleviate this issue.
It isn’t as if the environments are disinteresting or poorly crafted, but spending close to 60 minutes before seeing any variation in the level aesthetic is a little dull, and then to have the next level feature an environment that’s equally simplistic with it’s use of colour does very little to remedy this issue. The same can be said for the games enemies, which vary very little from one stage to the next, a far cry from the likes of Spelunky where each stage is populated by distinct enemy types, forcing continual re-adaptation of the players gameplay style.
Seraph does have a number of powers which you can develop and unlock as you progress however, and these these afford the player the agency to interject some of their own playstyle, which is a nice addition. For instance you may choose to specialise towards more close ranged, or long ranged abilities. Unfortunately these abilities are buried within a needlessly convoluted crafting system that doesn’t really fit the games relatively simplistic pick up and play gameplay style. However if get past the menus and interfaces these upgrades are hidden within, the games crafting and progression systems add a beneficial variety to the core gameplay, allowing the player to do diversify the core gameplay with their own, unique flavour.
While the initial feeling of playing Seraph is tremendously fun and engaging, the experience slowly wears you down as you realise that the game expects you to repeat the same gameplay loop, with only very minor variation until its conclusion. An unfortunate lack of enemy and environmental variety brings the experience down, and although new enemies do force an slight adaptation of your playstyle, this isn’t sufficient to prevent the moment to moment gameplay from feeling incredibly similar from the very first level, to the last. At the same time, a lack of environmental and aesthetic variety does little to distract from this fact. Seraph’s core gameplay loop is worth your time, but in the long-term the game expects too much of the players attention without providing enough content to justify their continual engagement.