As flawed as it was I really enjoyed the original Exile. Once upon a time I was a broke teenager too poor to afford a $400 Turbo CD add-on and so had to settle for the lesser Genesis version. I still managed to enjoy the game, busted localization and all. The game’s unique (for the time) Middle Eastern setting allowed it to stand out from similar games in the same time frame. Years later I would finally get the chance to own the superior Working Designs release and enjoy the cutscenes I ogled in the pages of my magazines years prior.
I wish I could say the same for the sequel. Exile: Wicked Phenomenon is one of my biggest gaming disappointments, made even more so by the fact that it didn’t have to be this way. Some unnecessary tampering by Working Designs has left the game nearly unplayable although even in spite of this the game had a few other problems.
Sadler returns once again, this time fighting religious intolerance and hatred around the world. A mysterious prophet warns Sadler of a curse that is sweeping Baghdad and soon the world and that he is the only one that can stop it. His quest will ultimately cross paths with old allies and eventually the living embodiment of the world’s hate.
Honestly it’s a bit too preachy and heavy handed to work so it’s actually somewhat of a bonus that this sequel isn’t as story heavy as its predecessor. It still doesn’t excuse the way your traveling companions from the first game have returned; they simply show up and aside from Rumi no explanation is given. The lack of any real story based progression casts a poll on the rest of the game as you simply move on from one town to the next. The world map has been removed and once you’ve moved on from an area there is no backtracking. There’s no reason to talk to villagers either since you won’t be collecting items to help them solve their troubles. It really comes across as though the game was made cheaply; there are very few cutscenes as well, one of the best attributes of the series.
Gameplay wise Telenet has made your traveling companions more useful since you can now switch between all 4 (and eventually 5) characters at will. They each come with their own stats in terms of jumping ability and power plus form of attack. Rumi can jump the highest and attacks from long range but is weak. Sadler is a jack of all trades but master of none. Fakhyle has homing magic but is far from ideal when platforming. Kindhy is physically the strongest but has the shortest range.
Now take all of that information and throw it away. It’s pointless to use anyone but Sadler and eventually Lawrence. The rest of the cast are either so weak they’ll die in one or two hits or have such short range that they will take hits in the exchange of blows. As a result there’s no point wasting your hard earned gold upgrading their equipment. It was a nice gesture to try and add some variety to the game but considering the already near impossible difficulty there’s no need to make it harder on yourself.
The difficulty is what completely ruins the game and it all stems from a mistake made on the part of Working Designs. In an attempt to increase the difficulty over the easier Japanese version WD made one edit too many that increased the attack power of the enemies in the game exponentially. You’ll see this first hand as soon as the first action stage when the scorpions kill you in one or two hits. To stand even the slightest chance of survival you have to move forward in increments but even this isn’t enough; you have to be at the very edge of the screen for the game to scroll forward at which point whatever enemies lie in wait will smack right into you.
You see this boss? It took close to ten minutes of wailing on him before it went down.
The game maintains this same ridiculous tone for the length of the adventure and gets worse during boss battles. Most bosses have a life bar the length of the entire meter and unless you’ve tried power leveling all of your attacks will inflict minimal damage. But your options for doing so are limited as most enemies don’t respawn and you can’t revisit prior zones. Do you fancy wailing on the same guy for 20 minutes, where each hit you take could possibly mean death and a repeat of the entire process all over again? I didn’t think so. To see the ending you’ll more than likely use a cheat code for invincibility as it just gets worse over time.
It’s sad because the game shouldn’t have turned out this way. While it isn’t stunning Wicked Phenomenon certainly has its moments. The action stages usually feature a layer or two of parallax scrolling but as a whole it’s obvious the game was done on a budget. The overworld towns all share the same generic layout, there are no cute anime style portraits, and only a few cutscenes. What few exist feature more animation than before and are decently voice acted but I imagine due to the game’s shorter length there was no need to add more.
As much as I want to like the game I can’t recommend Exile: Wicked Phenomenon in good conscience. There are plenty of games that are unfairly hard such as Battletoads but at least in those cases they can be overcome with perseverance. You’ll have no such luck here, leaving only the most dedicated gamers willing to tackle this mountain.