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The Best Indie Metroidvania of 2021 Is Getting a Gorgeous Sequel

Get a head start on one of 2024’s most intriguing indie games.

screenshot from Ender Lilies
Binary Haze Interactive
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Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct revealed plenty of exciting games coming to the Switch, but for one very specific kind of gamer (me), the most exciting announcement was an indie Metroidvania shown in the first few minutes. While the newly announced game isn’t coming until sometime later this year, that means now is a great time to play its fantastic sleeper hit of a predecessor.

Ender Magnolia is a dark fantasy game set in a world overrun with artificial lifeforms called homunculi. Playing as a young girl named Lilac, your goal is to “liberate” these homunculi, bringing bosses over to your side by defeating them.

Ender Lilies is well worth playing before Ender Magnolia launches later this year.

That’s not too different from the plot of Ender Lilies, the 2021 game that establishes Ender Magnolia’s universe. In Ender Lilies, a young priestess sets out to rid the land of evil after a plague called the Blight has swept across the land, turning humans into monsters. Like in Ender Magnolia, defeated bosses become allies, giving its combat a welcome twist from its genre peers.

Ender Lilies begins with a young girl named Lily waking up alone in a church. Alone, that is, except for the soul of a devoted knight close by. Lily is atypical as a player character. She can’t attack enemies at all, and her method of dodging is just to belly flop onto the floor. Instead, her brave knight fights for her. Press the attack button, and Lily steps back while the knight moves forward to swing his sword.

Lily isn’t helpless, though. As the last surviving White Priestess, she has the power to cleanse the Blight infecting her home. That allows her to free the spirits of some Blight-stricken entities (mostly the game’s bosses), so they can join her in her quest. Ender Lilies is light on story, but boss fights are usually accompanied by a short cutscene showing how these warriors were corrupted and what they fought to protect before succumbing. These short sequences can be surprisingly moving, thanks in large part to the game’s gorgeous, somber piano soundtrack.

Defeated foes become allies in Ender Lilies.

Binary Haze Interactive

In practical terms, these freed souls become Lily’s attacks, with more becoming available throughout the game. One of the earliest is the soul of a nun who once served the priestesses, wielding a flail. Using her attack leaves the nun swinging her flail where you summoned her as Lily is free to continue moving. Later souls offer projectiles, swings that can smash through barriers, and shields — basically everything you’d expect from a Metroidvania — as Lily herself grows stronger. A total of six abilities can be equipped at once, assigned to two sets of three that can be swapped any time. Deciding which souls to equip and in which combination adds a satisfying layer of strategy to what’s overall a pretty simple combat system.

That is, simple to understand, but not easy. As much as it belongs to the Metroidvania genre, Ender Lilies also borrows from Dark Souls, both in its subtle storytelling and its difficulty. Picking the right abilities to equip and getting really good at using them together is an absolute must as the game progresses. Ender Lilies never feels like it’s forcing you into a particular build, but it does demand that you master whatever tools you choose.

Ender Lilies’s combat is tough but rewarding, with a unique twist.

BInary Hze Interactive

At first, Ender Lilies’ world is full of familiar-looking ruined towns in a fairly linear map. But as the game goes on, the environments get weirder and the path connecting them gets good and twisted, requiring a full kit of unlockable abilities to fully navigate. Ender Lilies’ excellent combat is much better than its traversal mechanics, but both parts of the game pull their weight.

For Metroidvania fans, Ender Lilies may not do anything outrageously new. Rather than pushing some radical new gameplay, its charm comes from how it chooses to present staples of the genre. Turning skills into summonable allies is a genius twist, and what really makes it work is how much the game commits. The spirits’ backstories, their interesting designs, and even Lily’s animations when they appear are all made with such care that they help bring the game to life. Along with the soundtrack, Ender Lilies’ art is dripping with style, selling the vision of its beautiful but doomed world.

Judging by its trailer, Ender Magnolia seems to double down on everything that made Ender Lilies special, with quicker combat and more NPCs to flesh out its world. Ender Magnolia doesn’t have a specific release date yet, so there’s still time to experience the great Ender Lilies before its sequel’s launch later this year.

Ender Lilies is available on Playstation, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox.

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