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The Sequel to My Favorite Underrated Metroidvania Is Already Great in Early Access

Ender Magnolia could get the recognition its predecessor deserved.

screenshot from Ender Magnolia
Binary Haze
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The 2021 Metroidvania Ender Lilies may not be the best known game, but its evocative art and music along with its inventive gameplay earned critical acclaim. I fell in love with the game when I first played, but have rarely heard it discussed in the years since. So when a sequel called Ender Magnolia was announced at a Nintendo Direct in February, I was equal parts surprised and thrilled to see the series return. Based on the few hours available now with the game in early access, Ender Magnolia feels like a confident step forward that may get the series the attention it deserves.

While I’d definitely recommend playing Ender Lilies, you can skip straight to Ender Magnolia without being totally lost. Both games take place in the same world, but Ender Magnolia is set years later and in a different location. For the most part, Ender Lilies was a game more about vibes than explicit story, with most of the narrative coming through short flashbacks after boss battles and in item descriptions. Ender Magnolia continues that tradition, but with the addition of a central town full of NPCs who help the game tell a stronger tale.

Ender Magnolia was a welcome surprise at Nintendo Direct.

In Ender Magnolia, you play as a young girl named Lilac. As an Attuner, Lilac is capable of wrangling Homunculi, artificial lifeforms created to serve humanity but are now running amok thanks to an outbreak of a strange toxic gas. There are both allusions to Ender Lilies and some explicit connections, but the details are presented clearly enough that if you didn’t play the first game, they just come across as backstory that’s being introduced for the first time here.

Lilac’s powers as an Attuner drive the game’s unique combat style. Like Ender Lilies’ protagonist, Lilac never directly attacks enemies. Instead, she “purifies” especially powerful Homunculi who serve as the game’s bosses to fight by her side after defeating them. Each Homunculus can be mapped to one of four buttons to be called upon in combat. Your most basic attack summons a Homunculus to swing a sword, but others later in the demo follow you and attack on their own, leap at enemies to freeze them, or guard Lilac and counterattack if used at the right moment.

Try not to get distracted by the scene in battle.

Binary Haze

That will all be familiar to Ender Lilies players, as will the game’s gorgeous presentation. The painterly dark fantasy aesthetic of Ender Lilies returns here, now with a sci-fi twist on the original’s gothic style. Everything looks a bit sharper this time, and character designs have become more detailed. The biggest change comes from the game’s backgrounds, which remind me of the intricate matte paintings once common in films. Over and over in the three hours or so currently available, I stopped to stare in wonder at castle ruins and vibrant flora that make up the game’s landscape.

The classical indie group Mili returns to compose Ender Magnolia’s score, as it did with Ender Lilies. This time around, vocals frequently accompany the somber piano soundtrack, filling the game with emotion. Between its music and rampaging robots, there’s more than a little of Nier Automata’s heavy vibes in Ender Magnolia.

Ender Magnolia is a downer in all the right ways.

Binary Haze

Ender Magnolia’s combat feels like it’s gotten the same coat of polish. While the mechanics remain the same, animations feel a bit smoother, and both Lilac and her foes are quicker than the sometimes sluggish characters in Ender Lilies. Boss fights are a particular highlight. Each one has a distinct moveset that makes every new encounter a surprise, and they usually pull out a whole new set of tricks as you get closer to beating them. The game overall feels much easier than Ender Lilies, at least so far, but its boss fights still feel more satisfying thanks to their clever mechanics. Progression also happens much faster, with new abilities coming quickly and new areas frequently opening up.

If you’ve played Ender Lilies, you’ll find Ender Magnolia to be a familiar but altogether improved experience over the first game that manages to be more approachable without losing any of the original’s charm. For anyone else, this is a great time to see what you’ve been missing. Ender Magnolia is expected to remain in early access for six months to a year, so we could be exploring the entirety of its gorgeous wasteland by this winter.

Ender Magnolia is available in early access now on PC. The full game is expected to release on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch in 2024 or early 2025.

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