Slain: Back From Hell-Nintendo Switch Review

Video review due later

Developer: Wolf Brew Games

Publisher: Digerati 

Release Date: 7th December

Price as of Article: $19,99  £17,99

Story

As you are awoken by the gods, you are tasked with clearing the doom which shrouds six gothic-looking realms and defeating the bosses which have a stranglehold on them. All you have is your sword which gives off an aura of power.  You will face many minions on the way and will no doubt perish many times. As the hero, do you have what it takes to reach the conclusion and discover where both you and that mighty sword originated?

 

Audio

Let’s get straight to the point.  If you love heavy metal, then you are going to absolutely love the soundtrack in Slain: Back From Hell (“Slain”).  The title of this game sounds like it could belong to a heavy metal band let alone a video game. It could be the name of an album, and as a lover of many different genres of music myself, I enjoyed this very much. The music composed by Curt Victor Bryant ties this game together nicely. The creator of the game wanted the music to sound Doomesque while moving through the levels. The riffs and thrashing of those wonderful electric guitars intertwine with the immersive and lively environments

While the music is not quite to the level of Doom, for example, it’s right up there, and it’s seriously impressive for an indie title. The sound effects are just as good.  Striking an enemy with your sword and hearing the blood and gore splat out is really quite satisfying. Hearing a fireball come towards you when you have not yet seen it prepares you to make that all-important jump or defensive block. Furthermore, you are able to hit these projectiles back from where they came if you get the timing right.

The game’s sound design is a real highlight here, and it strikes a chord with me personally having listened to many metal bands from the 80’s and 90’s.  I can completely appreciate how it will come down to taste though, and some may be turned off by the heavy metal sounds.

Visuals, performance and design

I personally love Castlevania games, and highlights for me included Symphony of the night, Aria of sorrow and of course the original Castlevania. I have enjoyed many others, but they are the ones which stood out to me. Each person will have their own favourites for differing reasons, and it’s only natural that people will compare this game to those from that franchise.

One of the highlights of this game are the visuals.  Quite frankly, they are stunning in every way. Andrew Gilmore, the developer of the game, is an animator at heart, and it shows in everything he has touched here. The setting is a fantasy gothic environment, and wow, it’s just so immersive! Everything moves from plants, to snow droplets, to rain, to the hair on our controllable hero’s head. The attention to detail here is astonishing and is a fantastic use of pixel art.

The thing with Slain is they have taken the retro 16-bit style and taken it a step further. The detail in the environments is really impressive and makes you as the player feel so much more immersed in the game. The levels, although 2d, have layers, and the use of the colour palette here is fantastic.  The lighting is probably what impressed me most, though.

The animations of the character and enemies are smooth, fluid and look great. There are lots of particle effects here all of which are used to perfection; you could literally stand around to take in this game’s beauty which I did a couple of times in the Wolves Cave.The environments are also diverse in each stage while giving differing challenges.  This is a game that should be released physically with great box art and a nice little manual. I would buy that in a heartbeat.  Also, release the soundtrack with it and take my money right this second.

The enemies here are really quite diverse.  You have skeletons, fire-breathing type creatures, and flying creatures which I call mana eaters as they like to swoop down and take your mana any chance they get.  They are annoying as they sound. The bosses also look absolutely superb.

The game ran exceedingly well in both handheld and in docked mode with no sign of the dreaded slowdown. It ran flawlessly during my time with the game which I am really happy to report.  This game does not have the Metroidvania-style map which we have come to know and love. The level design of this game is similar to the pre-Symphony of the Night Castlevania games.  It’s a fairly linear experience just getting from one side of the stages to the other. The design of the levels does allow for some secrets to also be found.  This is nice when you come across them and rewards the player a little if they are prepared to explore a little.

Gameplay

The sound and visuals are top notch here, but most importantly it’s all about fun factor and how it plays. If you have played Castlevania games in the past, then you will probably know that the bar set is quite high. In my eyes, most of those games are brilliant. Unfortunately, having beautiful visuals and a great musical score can only take you so far. While I had a lot of fun with Slain, it’s not up to Castlevania standards in terms of gameplay in my view.  Then again, few games of this type are.

When Slain was originally released, it received a poor reception.  The game controlled poorly and wasn’t fun to play. Wolf Brew games did a fantastic job reviewing the feedback they received on the original release and improved it drastically with Slain: Back From Hell.  And what an apt name it is!  You have to commend the developer for trying their best to improve the game. This is a simple hack and slash 2d platformer, and it is one that is very proud to be so.

On the Switch, the controls are tight and responsive. This game is basically about platforming and fighting monsters.  Some of the jumps you have to make need to be precise. Furthermore, the swipe of that sword needs to work at the precise moment when you command it. There are times when you will want reflect fireballs with your sword or hit a flying enemy at just the right time to take them down.

Here you have your basic button-mashing attack which swipes your sword. If you hold down the button then release it at just the right time, you will unleash a special melee attack. I mostly used this attack against the larger monsters you will come across and against some bosses when I could. You can of course jump, but there is no double jump here.  You also have a long-range mana attack.  There is also a more powerful version of this if you hold the button. The downside is it uses more mana from your mana bar and wipes it out in 2 uses. A  back dash complements the move set and can be used to dodge incoming attacks by sliding backwards quickly.

Anyone who thinks they can get through this game whilst button mashing is sorely mistaken. There are some parts where you can but most enemies will require the use of your skill and timing. For example, if you button mash, you won’t last 5 minutes much like in Dark Souls.  I think this game reminds me of Dark Souls quite a bit but in a 2D guise.

A good example is when you come up against the knights who have huge swords but are slow. If you go in and button mash, it will be over in two blows from the knight. You need to let the knight attack first or get just far away enough so you can have enough time to power up your special attack and then release. You could waste your spells on them but no doubt you will have to kill another straight after. There was a part where you needed to kill 5 or 6 of these in a row. They also have a cool-looking but irritating wolf spell that they can release. My point is you need to get to know the attack patterns of the various enemies in order for you to come out of these fights unscathed, and there are lots of enemies like this throughout Slain.  There is a wealth of enemy types to kill on your way to the end of level bosses.

If you love bosses then this is your game because you have mini boss fights, sub mini-boss fights and then macro sub mini-boss fights. I found the game to be quite fun but also rather frustrating. You will die a lot here no matter how skilled you are, and some of those bosses will test your patience.

The precise jumps, avoiding traps and killing enemies will all take their toll on you. It requires a lot of trial and error to ensure that you do better each time you attempt these things, but you have got to have the skill to do it.  The only reward is the satisfaction you get for finally reaching that elusive checkpoint. This is the time when you go an make a brew, take a deep breath and calm down. Some of the levels are just brutal, and I died so many times that I lost count.

There is no crafting, or grinding to get stronger. In fact, it’s one of the selling points of the game itself. While that may be the case, I was yearning for a little more depth, but I did also appreciate the simplicity and that pick up and play feeling. There are no power-ups as such, but you will attain elemental powers for your sword later on such as ice or fire, and there are a few other abilities which all look super cool. There are some really awesome parts to the game, and one such highlight is when your being chased by a massive white wolf and have to traverse a number of platforms quickly to get away. You morph into a beast yourself, and this brought back memories of Altered Beast which I loved on the Mega Drive.

If you have played another great little indie game called Butcher, then this is quite similar in terms of challenge. I’m talking about Butcher in hard mode. I grew up playing games like these in arcades spending too much money and was glad when they started to appear on home consoles as I would end up just losing time instead!  For me and the guys and girls who grew up playing this type of game, think Ghost and Goblins .  Then you will know where I am coming from, and this was probably inspired by games like these.

 

value

There are some secrets to find, and there are 6 levels to beat. This doesn’t sound like a lot you may say but trust me, it will take you a good while as you will die a lot.  It’s probably going to take you around 4-6 hours to complete. There are secrets to go back and find which will give you talisman pieces,  these are really only good for the final boss and are not really needed.  The game is a little more expensive than other indie titles at £17,99 or $19,99 but in my opinion, you’re getting a fair value here.  There will be a number of players returning to perfect their sword slaying skills and achieve faster level times.