Honour The Great Horned Metal God
When Slain was released on PC back in March of this year it got a pretty bad rap. Several reviewers described it as a beautiful game with amazing sprite-based art, but sadly its boring gameplay just didn’t seem to match its astonishing visual quality. Numerous critics mentioned that the protagonist just didn’t have any power to his attacks and the overall combat simply wasn’t satisfying. “Unfair” and “brutally difficult” were a few other adjectives I came across while glancing over a few reviews. Lucky for me my first time playing this masterpiece wasn’t the original release that these reviewers played. I’m one of the lucky ones that got to play its re-release, “Slain: Back From Hell“, before the original flawed game got to spoil my enjoyment and leave a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever Wolf Brew Games did to fix the original release’s shortcomings, they deserve some kind of medal!
Slain: Back From Hell is the most fun I’ve had playing an action platformer since I was a kid. The story here isn’t the most compelling adventure you will play this year. It’s a pretty basic plot for a platformer, but not many games like this have a deep narrative to begin with. You play as the totally badass, grey-haired, metal head Bathoryn, who has been awakened from his deathly slumber by a spirit who is in need of his assistance. Bathoryn wishes to just be left alone but the spirit insists he must awake as it’s “time again” and his children need him. Begrudgingly, Bathoryn heeds the spirit’s words and grasps the sword that he’s been implored to use.
From the offset you will immediately notice that Slain: Back from Hell looks spectacular. The intro screen itself is very reminiscent of any 80’s metal album cover you can find at your local record store (if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby). Unlike several other retro-inspired games, Slain: BFH takes advantage of every square inch of your screen by filling it with breathtaking Gothic artwork consisting of beautifully vibrant pixels. I was excited to complete each section because I knew the next section was going to offer new candy for my eyes and as expected, developer Wolf Brew Games never failed to impress. Consisting of creepy, blood-soaked castles, wolf-filled forests, and dank, goopy sewers, this is hands down the most gorgeously created 2D platformer I’ve ever experienced.
Complimenting the environments, Slain: BFH features some impressively rendered enemy sprite-work that includes your Gothic fare of werewolves, vampires, and witches. Stage bosses are humongous, screen-filling beasts that never failed to amaze me. Blood and gooey saliva are often dripping from half-rotting skeletons as they attempt to smash and bash your skull in with magnificently fluid animations. Ghostly transparent children possessing large butcher knives will charge at you just to disappear and reappear from behind for a sneak attack all while laughing gleefully as they slice into your skin. So much attention went into every piece of art I really felt like I was part of its dark and depressing world. I couldn’t help from smiling ear to ear while hacking and slashing throughout each and every expertly crafted environment.
Former Celtic Frost bassist Curt Victor Bryant takes the reins here and handles Slain: BFH’s heavy metal soundtrack gloriously. Catchy heavy-metal riffs will make carving into ghouls and ghosts a thrilling experience. My expectations of seeing surreal environments with each passing stage were verbatim to my excitement to hear what metal melody awaited me once a new area was reached. Boss fight music made every battle an electrifying experience and gave me a feeling that every strike I landed made the music get a bit heavier.
The game’s sound effects don’t take a back seat to the heavy metal soundtrack. The buckets of blood falling from slain enemies are followed by a satisfying “splash” once the crimson red pixels reach the ground. Skeletons and wolves will hiss and growl at you as you draw near and their ghostly counterparts will let out a few blood-curdling moans and groans while flying through the air. With each enemy dispatched a quick burst of satisfaction will flow through you but on the other side of things, when Bathoryn perishes he will let out a disheartening scream. However, due to the awesome gameplay, you will want to try again to push past where you died and get to the next checkpoint.
Speaking of gameplay, everything feels and works as it should. Jumps feel spot on and Bathoryn has just the right amount to weightiness to him. Sword thrusts are quick and easy to pull off with a quick press of the attack button. Holding down the attack button and releasing at the peak of the power-up will turn Bathoryn’s sword thrust into a force to be reckoned with. You must time this perfectly though, because if released too early or late the attack will be cancelled altogether. A magic attack is mapped to its own button and this too can be powered up but timing doesn’t factor into its attack and releasing the button whenever needed is always an option. This magic attack will also harm multiple enemies dishing out damage until it reaches the edge of your screen. Throughout the campaign Bathoryn will come into possession of weapons with elemental powers to help slaughter certain enemies. Most enemies have weaknesses to different elements and it’s a fulfilling experience when you figure out the elemental weapon to use against an enemy that was giving you trouble. This all may sound like Bathoryn is overpowered but when surrounded by the typical enemies with the addition of more powerful projectile lobbing baddies, you can easily become overwhelmed, which brings me to my next point: Slain: BFH is far from easy.
Unless you’re really good at action platformers, you will die in Slain: BFH a lot. Traps are littered throughout each stage and I guarantee even though they are clearly visible, you will be crushed or stabbed multiple times by the same trap. Enemies will surround you and on occasion you’ll feel a bit claustrophobic, ultimately leading to a handful of deaths. Thankfully, if you are killed, the game will quickly start you right at your last checkpoint, making death not a spirit crushing punishment. Each death felt like it was completely my fault and I seemed to learn and get a little bit further with each new attempt. The checkpoint system is very generous with several placed at what always seemed like the perfect spot.
A few very small complaints I have are definitely notable but shouldn’t take away from any gamer’s enjoyment. The platforming in the game can be described as very easy. Most missed jumps will just cause you to drop down to a few levels below. This would usually be frustrating but I’d often just let myself get killed so I’d re-spawn back to the upper levels checkpoint. Another small complaint is that the stage bosses all seemed a bit easy compared to the challenge of actually reaching them. This is due to their patterns all being very recognizable, but I still felt like a badass every time I defeated one. With the slaying of each boss you will be prompted to press the attack button to “Honour the Great Horned Metal God” and doing so will make Bathoryn headbang while gripping his sword like a microphone stand. It’s all very stylistic and fitting.
I can’t gush enough about Slain: BFH. It has everything I look for in an action-platformer: great controls, beautiful environments, badass enemies, and catchy tunes. If you’re looking to scratch that action-platformer itch I strongly recommend you not pass this up! Get it and Honour the Great Horned Metal God!
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Digerati Distribution ; Developer: Wolf Brew Games ; Players: 1 ; Release Date: August 1, 2016 ; ESRB: NA
Full Disclosure: This was made possible by a review copy provided by the publisher.