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Golden Force Review (Switch)

Guts, Glory, and Gold

Mercenaries might be a dime a dozen, but they all have one thing in common: they fear nothing! A boat-eating octopus? Nah. A possessed tree monster? Nope. A laser-firing, shark-like ship? Not even close. These beasts quake with fear at the very sight of the Golden Force! The legendary group has defeated monsters the world over. There’s one beast that cannot be tamed, and its name strikes fear into the hearts of even the bravest warriors:

Bankruptcy!

Even the Golden Force needs money. You can’t pay your bills with action-packed stories, and money doesn’t grow on trees, although, it does explode out of the corpses of your fallen foes. With that in mind, the Golden Force sets off for the Muscle Archipelago in search of new fortunes, and the only thing that stands in their way is the aforementioned boat-eating octopus.

 

If It Moves, Stab It

Golden Force makes a great first impression with its delightfully frantic octopus fight. It serves as a primer for the gameplay, but it also acts as a brief tutorial for the controls. Y attacks (for a three-hit combo), B jumps, A slides, and X dashes. The shoulder buttons pull up your saved item, and clicking the left stick uses it. You can also charge your attack by holding Y. There’s also a special attack that calls in cannon reinforcements if you manage to max out the gauge by attacking enough.

Golden Force’s combat is fast, smooth, and frequently chaotic. One unique aspect of the battle system is that you can launch enemies by hitting them with your charge attack. Launched enemies can ricochet into other enemies causing damage. It’s not much damage, but it’s fun, and it looks ridiculous. You have to be careful, though, because launched enemies can land on you, causing damage. You can also use launched enemies to collect coins and hit switches.

As a retro-styled run ‘n’ gun (well, run ‘n’ stab, really) platformer, Golden Force takes cues from several different franchises. It has Wario’s obsession with money, Mario’s platforming, Gunstar Heroes’ over-the-top explosive quality, and, for better or worse, Ghosts n’ Goblins difficulty. The general flow of the game is pretty much what you would expect from this type of game. There’s plenty of enemies to slay, obstacles to avoid, and money to acquire.

 

Platform Your Way to Fortunes Untold

The game’s platforming is traditional. There’s a ton of jumping, swimming, avoiding spikes and other spiky objects, climbing ropes, and bouncing. There are a few basic puzzles such as hitting switches, opening doors, and sometimes rotating parts of the environment. There’s nothing extraordinary here, but I do wish more puzzles had been included. They’re a nice change of pace from the non-stop combat, even if they are easy. You also frequently get locked into areas in which you’re required to defeat all the enemies to proceed. These areas are often timed. If you manage to defeat them within the time limit, you’re rewarded with a massive chest packed with cash.

There are twenty-two levels in the game, and each level has three hidden coins and a shell to find. The coins are used to buy life upgrades, and you can buy an additional swing to your combo with the shells. You can also spend your money on a variety of different items to help give you the edge in battle. You can only hold one item at a time, though, and they’re pretty expensive. These items also infrequently appear scattered throughout the levels.

There’s a fire attack that causes damage over time, an ice attack that freezes enemies in their tracks, and a strength potion that increases your damage. There’s also an instant revive item (that’s automatically used) and an invincibility potion. Unfortunately, none of those items last for very long, so you’re likely to only use them in those timed challenge areas or during boss fights.

 

Brains and Brawn Required

Golden Force’s graphical design looks like something out of the 16-bit era. There’s something about the color palette that makes it feel like a Genesis game. The tropical setting is bright and cheery, and the more sinister environments such as the haunted forest and the castle are appropriately haunting. There’s a lot of little details to enjoy, if you can take the time to see them. The soundtrack perfectly matches with the game’s environments and speed as well. As a whole, it’s an enjoyable world to explore.

The gratuitous amount of gore caused by enemies exploding is simply delightful. Every enemy explodes like it’s a giant blood-filled balloon. In addition to showering blood everywhere, money also erupts from their corpses. It fits perfectly with the game’s lighthearted themes. You can’t help but laugh when you slaughter a group of enemies, and the screen is just showered in red and gold.

The game’s boss fights deserve special mention as well. Every fight is unique and requires a different strategy. These bosses are massive and complicated, and even figuring out their attack patterns doesn’t guarantee success. The sheer number of shots fired at you is beyond overwhelming. It generally took me a few tries with each boss to really get a grasp on what I needed to do. It’s so rewarding when you finally manage to beat one.

 

A Hectic Hardship

 

Golden Force adheres closely to the games that inspired it, which means it also inherits some of those flaws. Four characters are available, but there’s no significant difference between them; they all play the same. The dash is useful for moving, dodging, and attacking, but the slide isn’t so great. If there’s a reason to slide, you might as well dash. The lack of any kind of blocking move means you’ll end up taking a lot of hits no matter what you do. It’s easy enough to dash away from one enemy, but not so much when you’re surrounded on all sides. You can’t slide or dash through all the enemies either.

The game can be pretty difficult, if not outright brutal, at times. Your weapon range is short, so you always have to get up close and personal. It’s easy to get overwhelmed because even basic enemies take at least three hits to defeat. Those enemies even pop up later with wooden and metal shields, which you have to smash with a charge attack and knock out of their hands, respectively. There’s a good variety of enemies with different behaviors, but you end up fighting those wolverine/bear things an awful lot. It takes about seven charge attacks just to kill one of them. Throw in two of those, enemies with shields, enemies that fire projectiles, and environmental hazards…you can see how the odds are severely stacked against you.

Enemies also have a habit of popping up under you or just appearing on top of you. It mostly happens in those restricted sections. That’s when you’re most likely to get overwhelmed by enemies as well, which makes a difficult situation even more difficult. It almost becomes necessary to memorize exactly where and when enemies will spawn just so you don’t instantly die the second that they do spawn.

While the game generally runs just fine, the frame rate can take a hit when things get hectic. This usually happens when a bunch of enemies are bouncing around the screen. It doesn’t happen too frequently, but because the game is so fast and smooth, it’s especially pronounced when it does occur. It can be devastating during one boss fight in particular.

 

Try, Try Again…And Again

 

Fortunately, there are checkpoints, but, unfortunately, you also get punished for using them. If you die after a checkpoint, you’ll return to it, but you’ll lose any money you’ve earned, as well as any coins and shells you’ve found. If you used an item and died, you don’t get that item back either. Items are expensive, so losing all that money from dying is just adding insult to injury. It also negatively affects your score at the end, which is based on time, money, and combos. You can earn additional money and items by getting a high enough score, but it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish.

There’s a “No Break” indicator at the top left of the screen that keeps track of whether or not your combo gets broken. If you don’t strike something before the bar depletes, it breaks. If you get hit, it breaks. I assume you get something awesome for somehow rushing through the level, keeping your combo intact, and not getting hit, but I didn’t manage to pull it off.

There’s also a two-player mode, which is always a welcome addition. It’s enjoyable but not entirely ideal. The camera is solely focused on player one. When player two goes offscreen, a circular pop-up camera for them appears onscreen. It’s far too tiny to be useful, though, so you have to stay on the same screen, which is incredibly difficult given all the platforming. A traditional split-screen or zooming the camera out would have been a better solution. Still, it’s nice having a partner around to help with all those baddies.

 

Just Keep Stabbing

 

I do wish Golden Force’s gameplay evolved as the journey goes on because it becomes a bit repetitive. You’ll explore an area and kill enemies on the way, get locked into an area that’s swarming with more enemies, and then continue on to kill more enemies. There are challenging platforming sections that will definitely test your abilities, but what you do in level one is essentially what you do the rest of the game. You only have that basic combo move and the ability to launch enemies, so it doesn’t take long for the game’s combat to become a bit stale.

I also encountered a few glitches that forced me to restart a level. An enemy wouldn’t trigger in one of the restricted areas, or I’d get stuck in a pipe, for example. They didn’t occur frequently enough to affect my score, but they were more common than I would have liked. There’s nothing worse than finally getting through a section in which you’ve been stuck for a half an hour only to have to restart through no fault of your own. That said, the developers are aware of these glitches and actively addressing them, so they hopefully won’t be an issue going forward.

As a side note, cute, bouncing kitty cats litter the islands. Their job is to bound back and forth while looking adorable. You can kill them to help keep your combo going (they appear in the most random and remote places, too), but I hear you’re a terrible person for doing so. I wouldn’t know; I’m a dog person.

 

Not Quite Gold

Golden Force is an enjoyable romp, but its steep difficulty and straightforward design prevent it from rising above the trappings of the games that inspired it. It’s definitely worth a look for anyone who enjoys the run ‘n’ gun style of the games of yore, even if it can be controller-throwingly difficult.


Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: No Gravity Games (digital), PixelHeart (physical); Developer: Storybird Studio; Players: 1-2; Released: January 28, 2021; ESRB: M; MSRP: $19.99

Editor’s note: The developer provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Scott MacDonald
He once wrote for oprainfall, but he now spends most of his time editing books. Like most editors, he has a tendency to hide in the shadows, watching for misplaced modifiers and things that dangle. In his free time, he inexplicably enjoys CrossFit. He mostly enjoys retro games. Some of his favorites include Tales of Symphonia, F-Zero GX, Persona 3, Fire Emblem, and most shmups.

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