Thursday, October 20, 2016

Slain: Back from Hell Review (XONE)

Oldschool gamers that pine for the days of classic gaming have it pretty good these days thanks to indie games.  There are a growing number of retro-inspired titles on Xbox One now that look and feel just like the oldschool games they were inspired by such as Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge, and Stories of Bethem, just to name a few.  Those modern classics are joined now by the best 2D Castlevania-style game in years, Slain: Back from Hell.  Slain mixes oldschool 2D gothic horror gameplay with a heavy metal soundtrack and gorgeous visuals to make an amazing new, but decidedly still oldschool, experience.  See our review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Digerati
  • Developer: Wolfbrew Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: 2D Platformer
  • Pros: Awesome music; great gothic horror aesthetic; challenging gameplay; oldschool feel
  • Cons: Can be very difficult
  • MSRP: $15

Originally released as an early access PC title, Slain didn’t win many players over with sloppy controls and glitches.  The developers took the criticisms and generally poor reception to heart, though, and came back with a much more polished re-release in the form of Slain: Back from Hell.  I never played the original release, so I can’t directly compare them here, but I will say that the version of Slain we’re getting on Xbox One is pretty darn solid. 

You play as resurrected hero who has been brought back to defeat the evil demon lords and their minions who have taken over the world.  To do that you’ll hack and slash your way through armies of skeletons and other baddies set in gothic horror-inspired backgrounds while insane heavy metal music plays.  Put simply, Slain is pretty awesome.

The gameplay resembles the linear classic original Castlevania titles more than the open world Metroidvania-style games.  You generally fight your way through each level from left to right, occasionally with some vertical platforming, and hack and slash your way through any enemy that stands in your way.  Instead of a whip you’re carrying a sword and some magic projectiles, but other than that this is pure Castlevania-style gameplay through and through.  You pick up fire and ice upgrades along the way, too, which changes up your combos and the timing of things a bit to keep everything interesting.

There are some gameplay mechanics that help bring Slain up to more modern standards, though.  First is the addition of a parry that, when used by blocking an attack with the right timing, instantly counter-attacks enemies with a devastating power move.  The parry and resulting power move are vital to taking down bosses.  Second, rather than being a one hit and you’re dead affair like so many retro-style indie platformers, Slain has a health meter so you can absorb a few hits before going down.  The game also has fairly friendly checkpoints scattered in each level so that, when you do die (and you will die a lot), you aren’t set back too far. 

I feel like these mechanics give the game a nice balance that keeps it playable and enjoyable.  It still feels like an oldschool game, but isn’t nearly as punishing as many older titles were and some indie games can be.  Even with these modern concessions, though, Slain is still a brutally hard game that will test your patience.  All of the oldschool tropes like seemingly impossibly hard jumps and damage sponge bosses are present and accounted for, and it is up to you to learn the patterns, master the gameplay, and get through it all and it can be a ton of fun. 

A big part of Slain: Back From Hell’s appeal comes from the presentation and I have to say, it’s stunning.  The 2D sprite graphics look absolutely fantastic and the gothic backgrounds and demonic enemy designs are great.  The whole game is full of scenes perfect for a heavy metal album cover, which is appropriate considering the awesome 80’s thrash metal soundtrack.  Seriously, the music in Slain freaking rocks.  The music is also interesting in how it builds and grows in intensity over the course of the game. 

All of this comes together to create a game with satisfying and challenging gameplay and absolutely incredible presentation that no oldschool 2D action platformer fan should pass up.  It isn’t a super long game – which also largely depends on how quickly you learn the mechanics and how often you die – but has decent replay value thanks to some clever achievements and is easily worth the $15 asking price when everything is said and done.  Slain: Back from Hell is just metal and great looking and awesome.  Buy it. 
Disclosure; A review code was provided by the publisher.