I’m always one to cheer on a great throwback game, especially one that seems inspired by something from the days of old. That’s definitely the vibe I got when I first put my hands on Slain: Back From Hell, Wolf Brew Games’ alternate take on what Castlevania would be like in the here and now.
Instead of controlling a Belmont, however, you play a knight brought back from the dead, using his sword and fighting skills to eradicate a world overrun by demons. He’ll have to work his way through six hellish worlds in order to seal the evil and find his eternal reward, or suffer through many deaths as a result.
Upon getting into the game for the first time, I found that Wolf Brew really knows its way around an old-school design. The visual style of Slain definitely reminded me of great 16-bit titles of old, such as Castlevania or even Blackthorne. The animations are simply yet bloodily satisfying, and the worlds themselves have plenty of sweet-looking platforming challenges and monstrous boss enemies. The game definitely looks the part.
For that matter, the music is also very good, with a soundtrack that’s quite inspired from the good ol’ days of hair metal, as well as growling sound effects that sound like something you’d hear from the days of Demon’s Crest or the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series. A few minutes in, I felt like I was being comforted by an old-school vibe.
But then the other shoe dropped, and Slain showed its true colors – this is a hellish game. And I don’t mean hellish in a good way, like Dark Souls and its educative nature in terms of making progress. The game is just unbelievably hard, to the point that you’re not likely to clear the first stage without having some sort of conniption.
Part of the problem is that the enemies are beyond cheap. Some will pop out of the ground at random, without warning, and chip away at your already dwindled health. Others will be so large and hard to attack, that you’ll basically end up dying because of something they did, rather than a mistake on your part.
Plus, the team at Wolf Brew made the hit detection a bit off, and as a result, you’ll even die when you didn’t intend to. You could set up a backwards dash move to avoid an incoming enemy strike and still get hit anyways, despite the fact that you slid out of range and should be perfectly safe. Oh, and let’s not forget the cheap ass deaths that come from simply leaping onto spikes. You instantly shred yourself, even if you aren’t coming in from that high. It’s cheap and bad.
Between the inconsistency with hit detection and the sloppy reaction, the gameplay just ends up getting on your nerves. Granted, the game’s theme is “die and try again”, but it doesn’t offer much reward for your efforts – just more of the same down the road, where you’re likely to perish even more often than you did before.
There are spell attacks that can be unlocked for better moves, but they do very little to impact the enemy. Seriously – even the lighter ones in the beginning shrug off a frickin’ fireball like it’s a mosquito bite. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
On top of that, checkpoints just aren’t that close together. You could make your way across various challenging sections of the game and still not come across one. As a result, you’ll end up perishing over. And over. And over. You get the idea.
The game does have longevity with each of the levels, but that’s if you can make your way to that point. Chances are that, unless you have absolute hardcore platforming skills (like some people with the incredibly difficult Volgarr the Viking did), you’ll give up well before you reach the second boss. And I can’t say I blame you.
It’s a shame that Wolf Brew Games couldn’t find that proper balance with the difficulty, because everything else about Slain clicks rather well. I enjoyed the classic graphics and music to a certain degree, and some of the gameplay elements could’ve been rather promising. But if this developer really wants to make it in this industry, it needs to understand that a challenging game is definitely the way to go – but an impossible one, well, just simply needs to stay in development hell.