In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on large AAA titles and how they’re truly incredible and have come so far since the humble beginnings of video games. While these titles are truly breath taking and offer a lot to the modern gamer, they can sometimes lead to smaller titles being overlooked.
Slain: Back From Hell, which we played on the Nintendo Switch, is one of those titles that perhaps didn’t receive the recognition it deserved upon release. Back From Hell is a side scrolling action game which is the response of developer Wolf Brew Games to the negative press that the original game, simply entitled Slain!, received from critics and supporters alike.
The game was put through a massive overhaul and popped out the other side as the game this review focuses on. Initially Slain: Back From Hell seems like a simple game, the protagonist Bathoryn is begrudgingly awoken from his eternal slumber and reunited with his (somewhat excessively) massive sword to go and bring steely justice down upon the heads of the dastardly demon droves who are now roaming the earth thanks in no small part to their head honcho, Vroll.
The story is simple, maybe even somewhat clichéd, but it doesn’t stop this title from being a whole lot of fun, as it allows you to hack, slash and spirit bomb your way through a whole host of different enemies across a wide variety of pixel art levels. Despite being fun, the game is also simultaneously hugely frustrating, sometimes for the right reasons but other times definitely for the wrong ones.
There are video game staples such as auto saves and check points. However, unlike a lot of modern titles, this doesn’t mean you won’t be punished for mistakes that you make.
Having battled your way through numerous enemies and brought vengeance to a den full of floating Medusa head wannabes, you could find yourself face to face with a larger than life demon who isn’t shy about telling you what the fate of your corpse is going to be.
A lot of newer games would have a nice cosy check point for you here meaning if you were chopped up into little hero chunks you’d go straight back into the fight with the boss who dispatched you. Wolf Brew Games adopted for a much more old school approach to their check point system though, operating the game in stages meaning you need to fight through all those enemies again.
While the check point system is unforgiving and certainly presents a challenge not always present in modern games, the frustration that it presents you with isn’t aided by the games base mechanics.
At times the controls can be clunky, meaning that your mis-step may not always be your fault or a jump you felt you’d timed perfectly simply doesn’t happen as the game registered you as being mid air (no double jumps here), even though it appeared as though you were distinctly planted on solid ground.
The way that the stage system operates forces you to try and over come obstacles in slightly different ways every time you come across them. In terms of a control system you have all the essentials; melee, block, mighty leap, dodge and a ranged attack.
Where the challenge comes from is ensuring you know when, and how, to best utilise each of these mechanics. Sure, you could stand back and spam your Mana Spirit ranged attack at enemies meaning you keep hold of the sweet, sweet vitality (health) that is so important, however fighting the main demons at the end of a stage with no mana is not a great idea.
Similarly, while you do have a block button, holding it down for an eternity will see you meet your untimely demise anyway, as enemies do increased damage every time they hit you if you consistently hold down the button. You’re much better off throwing one well time block in and dishing out some damage of your own with a Critical Strike.
With every enemy attacking in a different way, even two melee enemies will attack with different animations and speeds, so it’s of the upmost importance that you adapt your game to counter the varied threats you’ll face. Spamming one tactic all the way through a stage could work exquisitely well, however try that on the next stage and you’ll be greeted with the “Slain” death screen. Don’t feel too bad though – you’ll become extremely familiar with that particular screen the more you play the game.
In terms of the visual style, Slain: Back From Hell opts for a classic style that wouldn’t look at all out of place on a retro console – maybe a Sega Master System or Mega Drive. That’s not to say it’s dated though, because it’s truly not. It’ll be a welcome retro reminder of a simpler time for many gamers, or it may even serve as something of a history lesson for younger gaming enthusiasts.
While on the subject of Slain’s potential of reaching a wide demographic, it would be foolish of us not to mention the excellent soundtrack. Remember the soundtracks that really stick with you? They’re often melodic masterpieces or laced with so many guitar riffs that your ears sometimes beg for a reprieve. Slain has the latter of those in spades and it suits the tone and style of the game perfectly – you can even do a pretty sick hair windmill when you beat bosses.
In summary, Slain: Back From Hell is a game that’s likely to divide opinion. The story is something that has been done to death and the learning curve is incredibly unforgiving. However, the high difficulty level, visual style, soundtrack and game play style all lead you to believe this is exactly the kind of title Wolf Brew Games were aiming for.
It’s old school fun (and frustration) that leaves you with a real smug sense of satisfaction every time you slay an enemy, from the minions all the way to the top dog. If you’re willing to forgive the flaws, which at the end of the day aren’t game breaking, then you can stand to have many hours of fun with and all for a pretty decent price!
Slain: Back From Hell is out now and can be purchase as a digital download from the Nintendo Switch store for £17.99, it’s also available for PS4 from online retailers such as Amazon (here) for £9.99