The idea of a metal, retro hack ‘n slash side scroller that called to my inner 80s nerd excited me. The music has the perfect hard edge to it and the pixel art is deliciously dark and sinister. Slain! has the player take on the role of Bathoryn, risen from his tomb by spirits who need him to fight demons (again) and save the land. The spirits lure you out with a large sword, and you are on your way to, well, save the land.

I wanted to like Slain! Instead of headbanging gleefully as I progressed from level to level, I found myself banging my head on my keyboard. Like all classic side scrollers of this era, timing and patience is the key to making your way through each stage and level. However, it’s essential that the player has basic things at their disposal, like a good keybinding tutorial, so their initial impression of the game is not only good, but pleasant.

My impression of Slain! was not a pleasant one. Before I set foot out of the tomb and into combat, I noticed that the captions could have been cleaned up punctuation wise. I didn’t understand why some words were capitalized and others were not. ‘I’ was often not capitalized when it needed to be, and some sentences were ended with both a period and an exclamation mark. It was disappointing to see that the captions were not entirely proofread.

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Gameplay wise it took me a while to figure out how to pause the game. When hitting the escape key did not work, I hit ‘P.’ Sure enough, P is for pause. Players will need to figure out the controls on their own, as there is nothing within the game or in the menu that explains the keybinds, let alone allows player to change them. There is one point near the beginning of Slain! that hints at the ability to block incoming attacks. It took me a while to figure out that the down arrow (crouch) also allows you to block. However, block is only effective against incoming projectiles like fireballs and spells, not against enemies. Not giving the player the full ability to block can result in a frustrating amount of deaths.

Q, the combo attack key, is the most useful for plowing through smaller enemies. Hit Q three times in a row and your character will thrust his sword into an enemy while moving forward, pushing them backwards in the process. The W key, I assume, is supposed to be the decapitation key, and yet preforming that move does not always decapitate an enemy. It’s less powerful than the combo key and, as a result, I barely used it. The same is true of using the 1 key to launch a small mana bomb at an enemy; it takes 3 of them to kill a small skeleton. The Q key does an extreme disproportionate amount of damage compared to the other attack options, it seems. Not using the W key means you miss out on small amounts of mana, but mana regeneration items are generously sprinkled throughout the sections and levels, and placed at every checkpoint, so there is less initiative to use W to attack. The player will need to pay careful attention to how many hits it takes to kill any kind of enemy, so finishing them off with a decapitation will be useful. This strategy, however, is not intuitive.

The controls are slow to respond. Tapping a movement key won’t make your character move, and instead, you must hold it down for nearly a full second for anything to happen. Tapping an attack key responds quickly, but sometimes, when trying to perform a mana bomb, hitting the down key and then W would do nothing. I’d be swarmed by enemies and die.

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Slain! could not only benefit from allowing the player to change the keybinds and a more responsive movement/attack system, but also from including special items, like the mushroom in Super Mario. Many of the larger monsters seem to be overpowered, which lead me to jump over them to avoid fighting them altogether. Or I would exploit an area where they couldn’t attack me, but I could attack them. That did not feel like the metal thing to do. Something to add variety to the gameplay, like special items, would give Slain! more diversity and make playing it more interesting.

Another option could be to allow the player to utilize their surroundings as makeshift weapons. For example, before you head into the Blood Tomb near the beginning, you have to break through a wall that will shatter into one or two large moveable pieces. If you get a piece to the bottom, the only thing you can do with them is use them as a barricade between you and the skeletons. I really wanted to have an attack option that allowed me to fling the piece of the wall into my enemies.

Also, the checkpoint system should be combined with the save system. Players will restart at the nearest checkpoint after they die, but there is no way to save your overall progress. If you quit, you have to start from the very beginning. So frustrating.

Slain! has a great concept and the pixel art is on point, but the oversight of basic things like a keybinding tutorial and proofreading captions makes the game unpolished. The soundtrack is well composed and there were some neat weapons like the flaming sword, but the controls were clunky and made the game frustrating to play. Slain! throws you into the fiery pits of hell and says, “Good luck!”

Platforms: Windows PC | Developer: Wolf Brew Games | Publisher: Digerati Distribution | ESRB: NR | Controls: Keyboard

This review copy of Slain! was played on PC via Steam and was provided by the developer.

[taq_review]

Joanna Nelius
Joanna is drawn to sci-fi and post-apocalyptic worlds, and games with a generous amount of gore. When she's not gaming, she's convincing her friends it's a good idea to go into abandoned buildings.

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