Slain! Back From Hell Review

Back from Hell, yeah, that’s a nice way of putting it. Slain plays like games from back in the day, when games were intentionally hard and meant to send you home crying. There is no “Casual” mode here. This is a game for people who want a serious challenge and/or blisters on their thumbs. Pixel perfect side-scrolling platforming and pattern recognition of the old-school, is what makes this game. Before playing, I would suggest buying a hefty case for your PS Vita and a container of drywall spackling, because you are going to be throwing your Vita across the room in a rage at moments in this game.

Story

The story is there, told through dialog boxes between characters, usually at the beginning, middle, and end of a level. It can be engaging enough for what it is, but honestly, after spending roughly twenty to forty minutes on a difficult section, cursing at the game, I usually forgot all about what dialog I read throughout a level. However, I would end up retrying and retrying sections over and over again no matter how many times I died, determined that I could eventually get past the section, so there is obviously engaging game play here. Usually, I would give up and consider my time best spent elsewhere, but this game kept me coming back for more. Often times, a break to clear my head and coming back to the game later, made sections I was stuck on a cake walk after a breather.

Gameplay/Design

Your only option for slaying Slain, is just getting good at the game, that’s it. There is no leveling up system, no cheats, no game changing DLC, just you and your reflexes. Get accompanied with the controls because you will need and use every technique at your disposal. You’ve got your good-ole jump button (no double jump here).You have your standard attack button, when pressed multiple times will unleash a basic combo, and when held, will charge up and release a more powerful strike attack. There is a block button, which can be useful for merely delaying your inevitable. The L trigger is a dodge technique, which will often times be the deciding factor in victory or defeat. The R trigger sends out a magic burst that flies forward from your character, damaging whomever it touches. Holding R will charge up the blast for about half your mana meter. Down + R with a full meter, will set off a “burst” attack that damages everything on screen, even killing most smaller enemies. Finally, several directions on the right thumb stick will switch between weapons you acquire throughout your adventure.

I know so far it looks like I am making this game sound as if it will physically destroy your home, your health, your well-being, and your Vita, but it’s a solid experience, trust me. It is challenging, but not unfair. I would honestly say all of the times I died were really my fault. Enemy hit-boxes and attack patterns are clear and understandable. Once I figured out any particular enemy’s opening for attacks, they got easier to exploit. You can also deflect back most projectiles thrown at you from enemies, which is extremely useful in some situations. Platforming is a matter of precise timing and procedure, which works great with your given, fluid control. There are light puzzle elements involving platforming, but nothing revolutionary. For the most part, dying in combat will be the cause of failure, and not so much you falling into pits or spikes due to difficult platforming. Be sure to look for cleverly hidden secret rooms throughout your journey as well, in order to collect all the pieces of a talisman which will help you towards the endgame. Bosses can be quite tough at first for their sometimes hard to read patterns, but after a few tries, they can end up being a smooth defeat once you know all their tricks. Be sure to initiate the prompt to please your horned metal god after a boss battle to rub it in their face (you will want to after some of these long, frustrating boss fights). A saving grace in this, that won’t make you mind dying all that much, is that there are a fair amount of checkpoints scattered throughout the levels, which save the game as you reach them, and let you come back to the exact ones you leave off at, even when quitting out of the game completely.

There are three different weapons in this game. There is the standard sword which has a basic combo. A flame sword that unleashes a quicker combo and turns your magic attack into a fire ball. Finally, an ice ax that is slower, unleashes a different type of slower combo, and makes your magic attack ice based. Each weapon can be slightly stronger to certain types of enemies, but you are never exactly sure which weapon works best unless you are told in-game. These don’t really give you new magic abilities either, they just make your same magic attacks a different element. I would have enjoyed learning new types of magic techniques other than just the ones you start with. When beginning the game for the first time, I expected there to be new magic abilities, but alas, that was it. I feel that was a missed opportunity.

Also, it is strange that there wasn’t at least one more weapon to receive during the game. Up, right, and left on the right thumb stick will choose the weapon assigned to that direction, but there is nothing on the “down” input, I just felt that was strange. Maybe an electric element weapon could have taken that slot? Either way, your options given feel a little lacking. Also, not sure if the game itself had this problem, or my Vita is causing this, so take it with a grain of salt, but my save file was deleted a couple times. This made it impossible for me to even consider going back to the game, especially because of it’s difficulty. Back up your saves whenever possible.

Presentation

This 2D side-scroller looks great on the the Vita’s compact screen, with the option to implement two types of scan lines for a truly old-school look. Slain basically looks like every heavy metal album cover you have ever seen, all mixed into a 16-bit blender. Dark, Gothic atmosphere with more blood and gore than Jeffrey Dahmer’s refrigerator. Accompanied by a soundtrack that can cause whiplash in the neck due to excessive head banging. The metal gods would be proud. Get used to seeing the “Slain” screen you get when you die however, it will be burned into your brain as well as your Vita’s display.

Conclusion

Slain: Back From Hell is a game I would recommend to those who want a challenge and love the old style look and game play of games such as Castlevania or Ghosts ‘n Goblins. This is a gamer’s game, casuals look elsewhere. You will die dozens of times, again and again, but it will still keep you coming back for more. It controls well enough that you will be kicking yourself each time you die, knowing that each mistake was your own fault and you can do better next time. Quick ten minute sessions often turn into long forty-five minute sittings. Finally beating a boss or a level after dozens of tries will be extra satisfying after what you endure to actually get there. Just know that after the journey is over, there really isn’t any reason to come back to the game, but by that time your amount of play time spent with the game will most likely justify your money’s worth anyway.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Slain is a hardcore 16-bit style, action-adventure that will pull you in with it’s smooth game play and rocking soundtrack. You will be reminded of how games used to be, when they were designed to punish you until you mastered them, with no hand-holding.

Publisher: Digerati Distribution

File Size: 1.1 GB

Format: Digital PSN Version (Vita) / Buy PS4 Version from Play Asia

Cross-Buy Support: Yes

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