If you’re a fan of retro platforming, then games like the Castlevania series will be something you’re familiar with, seeing as they’ve long been an iconic part of gaming. Since Castlevania’s success, there have been many games that have come and gone with the intention of bringing us an experience similar to that classic; many with their own unique twists, others providing a pure carbon copy adventure and more still proving only minimally similar. Slain: Back from Hell is another that bears heavy resemblance to Castlevania, from the combat to its retro 16-bit art style. But are we looking at another basic copycat, or is Slain: Back from Hell a unique adventure deserving of a look?
Throughout Slain you take on the role of a brave warrior named Bathoryn. After being awakened by the gods, your task is simple and deadly – go forth and slay every enemy that stands in your way. Simple right? Don’t be silly.
The idea of slashing away at enemies in a platform style venture is hardly an original one, but what makes Slain: Back from Hell unique is the heavy metal style that accompanies the majority of what you do.
To give a general idea of what I mean by that, Slain: Back from Hell is what you would expect to find if you were to mix the previously mentioned Castlevania with Slayer or Iron Maiden, before adding a difficulty level just shy of a Dark Souls experience. It doesn’t sound too bad does it? You’ll be glad to know it isn’t.
The majority of the gameplay in Slain: Back from Hell comes from the combat. Unfortunately, the combat side of things isn’t the strongest and it doesn’t take long before things start feeling highly repetitive and that’s down to the fact that there isn’t too much in the way of variation to what you can do. Sure, you have a basic attack which gets the job done, then there’s a magic attack which is a relatively strong move best used for the difficult boss battles, and there’s a parry which is key to progression when it comes to the harder enemies, but anyone hoping to see some fancy combos will be disappointed. There is a heavy attack available should you hold specific buttons a little longer, which if timed correctly can land a critical hit. Whether you wish to use that is completely up to you.
Whilst the combat isn’t exciting, the enemies you come up against do a fantastic job of hiding the simplistic and repetitive nature of it quite well, and that’s thanks to the large variety of enemies present. From the weaker werewolves (or at least they look like werewolves) to equally fragile skeletons and flying ghoul-type enemies to huge bosses, there are many different enemy types to be worrying about, all of which can cause huge damage should you not watch what you’re doing.
Although these are the biggest threat to you in Slain: Back from Hell, they aren’t your only threat. From very early on, players will come across multiple traps that can prove to be life-ending, many of which can blend into the scenery should you not be paying the utmost attention to what your dong. One that will often get the best of you are the spikes and despite them being covered in blood, the general presence of gore throughout will often see you left walking into them time and time again, before restarting at your previous checkpoint.
As for progression, Slain: Back from Hell sends players on a slightly different route to the usual platform game and after completing the first area, players are thrust into a hub world from which you can choose between two different paths to take. It doesn’t really matter which one you opt for as both need to be beaten to ensure progression, however it’s nice to see the choice given and should you find one path too difficult and want to change you can go back – although things won’t be any easier when you return later on.
When you die on your adventures – and you will, a lot! – you’ll be sent back to your previous checkpoint. These are heavily reminiscent to Bonfires from the Dark Souls series, with each checkpoint restoring the mana used for magical attacks and health.
Despite not usually being a big fan of 16-bit style games, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Slain: Back from Hell is a rather eye-catching experience. From the darkened setting to the limitless puddles of blood and the monstrous creatures along the way, everything within Slain is reminiscent of a classic horror setting, and it’s a joy to traverse.
One thing that does grate a little however is the framerate. Despite coming with improvements over the original release, there are still many areas of the game in which combat and movement feel clunky and out of place. Times in which you’ll need to make a split-second decision to parry can often see a needless death due to the game failing to keep up, and there are a few occasions in which movement felt staggered. Overall though, it’s not too bad, but given the fact this is a revised version of the original experience, it’s not something you’d expect to see at all.
Generally though, Slain: Back from Hell is a decent game. Sure, the combat could do with a little spicing up and enemies should be made a lot clearer as to where exactly they are, but the challenging gameplay is a joy to experience. With a thumping soundtrack that really gears you up for battle, enemies that can put you to your death within seconds and a unique art style that is quite rare these days, Slain: Back from Hell is a game that can provide plenty of enjoyment.
If you’re a fan of the Dark Souls series, then the enemy difficulty, unexpected traps and awkward camera angles that are placed in front of dangerous ledges will be right up your alley.
Massive thanks to: Digerati
Release date: December 2017
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review), Xbox One, PS4, PC