I've never really had the experience of a classic dungeon crawler game. I never played any of the Legend of Zelda games (even though I own them all, strange, I know.) and I missed out on Metroid. Hell, Metroid isn't even a dungeon crawler, is it? Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that Bard's Gold is my very first experience with the dungeon crawler genre. And boy oh boy, what an experience it was.
I played through Bard's Gold (not to be confused with Bard's Tale) on the Xbox One, where it is currently priced at $4.99 for the US and £3.99 for the UK. It released on Xbox One, PS4 and Steam on June 17th, 2016. This game is an "Action Adventure Rogue Like Role Playing Platformer" which is an extremely long title for what this game is. Still, don't complain, it was made by Erdem Sen and it's their debut game. That's all the formalities out the way, let's get on with the review.
Much like many of the games I review, this game doesn't have a story. I feel as if more and more games are focusing less on the story which is a real shame. This game doesn't even give the character you're playing as a name. The only thing I know about the character I'm playing as is that they're a discount version of Link. By which I mean, it's literally Link from The Legend of Zelda. You can probably see them in the main photo for this review, but don't worry, we'll go into more detail later on. Presumably, it's some form of throwback or nod to Link, but there's a big difference between a nod and ripping something off.
I suppose having literally no story leaves a lot of things open to interpretation, which in a way is quite good. You can craft your own story to fit the character you want to play as. It's an RPG after all, right? But even the best and most free RPGs require some essence of story to build your character on. By pushing this game as a sort of dungeon crawler RPG, it falls completely flat, with very little substance in the game as a whole. But still, it could've been worse, yet it could've been much better at the same time. What's the motivation for your character exploring the dungeon? There wasn't one as far as I could tell.
So there's no story, that's what I'm trying to say. But we don't know if it breaks the game until we look at the gameplay, which we'll do now.
No game is complete without a tutorial, no matter how simple it is. Somewhere in this vast globe, there will be one moron that needs a tutorial for Flappy Bird or Call of Duty. I respect that a game includes a tutorial though, and no matter how straightforward the game, it should more than likely have a tutorial, just in case. This game doesn't have a tutorial, and I suppose it's alright, the gameplay is pretty straight forwards. But what I miss about games is the tutorials, no matter how simple the game was it was expected for the game to go in depth and show you what to do and how to play. All this game has is a screen with an Xbox One controller showing you a vague outline of the controls that's hidden away in the options menu.
Gameplay is quite difficult considering the amount of clutter on the screen. I mean, I'm not saying it put me off, but look at how much stuff there is. You've got how many lives are left, your gem count, your status, weapon, bonus, map, key and door. All at the bottom taking up a valuable amount of the screen. The majority of these could have just been hidden behind a menu that could be accessed from the click of a button. If your game is a platformer then don't take up a big chunk of the screen with menus, especially not the bottom. You can see in the image below that the menus actually block out some parts of the platform, making it a hell of a lot more difficult to, y'know, platform.
My main problem with the game is the fact that it's a one hit death type of game. I have no problem with a game being challenging, especially a platformer. Platformers need to be challenging to be actually worth playing. With a one hit death system, it's almost as if the game is taking the easy way out. It's not a challenge that will kill you, it's a bat flying from off screen to hit you in the back of the head. One hit kills have never been my favourite, certainly not in a platformer, which is very weirdly hit or miss about what will kill you and what won't. Fall from fifty feet? Yeah, sure, you're fine. Get hit by a bat? You're instantly dead. It's a shame really because without this instant death feature I probably would've enjoyed the game a hell of a lot more. Speaking of instadeath, it's pretty important to make sure you can't just die out of the blue, unlike this game. You can pretty much die by standing where you shouldn't. I was about to head through the door to finish a level, boom, I've been shot with an arrow. There's a difference between avoiding traps and not being able to see them because they aren't there. An arrow literally just appeared out of nowhere and I was sent back to the start.
Speaking of enemies, that was one of my main problems. For a good chunk of levels, all you're really avoiding are bats and slime like enemies that look awkwardly similar to the ones featured in Terraria. With a dungeon setting, you can deduce that there will be bats as enemies, but what annoyed me was the lack of variety and imagination on display with the enemy variants. Hell, you could've had basic things that people expect too. Ghosts, dolphins, mechanised orange juice boxes that have sprouted wheels and are out for blood, never stopping until they finally get what they so desire. Sorry, got distracted. But you get the idea, any enemy type would be fine, just something more imaginative. Again an even bigger problem I had with the already boring enemies is that, even if they weren't there, you would still die. Enemies are just there as an annoyance rather than a threat. Remove the enemies and there isn't anything stopping you from completing your goal, and I guess you could argue that enemies are there to prevent you from doing that, but even the smallest of enemies need a motif nowadays.
I'll give credit where credit is due, though, I played this on the Xbox One and it manages to track achievement progress. Now a lot of games, especially Triple-A titles, don't track achievement progress. They used to, but for some reason, they just don't anymore. This game genuinely did surprise me that it tracked your achievement progress and it was just a little bonus I liked that more games really need to start doing. Keeping track of my achievement progress is a big deal to me, and judging that this game does just that, I'm pretty impressed.
Just a bit of a bonus, if you run the timer out at the top of the screen (which I did for an achievement) then the level doesn't actually end. It just shoots fireballs down from the sky, even though you're indoors. It doesn't have any impact on this review, I just thought it was worth noting that this is possible.
Graphics and sound
The limitations in the game's menus are absurd. You can't change anything really, other than the volume. That's just no good, considering there were a lot of faults in the games controls and screen size. The size of the screen was actually too large for my TV and cut off a lot of the screen. There was no way to fix this, and because of that, I couldn't see as much of the game. Seriously, it might not sound like that big a deal, but it's a platformer, the more screen the better. Oh, you can change the language in the options menu too, if that's something you want to do. There's little to no dialogue so I don't see the point.
I feel one important thing to note about this game is how unfitting the music is, especially the track that features on the menu. Now I'm not a musical expert, far from it, but this game's menu features such a strange track for this type of game. It doesn't make me hyped up to play the game, it more or less makes me question such a strange musical choice. Actually, throughout the game, there's just music that straight up doesn't fit. I'm not saying it's bad, it's actually quite appealing to listen to, but it just doesn't go with this game.
On top of the unfitting music, it was actually rather annoying music. None of the music fit into where it was placed, we've talked about that. But what got to me was how genuinely grating the music was. Eventually, I realised it was just a continuous loop of the same few notes, and at that point, I muted the sound. It's a shame really because music is definitely needed in games to create some form of atmosphere for the player to experience.
Graphically, it's that 2D retro look people go for. I'm really not the biggest fan of this style of graphics. Honestly a number of games that use this graphics style now it just feels like a lazy cop out. I'm sure it isn't, but this game doesn't really give me much faith in believing it isn't. Of course, games like Shovel Night and every single SNES game ever has used this type of art style to a great effect. Shovel Night used it for artistic choice, and fair enough it looks nice, but pixel graphics are so overused now it doesn't make me go "wow", it just makes me think it fits into the same old pile of all the other games that use the exact same art style. It's important to stand out as a game, so it's a shame that this game fails to do so with one of its most prominent features.
"2D retro-inspired platformer" is something we hear a lot nowadays, this game falls into that category. I can't be the only person sick of this type of graphical style. But regardless of that, Bard's Tale doesn't really amount to anything. We've seen all of this done before and done better, so without anything unique then what's the point in playing? There isn't an end goal to the game as far as I'm aware, the game just pads itself out for as long as possible, upping the difficulty instead of throwing something unique at us.
Those that are much more acquainted with dungeon crawlers and platformers may enjoy this game a lot more than me, but judging from what I played, I can't say I'd want to go back to it unless to wrap up the rest of the easy gamerscore. But even for those more experienced platform players, the nonsensical platforming may be far too easy for you and you'll be wanting much, much more.
|+ Pretty good first attempt at a game||– Unimaginative enemies|
|+ May appeal to platformer and dungeon crawler fans||– Many of the games ideas have been done better|
|+ Easy 1000 Gamerscore||– Art style is overused by many other products|
|– Annoying and overall poor music|
|– Fails to really stand out with anything unique|