Slain: Back From Hell, developed by Wolfbrew Games and Published by Digerati Distribution, is a pixel styled action platform game full of grotesque monsters and bloody death. The main protagonist Bathoryn, an incredible warrior set to rest in his tomb, has been dragged from his slumber in order to slay the 6 overlords of the 6 cursed realms. With his sword and a handful of special elemental abilities, guide him to a triumphant victory through this roughly 5-6 hours (more depending on your luck escaping horrific deaths). Originally released for PC in March of 2016 as "Slain," it has been updated and renamed, as well as made it's way to consoles. You can buy the game on Steam for $12.99 or PlayStation Store for $14.99 (Xbox Marketplace late October 2016, and PS Vita on November 1, 2016).
Staying true to the genre of platformer, you'll find everything to be standard in layout but unique in design and art. Platforms moving up and down, or side to side, will mean you must time your jump on and off at the right times, traversing the stages on different elevations could also mean you either are climbing or fall down via jumping and slingshot animations. In side-scrolling fashion, all enemy encounters will come from the right side of the screen. There's some diversity to all of this of course, but the basic idea stays the same throughout. Occasionally you'll need to jump over some incredibly deadly and unforgiving spikes on the ground covered with gore and blood for camouflage, pass through a crushing structure, or any variation of these. The game takes a lot of pride in tricking you into experiencing gruesome and frustrating deaths by their gore covered camouflages and unappreciated placements in key areas of platforms.
As you progress through the levels, you'll find checkpoints which light up when passed, essentially notifying you it's ok to die again (which you will), but also replenishes your health and mana so you can attempt to avoid such a gruesome end. These checkpoints are fairly placed during the beginning of the game, but as you get further into it, the difficulty casts an illusion that there are not enough of them. You'll find that passing a certain area will become tedious from cheap deaths time and time again, only to be beaten down by having to restart from sometime back. I mentioned the traps being cause for much death, but the combat will cause many of them as well (and perhaps the most frustration). Enemies come in a variety of forms; sometimes skeletons, other times rats, fire shooting statues, spirits, more skeletons, and some with the ability to fly.
They won't have many attacks, and most of the time can be killed by spamming the attack button and letting them walk into range. Other times you'll need to jump over some so that you can have them all lined up on one side of you instead of having them slowly sandwich you. Boss battles, as well as sub-boss battles, come with a completely different gameplay and attack/defense strategy needed. You're given the ability to dash backwards (which is actually pretty quick and helpful), and the small chance of blocking (if timed right, the enemy will become temporarily stunned). Regardless of the aggression, you put into attacking larger enemies like bosses, they will quickly attack back. The blocking is near inefficient, and if you decide to dash backwards, you'll find that is can become a challenge getting back into attack range before they swing again (especially with minions chasing you at the same time).
Any attack from an enemy will put a good sized dent into your health, so it truly becomes a risk when you jump into the attack. The actual swinging of your sword is very fast and the reaction you have to make your next move right after done is a major plus. While the execution of combat can feel repetitive, the diversity in attacks is deep. Along the basic sword attacks (and dodging/dashing moves) you'll possess the power of supernatural elements. You can turn your weapon into fire based, ice based, or some form of general force to dish out more damage, but also your "Mana Spirit" (your energy shooting distance attack) will be changed with respect to these too. With a full mana bar, most likely to be right after a checkpoint or killing an enemy with a Critical Strike, you are able to crouch and hold down your same mana designated button to release a "Mana Blast," causing destruction to everything on screen. Oh, you'll also be able to turning a wolf, which is pretty metal.
Sound and Graphics
The first noticeable thing within the game is the soundtrack. It has been completely recorded by former Celtic Frost bass guitarist Curt Victor Bryan, and presents everything in the game perfectly. What better way to turn dead foes into gory messes than listening to this heavy metal music? The sound from the creatures and attacks all sound good as well, and carries a classic arcade game feel. There are no voices within the game as everything is spoken through text dialogue. Although everything is in pixel art design, it all boasts great details. You immediately recognize everything as what it is intended to be; blood flows with fluidity, fire burns bright and strong, crows fly with dark elegance, and those nasty frustrating deaths are emphasized with gushing body matter. Nearly everything in the environments that should be in motion is, bringing life to the realms.
Slain: Back From Hell provides a classic arcade styled gaming experience full of great pixel art design and an even better soundtrack. Its intensity for blood and gore as well as hard metal music make for a nice combination regarding presentation. It has good qualities about it, but it does fall short in many other categories. The combat, while diverse in nature, doesn't allow for much diversity in the actual usage. Mana depletes fast meaning you won't get to use those elemental powers very often, forcing most of your encounters to be basic sword based fighting. You'll die a lot while playing (something very unavoidable), but if you're looking for a challenge, even though the experience will be somewhat luck based rather than pure skill and strategy, then you'll learn there is some enjoyment to be had when coming back from hell.
|+ Excellent pixel graphics||– Easy to cheese the small enemies|
|+ Intense boss fights||– Linear environments|
|+ Multiple attack types||– Combat is lacking in many ways|
|+ Fairly interesting plot and ideas|