September 21, 2016 (PS4)
November 23, 2016 (PS Vita)
When Slain released on Steam in March last year, it immediately caught my attention. The distinct gory pixel art style and heavy metal soundtrack immediately made me want to pick it up and play, but unfortunately the initial release wasn’t much fun. While many would abandon releases that are plagued with negative reviews, Slain was rebuilt and returns (as the name suggests), back from the depths of development hell. It is a perfect example of how player feedback should be taken and used to improve the gaming experience. It also shows that Wolf Brew Games actually care about their project.
You play as a warrior named Bathoryn. Awoken by the gods, Bathoryn is tasked with defeating various kinds of enemies in a world that looks like death metal version of Castlevania and sounds like an old Slayer album. There’s gore oozing from every orifice in Slain, and I can’t imagine any metal fan not immediately buying the game and soundtrack after watching the trailer.
The bulk of Slain’s gameplay is combat and platforming. While the maps aren’t as detailed as Metroid games for example, the simple platformer design of Slain is enjoyable and strongly complemented by the variety of enemy types in-game. These range from weak, annoying skeletons, to tougher flying ghouls, to proper bosses at the end of each world. Combat mainly consists of attacking and parrying, and I cannot emphasise how important parrying–you really won’t get far without it. There’s a quick backstep as well that’s useful in some situations and a magic attack which is best saved for boss battles. The worlds are full of tricks and traps, and you’ll even get a trophy early on for learning from your mistake after dying in a spike trap.
Visuals are easily the highlight of Slain. While most pixel art games try and ape the retro look, Slain goes further by extending its style into visuals, animations, and sound design. Animations are smooth and I love just stopping and looking at the attention to detail in the new environments. There’s so much going on with pixel particle effects and it all comes together brilliantly. The visual style even extends to the interface and the dialogue boxes. Slain is one of the few pixel art games that deserves a hefty art book.
While the visuals are great, Curt Victor Bryant’s score is what holds everything together. The old school heavy metal soundtrack combined with the weighty sound effects during attacks takes Slain to a whole other level. I’m listening to the soundtrack right now and it never got old while I played through the same areas over and over again, thanks to multiple deaths. Scrolling up or down in the main menu lets you play along with the epic menu music as well–one of the things I loved most in the game.
Slain has some problems though. A lot of the deaths feel unfair and cheap. This might be to keep things old school, but the checkpoint system means you’ll be replaying certain sections over and over again. While the combat is fun, it could have used a dodge or roll mechanic to allow for some invincibility frames through enemies. This would make it feel a bit more accessible and dynamic. The real problem and disappointment for me is the Vita version. After downloading a patch that fixed the game breaking bug on Vita, the performance is pretty terrible. It isn’t unplayable but I cannot recommend playing Slain on Vita at this point. I hope there’s a patch to at least get the framerate to 30fps. The PlayStation 4 version looks and plays brilliantly. The Vita version would be perfect to play on the go, but right now it is the furthest thing from it.
If you’ve been craving an old school Castlevania like experience and like heavy metal, Slain: Back from Hell is for you. The gothic pixel art gore oozes style and the time I spent playing Slain was more than worth it. Now release the damn soundtrack on vinyl.
Excellent pixel art design
Fitting music that’s great on its own
Nice parry combat system
Controls are great
Unfair difficulty at times
Slain: Back from Hell is a more metal and modern Castlevania that looks and plays great, but is held back by a few sections which feel unfairly difficulty.