Developer: Wolf Brew Games
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Release Date: 7/12/2017
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Slain: Back from Hell is one of those games that got gamers really, really, hyped, but ended up falling short when it actually released. It started off just on PC, and when people realised it was a disastrous buggy mess, developer Wolf Brew Games decided to revamp the game to try and give it a new lease of life.
A good few improvements have been made since then (as well as the addition of the ‘Back from Hell’ subtitle), along with a fresh release on consoles. It’s now made its way to the Nintendo Switch too, giving gamers the chance to play through the brutal side-scrolling adventure on the go.
Have all the supposed improvements actually made it an adventure worth taking though, or is Slain: Back from Hell still a frustrating and broken experience?
Slain: Back from Hell puts you in the shoes of Bathoryn, a seemingly legendary warrior who gets awoken from his slumber to take down the villainous demon Vroll and his vicious army of monsters. It’s a good old fashioned tale of ‘good against bad’, but one that never strays too far from the basic formula. There’s nothing wrong with that though, with the game instead focusing on having the player slash down countless enemies and make their way across each deadly environment as opposed to engaging with a rich narrative.
At its core, Slain: Back from Hell is an old-school side-scrolling adventure that feels similar to the likes of the classic Castlevania titles. You’ll work across a rich variety of gothic environments, all whilst taking down hordes of enemies, clearing platforming sections, and facing off against vicious bosses. In theory, it’s all fairly simple in design.
The game makes things a bit more interesting with its intricate combat mechanics though. You can pull off combos by mashing attacks or unleash a more powerful blow by holding down the attack button when on the offensive, but you’re also well-equipped on the defensive side too thanks to the fact you can parry attacks from your foes and block projectiles with your blade. You can dash in and out of battle with a quick button press too, whilst you’re also able to unleash magic attacks with ease. It’s quite a deep system, especially for a title that’s so heavily inspired by the more simple old-school releases of yesteryear.
Whilst Slain: Back from Hell has some neat ideas though, their execution isn’t always the best. This is mainly down to the somewhat awkward controls and the game’s unforgiving design.
Now I wouldn’t say that the game’s controls are bad, because in honesty I never had too big of a problem with them; there’s a lot going on based around combat and platforming so they do take some getting used to, but I never felt completely out of control.
It’s more that there’s a slight feeling of imprecision to them. A lot of the game’s combat scenarios see you facing off against multiple foes in areas full of traps. However, if you ever so slightly mistime an attack, you’ll get thrown into a situation that’s difficult to get back out of – Slain: Back from Hell is certainly an unforgiving experience. You’re tasked with parrying attacks and avoiding the countless projectiles that are jolting your way, yet one little mishap and everything goes wrong.
I appreciate that this is all part of gameplay, but there were plenty of occasions where I seemed to nail an attack or parry perfectly, but the game didn’t register it. It wasn’t a constant thing either, with it seeming like there was a slight case of input lag in the game at times, but then nothing at all during the next moment. It may be just my lacking skills, but there’s definitely something that’s not quite right with the game.
Oh, and developers: please don’t make your characters move forward when they attack in a game that demands precision. Slain: Back from Hell is full of deadly hazards in the environment, so seeing Bathoryn nudge ever so slightly forward every time I struck out at a foe proved to be frustrating.
These issues aren’t helped by the fact that Slain: Back from Hell is a pretty tricky game, and not always in a fair way. The further you progress through the game, the more you’ll come across sketchy enemy placements, unfair deadly traps, an inundation of foes, and even attacks that are close to impossible to avoid. Now I like a challenge in a video game, but only when it’s fair; Slain: Back from Hell just seems to keep putting you in situations that are designed to defeat you as opposed to being there to offer a stern test for the player.
If there’s one thing that Slain: Back from Hell absolutely nails though, it’s the visuals. I’m a sucker for the old-school style of 2D visuals, but they’re use here is incredibly impressive; the gothic environments you travel across are well-designed and atmospheric, the sprite and animation work is on point, whilst the enemy designs are mightily grotesque but a wonder to witness in-game. There’s fantastic lighting effects on show too, which really help bring each environment to life.
It’s worth noting that when Slain: Back from Hell launched on the Nintendo Switch last month, it came with a 30fps framerate. This was an error on the developer’s part and the game was meant to run at a steady 60fps instead, much like its PC and console counterparts. A new patch has been released that rectifies this and it’s certainly made Slain: Back from Hell a much smoother and better presented experience than it was during its initial release on the platform.
Slain: Back from Hell is by no means a bad game and it has certainly seen plenty of improvements over its original iteration, but it is one that hides a clunky and often frustrating adventure behind a very pretty lick of paint. It seems to have all the hallmarks there to feel like a great Castlevania-inspired romp through stunning locales, but the awkward controls and some unfair gameplay mechanics see it fall short of the mark.
It does have its moments when it shines though, so those who like a brutal side-scrolling adventure should get some enjoyment out of the adventure – there are just too many better games available in the genre right now to be able to really recommend investing too much time in Slain: Back from Hell.