Deadly Edge is the premiere title from the indie studio Bison Kings Game Studio, and it sets out with the bold intention to pay homage to the side scrolling action adventure games from the 1990s. If you were alive and enjoying some of the titles of time time, you’d be correct in remembering experiences such as Actraiser, Final Fight and, to a lesser extent, Magic Sword. Without utilizing some of the arguably broken “3D” effects available on 16 bit platformers, these games were able to convey some surprisingly complex storylines and ideas, with Actraiser having a very broad sense of exploration and majesty, while Final Fight brought the best of side-scrolling brawls to the small screen. Magic Sword, a personal favorite of mine, was able to meet somewhere in the middle and deliver a classic “kill the evil wizard” plot of a 1970s fantasy movie while mixing in some good melee and ranged combat.
The plot of Deadly Edge is, honestly, a bit convoluted. You are Grey, rogue swordsman with serious baggage, who, initially, is being persecuted and trying to stay alive amid a lot of razings and murders happening. Then, suddenly, you’re the good guy that the Emperor himself has decreed will figure out what is making evil and mutants spread across the land. Bison Kings clearly put a lot of thought into the storyline of Deadly Edge which, arguably, is the best thing about the game. The writing for the dialogue of the characters you encounter is well balanced, going from simple chatter to full on exposition carefully disguised as being enraged or impressed with Grey. I did enjoy the way that we were able to slowly unfold on what brought Grey to the state where we found him at the beginning (alone, trying to forget), and, for what it’s worth, I felt that pacing was handled appropriately.
Deadly Edge is definitely trying to convey a very noir feeling with the color choice for the game, which is almost exclusively grays, blacks and shadows. There is an unrelenting “dark” note on everything. When you start in a village at night and then move into underground mines, you already set the tempo for how things will appear and, to be honest, it gets exhausting to try and pick out some details after a while. Shadows and walls can blend in together, and holes in the floors are almost invisible unless your monitor really pops different dark shades. To be fair, I never died or even got injured from falling through a hole in the floor, but it was still somewhat annoying to suddenly disappear from view.
Additionally, the designs of Deadly Edge are, strictly speaking, not my favorite it behold. The art style didn’t connect with me, and it felt like it was a bit amateurish. The characters were usually alright, though I got sick of Grey’s scowling visage after a bit. But the backgrounds were what struck me as rather ugly and janky. You’re constantly surrounded by trees, barrels and torches that look like they were drawn freehand, having not looked at a tree in some time. Looks aren’t everything, but there was such a push from the team to make Deadly Edge evocative of the classic generation, and that’s not where my mind went. It felt like there was an attempt to mimic the style of Darkest Dungeon, followed by trying to coverup that misstep by declaring it 16 bit and toning down the quality even further.
The soundtrack, additionally, was unpleasant to behold. Something was NOT balanced properly before this went to the Steam storefront, because we swing high, high in to the register from the launch of the game and never come back down. Even the bass notes felt like they were tinny, which is quite the feat. I had to turn down the music to a number on my speakers that’s practically mute, and still I heard everything. What I heard was a foreboding ambiance that, if executed more smoothly, would have given a great atmosphere to a game that was already awash in darkness and shadows. Instead, the piercing sounds did little to punctuate the effect of where I was traveling or what I was setting out to do, and I preferred to keep the volume off, as the sound effects from battle were also pretty forgettable. Just your traditional “he grunts when he swings” sort of idea that, yea, matched what they were going for but didn’t really make me keen to keep going on.
The gameplay itself, however, is what really broke things for me. Instead of a constant stream of enemies, you basically walk for stretches of time before encountering a single entity (soldier, mutant, some kind of hobo) who wants to fight you. When walking around, you can’t jump, and Grey isn’t really the running type, more of a “trudge” kind of man. Walking along, you can sometimes kick stuff, but I don’t think I ever found anything or got satisfaction out of the stuff I kicked. The balance between when you’re walking and when you’re fighting didn’t seem quite perfected. In some areas, it felt like I wound up in a fight every two screens. Others, I walked for a while, seeing nothing and fighting nothing, wondering if I had glitched out the game somehow. Speaking of which, there was a minor glitch where I got kicked out of the game in the very first fight, but I’m chalking that up to my own system, not the game.
If someone wants to fight, that’s it, you’re in the combat and you’re not leaving until you or they are dead. The fights are weirdly simplistic, since all you initially have is a sword and shield. Swing high or swing low, you have a chance to strike as long as the enemy is within your reach and isn’t actively blocking you. The enemy, in turn, is gonna swing back, and you both just go back and forth for a while. You have the ability to block and roll out of the way, but the enemy can easily find a way to break your block and most pivot pretty quickly. I suppose the broken issue is latency: I felt like I would end up performing attacks that I input a while back and would need to wait for everything to catch up with itself. The fights, at times, just got boring, as I stood in place and kept swinging until the opponent fell. There were a couple of times when I went into forward rolls without understanding that I had tapped the joystick a few buttons back and Grey was just now getting the instructions. The bosses actually presented some good challenge, because they used a variety of moves that I couldn’t do, like cartwheels and being nimble. Whereas minor enemies just ask you to wail away (or at least hit/block/hit), bosses require dying a couple times (usually) to figure out what you need to do best. But that also requires the player to a.) recognize the pattern and b.) not get incredibly frustrated in the meantime.
Deadly Edge has so much potential that’s right below the surface. There was a lot of planning and thought that went into the creation of the game’s story and, for the most part, there’s excellent execution of the core ideals (linear exploration, one to one combat), but there’s several caveats that prevent it from achieving greatness. The art and graphics may appeal to some, but it left me feeling pretty unfulfilled and bored in general. Combat has potential, but there’s no middle ground: it’s either dead within seconds or stand and deliver. The game itself is relatively short, but there’s plenty of room in the meanwhile for injection of some shift in tone, but I don’t want the creators to deviate from their vision. I can’t realistically offer this game to anyone with my same sensibilities, but I appreciate the amount of activity the devs have shown in the Steam forum for the customers they do have, and that shows a good initiative to make the most out of their game. Give it a try, the worst that can happen is you need to refund the purchase, but maybe this blade is the one you were meant to study. I, however, am quietly bowing out of this adventure and leave it to another to discover what the true fate of Grey may be.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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