Anyone who has been lucky enough to play either the Commodore 64, or the Atari will have this experience ingrained into their gaming makeup. The joy of the simple gaming premise, the basic yet vivid graphics, the 8 bit sound, the frustratingly awkward controls, and finally the loading times, no one can forget the loading times. A number of Indie developers take their inspiration directly from those memories, and one such team is GamePhase. This small Finnish gaming company loves all things retro. Thy Sword was borne as a direct consequence of this obsession. A Hack n’ Slash platform game that takes place in the fantasy land of Nhaastans. This procedurally generated world demands that you take control of one of two characters, the Barbarian, or the Valkyrie. You must complete each section of the map, and defeat 6 Bosses to unite the crystals and complete your adventure.
The world is split into multiple sections, which must be completed in order to chance your luck with the stage boss. Each one is completely unique, and a fresh approach must be taken to be successful. Depending on which character you have chosen, you will find that certain enemies are easier to defeat than others. The Barbarian starts with a much more powerful melee attack, but he is not gifted with a bow. The Valkyrie starts with both bow and sword, but her melee attack is considerably weaker. I personally chose the Valkyrie as I wanted the option to shoot, also stronger swords are available to buy, therefore you quickly overcome this deficit. You start your adventure with the option to select a gaming difficulty, you can select unlimited lives, limited lives, or permadeath. As death is all but certain, I never tried the latter mode, I haven’t got the time to practise to achieve victory, nor do I have enough controllers to replace the rage smashed ones. Once you begin your quest you will be introduced to the map, from here you can select the unlocked stages and observe your progress. Each level consists of a number of days, finish all of those and the level is complete. If there is no boss to fight, you will arrive at a camp where peasants will gamble with you for the gold you have earned, lose and they will laugh in your face. Just what you want when you wasted your hard earned coin! A magician and smithy will tempt you into buying their wares. Buy the goods that you believe will help you on your journey, and proceed to the next section of land. If you happen to die, all progress will be wiped, and you will be asked to start that stage again from day one.
The action takes place on one fixed screen, as you load in you will be aware of the task at hand. Enemies will be placed on different platforms, they will stay in their zone, unless you happen to hit them from below. If this happens, they will jump down and try to attack you at the lower level. The goal is to kill all the available creatures, and make it to the dungeon door. Once all enemies are slain the door will unlock, and you may proceed. Your foes vary in size, shape, health and ability; some of the elements that you will have to take into consideration. Mini quests are occasionally available, such as obtaining a key to unlock a chest, rescuing a trapped prisoner, or completing the stage in record time in order to save the damsel burning at the stake. Completion of any of these tasks will reward you handsomely, so I strongly advise completing each one as they arise. The procedurally generated algorithm ensures that no level is the same, with the exception of the boss encounters. I found this to be both a benefit and a hindrance. The game rarely felt repetitive when the main premise is so simple it could have easily fallen into the trap of being boring very quickly, fortunately this wasn’t the case. As I didn’t know what challenges I would face, I couldn’t prepare for each level. I would have preferred some form of structure, so that I could ensure my character had the right equipment. Most of the time it was potluck, you rolled the dice, and hoped for the best.
Like with the majority of retro titles, especially the ones that are inspired by 80’s gaming. The main premise is deceptively simple. There are a number of easy workarounds to overcome most of the enemies that you face, but, the basic nature of the controls, and the pixelated graphics all work against you. If you mix in the risk of losing all your progress, then patience and planning are key in order to prevent frustration. Though you must collect all of the crystals so that you can pay a visit to the “Dark Tower” sounds a lovely place doesn’t it? You are free to tackle the map in any order that you see fit. For me this made me feel in complete control of my adventure, and made the journey feel more personal.
When I first loaded the game in, I was taken back by how basic it looked. I’ll admit I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to push past the graphical presentation. However, I’m glad I placed my first impressions to one side, as the gameplay is so much fun that I soon got used to what it looked like. I accepted it for its delightful nod to a golden era of gaming. You begin with an “Old School” intro. The story is explained through the use of text, as if told from a storybook. From here you are welcomed by the most pixelated and blurred characters to choose from. Once you start your adventure you notice that each different area has a unique look and theme. The colour palette used is varied, and helps build the atmosphere. Traps and obstacles are tough to identify, which adds another layer of difficulty. The graphics will not be to everyone’s liking. If you happen to be a gamer that can only play ultra realistic titles, then this probably won’t be for you. If you are more concerned with a fun concept, and a casual experience, then you, like me, will be able to overcome the most basic of visual treats, and enjoy the chance to become a hero.
The music for a number of Atari and classic games is trapped in my mind forever. If you happen to play a short burst I’ll be able to identify where it belongs instantly. GamePhase has tried to replicate that feeling here. The music that is used to accompany the action is an eclectic mixture of; fun, lighthearted, sad, and ominous. The simple 8 bit sounds were sampled from old soundboards, and then brought to life for everyone to enjoy. The music works perfectly, it’s not too in your face, but it’s obvious enough to notice it. The sound effects for your spells, weapons, and the enemies were very basic, but worked well.
It wouldn’t be an “Old School” title, if the control set up didn’t drive you spare. Firstly the input lag is a nightmare, I found I was spamming the buttons in order to get my character to move, this meant that you had to overcompensate for any enemies planning to attack you. You are given the option of a normal attack, and a spinning head shot. Practice, practice, practice, the spinning move can be a nightmare to pull off. The amount of times I span past my enemies like a ballet dancer was embarrassing. Once you work out the finer details on both of these issues, you will find that this is a very easy game to control, and 9 times out of 10, death and failure will be down to user error, and not the developer’s choice on button mapping.
I found that this was a particularly short adventure, I sunk in approximately 5 hours, and I was able to complete the action on both the unlimited, and limited death modes. The achievement list is equally easy to complete as most come naturally while playing. You might say, “Surely there is limited replay factor, why would I want to play it again?” The ever changing levels really does help to keep this one fresh. The three game modes certainly add a degree of difficulty. Most importantly, its just fun to play, it really captures that retro feel, and the warm feeling of nostalgia has been ever present throughout.
Thy Sword provides the older gaming generation, and new the perfect opportunity to experience some true retro action. All of the elements of this title work well together, even if you have to allow your body to become accustomed to its style. A casual experience which is a tad frustrating at first, will have you wanting to try and defeat that level, or boss just one more time. This will not be for everyone, but if you fancy a short, but well formed Hack n’ Slash platform adventure, then you won’t go far wrong here. It’s time to choose your hero, and save the world, one crystal at a time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Thy Sword Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 4/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 6/10
A retro Hack n’ Slash title that will transport you back to the 80’s. Choose your hero and save the world.
- Atmospheric 8 bit sound.
- Procedurally generated levels keep the action fresh.
- Simple and fun gaming concept.
- Ideal for the casual gamer.
- Graphics do take some getting used to.
- The controls are slow to react and clunky.