Love blood? Love metal? Love classic 16-bit platformers? Then here is the perfect game for you – just in time for the Halloween season. You play as Baythorn who is, quite literally, called back from hell to the world of the living once more to defend the land of Chalh from the Vampiric Lord Vroll. Yeah you heard it right, let’s play Slain: Back From Hell.
With its initially poor reception on release, the Slain developers took on board everything the players threw at them and have turned the game around to something beautiful. Say hello to Slain: Back From Hell. With hours of rock riffs and blood-splattering, it is a perfect homage to the classic puzzle platformer.
A new sound effect professional, as well as a new programmer, set forth on a quest to revamp this game and give it the upgrade it deserved. They fixed the broken controls and countless bugs and added new and exciting enemy types, giving us the game we see today. With help from Celtic Frost’s Curt Victor Bryant, they have created a score that will have heads banging for years to come. Being a fan of heavy metal myself, I enjoyed the soundtrack just as much as the game, if not more. It puts you in the mood to ‘seek and destroy’ (pun intended) and regain the freedom and solitude Bathoryn deserves.
The game’s new aesthetics are stunning; mist covers the screen, gore splatters over everything and Baythorn’s flowing hair wisps in the wind majestically. With violence being key to the game, even the lava sometimes looks more like boiling hot blood than it does magma. When Bathoryn gets ‘slain’ we are presented a unique animation – whether that’s him melting in ooze or being burnt alive in the multiple lava pits.
Throughout Slain: Back From Hell you will get upgraded weapons, which include an Ice Axe and Fire Sword. You can switch between these weapons on the fly and quickly draw each one to utilise the weakness of particular enemies, giving you some hope in this unforgivably hard game. Slain’s combat mechanics are definitely more advanced and developed than the old-school platformers, with chargeable attacks, dodging, blocking, aerial attacks, magic projectiles and parry attacks. This helps bring the game into the modern age and makes you realise it is a new game.
You also have magic, or mana, at your disposal, which can be used in multiple ways. You can either use it to fire projectiles at enemies, which can be charged for more power at the cost of mana, or choose to unleash a devastating explosion at the cost of all your mana. This eliminates the smaller, weaker enemies such as the skeleton hoards or Skaven type enemies, but rarely kills the more menacing creatures. Sometimes you panic and use this, but normally wish you saved it for just that little bit longer as there is always something bigger and scarier right around the corner.
Magic always serves a purpose and should be used frequently. Luckily, it can be replenished by killing certain enemies with devastating blows, or can be gained back when hitting the coveted checkpoints that are sporadically placed throughout levels. This is where my main gripe with the game comes in, the damn checkpoints. Some levels have them by the boatload and you always seem to have health and mana to spare. Others however seem to be few and far between and make the game very Dark Souls-esk by making your life as difficult as possible, as some levels have next to none. This is though, the reason why I love this game so much, as it has gone back to its roots of the old school Castlevania style and really test you as a gamer, testing your patience and testing your ability to seek out enemies’ weaknesses, learning when and how to defeat them.
The level design is my second gripe. Some are beautifully designed and have you meticulously jumping from moving level to the next with expert precision, feeling that ecstasy when you reach the checkpoint. Again though, others are very monotonous and feel half hearted, very much like the developers ran out of ideas and just put it all together in the last minute.
The game uses switches to progress through the levels; these can open doorways or reveal a moving tile that will elevate you to the next platform, or unlock secrets, unleashing a new type of hell to challenge you. They don’t always seem necessary and sometimes really interrupt the general flow of the game. Ideally, this is something the developers could possibly work on if they were going to revisit the game for a third time.
One last thing that kept hindering my progress were the off-screen enemies. This happened enough times to become annoying and really started to grate on me. Throughout almost every level there were more than enough enemies off screen that threw projectiles my way and knocked me off a platform or threw me straight into a fire pit, ensuring I need to start the whole damn level again. I get that the game is meant to be hard, but that’s just mean! You see, Slain always finds ways to trick you and pit you into a false sense of security before WHAM! another surprise. This comes in the form of traps on the floor, I lost count of the times I fell for these and even though I knew they were there, in my haste to get the next section after being “slain” countless times, ran straight into another one. Unfortunately these traps are reused throughout the game and you do quickly learn the signs that one is there and you know how to avoid it. That said, you will still be killed by them. Trust me.
All this being said, I must reiterate the point that this is a real old school style difficulty game that, like Dark Souls, really gives you that sense of relief and reward after defeating a particularly hard enemy, level, or getting to the next shining checkpoint beacon. Every boss fight is brutal and engages you differently with every variation. There are plenty of rewarding battles and that sense of elation never goes away and always kept me coming back for more.
There are also multiple text based story elements throughout the game, but I have to admit that they aren’t very engaging or particularly well written. They do however give the game context and keep it moving along nicely. I’m glad they put it in, but it could definitely use some work.
Overall, Slain: Back From Hell does one hell of a job reincarnating itself and the developers deserve a firm pat on the back for really bringing this game “back from hell”. The gore, the music and the gameplay reminds me of the brutal platformer games it takes so much inspiration from. Its 16-bit aesthetics are something you don’t see much of these days and it’s something we need more of… lots of blood, puzzles, metal and gore galore.