As we rapidly approach The Legend of Zelda’s 35th (!) birthday, wouldn’t it be great to look at one of the countless games it inspired? Fortunately for us, one was very recently released onto the Xbox Store in the form of Glittering Sword. Unfortunately for us (well, mainly me), it isn’t very good.
HugePixel’s Glittering Sword promises a ‘fantasy adventure set in a cozy world with Sokoban-style puzzles’. On that point, it delivers. This is your typical fantasy adventure, with a brilliant art style to match. You play an unnamed hero whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a sorcerer who looks remarkably like Hitler. To save her, you’re given the eponymous Glittering Sword and must use it to battle through various screens, overcoming wizard-Hitler’s army of minions in the process.
There are also puzzles to contend with, although they don’t contain the crate-pushing typical of Sokoban-style games. Instead, you’ll have to flip switches, collect crystals and navigate single-use floor pads. It’s here where the issues begin to rear their head.
Sokoban games often start easy, before becoming eye-wateringly difficult later on. But Glittering Sword never really advances past that first stage, with the puzzle difficulty moving from very-easy to moderately-easy over the course of the game. The only real innovation introduced is single-use pads that become inaccessible after walking over them. They do promote some forward-thinking and will temporarily slow you down. Still, they aren’t enough to prevent puzzles from being solved within minutes.
Combat suffers from the same problem in that it never develops into anything significant. Every single enemy you’ll face can be defeated in the exact same way – by just standing still and whacking it a few times with your sword. It becomes really stale, really quick. There are only so many spiders/bats/bees you can smash with your sword before you get bored and begin crying out for something different. The game’s answer? Just throw more of the same cookie-cutter enemies at you, in a cheap (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to heighten the difficulty.
Glittering Sword does offer some variance in the combat. There are blue potions that you can buy that will allow you to throw fireballs to kill enemies. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t encourage you to use them. I never once encountered a situation where they were ever needed. In fact, I used the ability about twice and never bothered to actually buy a single potion. Your hero also comes equipped with a dash mechanic, where you can move quickly over a small distance. Again, I never encountered a situation where it was needed.
In fact, the only real challenge in Glittering Sword comes in dealing with the atrocious hitboxes and collision detection. Too often, I walked into spikes, or fell into a pit, or was hit by a projectile, that was seemingly on the square below my character. And this becomes even more frustrating as you progress through the game and have to deal with those one-use floor pads. Accidentally triggering one of those usually means an instant restart.
There are issues within the combat relating to this too. There’s a ton of variance as to where the enemy hitbox actually is, and you’ll find hits not registering. It doesn’t help that you can only attack in the four cardinal directions, and enemies don’t really fit well into this system. You’ll often find it impossible to hit enemies above or below you unless you’re in line with them. Of course, they can still hit you, leading to lots of cheap deaths.
There’s really nothing to bring you back either, save for mopping up the last ‘kill x amount of enemy’ achievements. It’s disappointing, because the way the game is set up facilitates exploration. There is potential for hidden areas that could have contained hidden secrets, upgraded weaponry, or some more of those cool references we were promised.
But the only thing Glittering Sword offers in this vein are chests that can be opened with keys. These are entirely self-contained within a specific screen and are often locked behind a puzzle separate from the main one. Opening one will often grant an upgrade to the player’s armour – not really much of an incentive seeing as the game is easy enough already.
Glittering Sword on Xbox is disappointing. It shouldn’t be expected to offer anything revolutionary to the genre, given its status as a homage to The Legend of Zelda. It should be expected to nail the fundamentals though. It doesn’t. The game never advances beyond the same simplistic puzzles and stale combat, and the only answer to scaling difficulty is throwing more projectiles and enemies at you in an attempt to slow you down. Add in some truly horrible hit detection and only about an hour of gameplay, and you have a game that seems overpriced even at the relatively slim price tag of £4.19.
But hey, it’s not all bad. At least we got wizard Hitler – right?