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Roar of Revenge Review


If you put half of the Sega Mega Drive back catalogue into a blender, you’d get Roar of Revenge. There’s some Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Onslaught, Ghouls’N Ghosts and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in there, all chopped up to make a retro smoothie. 

SEEP and Ratalaika Games have really leaned into the comparisons. As default, the game plays in a glorious CRT mode, with the pixels smudged and the screen curved. The midi soundtrack could have been ripped from any of the above games, and there’s the same deadpan approach to the storytelling that you got from, say, Altered Beast. It’s Conan the Destroyer retold by a ‘90s Sega Megadrive game, and that’s going to be a nugget of nostalgic gold for a lot of players. 

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We bit into it and found it to be fool’s gold, though. Because while Roar of Revenge stays true to those games, it carries their faults and brings some of its own to boot. Sometimes revisiting the classics isn’t the heady experience you expect it to be. 

In Roar of Revenge, you play Keel the Barbarian, all nipples and loincloths, as you journey to defeat Leomhann, a lion-helmeted villain who has claimed the throne of the kingdom. On the way, you’re going to hunt for your estranged brother, claim the items of the gods, and help out the odd nun and cleric. 

This odyssey takes the form of levels, each sewn together to form a larger building to explore. A pyramid is a series of levels, ending in three bosses that clear an aqueduct to reveal a merman’s crown. An underwater Atlantis is a sprawling map that pushes you to find six gems that open a gate, revealing a path for you to continue. Roar of Revenge, to its credit, never sits still. It’s always got new people for you to meet, items to collect, mixing up the gameplay with swimming sections, boss levels, and gauntlets of enemies. 

There’s some pompous storytelling strewn with typos, and you’ll either love it or hate it depending on your affection for the dry storytelling of Robert E Howard or Michael Moorcock. But it’s all gritty lube that gets you moving from location to location. 

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Where Roar of Revenge truly comes undone is the gameplay. When you’re strapping on furry boots and pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, you want to feel powerful, and Keel the Barbarian is hardly impressive. He’s got a limp jump that makes you feel like you’re hulking around hundreds of kilos of meat, which to be fair he probably is. But when you’re trying to cross the smallest of gaps, the dumpy little leap is frustrating to land. 

Keel has a single attack, a swipe of the sword, and that swipe doesn’t stretch very far. You can crouch and strike, and stand and strike, but that’s the limit of your arsenal for the first half of the game. If there’s an enemy above you, good luck, as there’s no upward strike, nor is there a downward strike. There are no combos or heavy attacks, and it’s only in the second half of the game that you really get some beefier weaponry, in the form of magical fireballs, but even they are limited to a certain number of projectiles per level. 

In earlier levels, the weediness is evened out by enemies that only take a single hit to kill. You can stride through the levels like an oiled up colossus. Most of the enemies don’t even have an attack of their own: they just wander up to you for a hug, hoping that will be enough (they’re trying to walk it in, Jeff!). But it’s in the latter levels when the limitations really kick in, as bosses and blind guardians are sponges, and you’re spending ages hacking at them in the hope they will fall. At no point did we ever feel skillful: there was nothing between the easy sword-fodder and the sponges that demanded we hack, move back, and then hack again. 

Everything feels like it’s being played at half-speed. Enemies amble, Keel ambles, the projectiles apologetically loop toward you. Keel feels lethargic, and simple movements like walking backwards to get a larger run-up to an enemy is a laborious sequence of buttons and waiting. And don’t get us started on ladders. Ladders are notoriously hard to get right in games, and Roar of Revenge loves to toss in sequences of them and watch as you lie face-down on them like they were greasy sun loungers. 

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Achievement hunters will be pleased to note that, as is customary for a Ratalaika-published game, 1000G is well within grasp. You’ll have them all before the second half of the game, and Roar of Revenge is not a particularly difficult title. It’s only really challenging when you nudge the difficulty up and experience areas where checkpoints are nowhere to be seen. Roar of Revenge has a cruel streak, as it will only save at checkpoint-bonfires and at the end of a level. Kill a boss, unlock a fundamental upgrade or unlock a door before you die, and everything will be wiped. You’re going to be doing it all again. 

There were moments when hacking through Roar of Revenge wasn’t a terrible experience, but we should be clear that nostalgia fuelled them. It was in the moments when it was cosplaying as Actraiser or Castlevania, in some of the more elaborate levels and the better bosses (and we should be clear, the vast majority of bosses are supremely duff), when we felt the adrenaline starting to surge.

But that nostalgia is a crutch for an insipid, cumbersome platformer. Getting Keel the Barbarian to the end of Roar of Revenge is as dynamic and exciting as pushing a boulder up a hill. Unless you have a deep, craving love for old-school hack-and-slash platformers, you are best leaving this anachronism in its box.

You can buy Roar of Revenge from the Xbox Store

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