One of the many joys of being a game reviewer is to get to play games that would, in all likelihood, have passed us by. Some of these games have been really good, like Ganryu 2, and some less so, like Ikai; the fact remains that life is all the richer for having experienced them.
And so we come to the subject of this review, a game called Swords & Bones. Coming from a studio with the unfortunate name of SEEP (second only to moist as the nastiest word in the English language, either that or ooze), Swords & Bones is a retro styled platform combat game in the vein of the mighty Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Can it hold a candle to the source material, or is it like a cover song by a cheesy Las Vegas lounge singer?
Now, regular readers will know that I am old enough to have remembered the glory days of platform games, when they weren’t retro styled but were cutting edge tour de forces of graphics and gameplay. So seeing games harking back to the good old days is like a nice stroll down Memory Lane for me, and so it is here. The story is the usual kind of throw away nonsense, with realms aligning and a Wolf Demon appearing to take over the world. Someone just has to stop him and there are no prizes for guessing who that someone is…
So, the scene is set, and we can move onto the way the game is presented. Now, Swords & Bones isn’t going to set the world alight sadly, as the sprites for our hero and the enemies are small and rough looking, and the screens, while perfectly adequate, are very much out of the “Big Book of Platform Games Cliches”. Still, our knight can move, jump and swing his sword about as we begin, and so the fundamentals seem to be there. The sound is a different matter, however, with some truly awful glitches occurring very regularly. On the second level (yes, the wheels don’t take long to fall off), there are some crows that fly at us, cawing as crows do. However, even after defeating them, the cawing goes on and on and on, so much so that the TV had to be muted. Not a promising start!
The enemies are pretty much cookie cutter shapes, with a slightly different colour applied. As an example, on the first level, you have to fight demon looking skeleton things (that is a technical term). The gold coloured ones will just wander up to you, while the green ones will stand still and fire projectiles at you. There’s no duck button, so jumping is the only answer. The bosses that you meet have slightly more imagination put into them, and require you to learn their patterns before you can take them down; as a whole, the actual design of the enemies is pretty good.
What about the actual gameplay? Surely it’s hard to mess this up, given the source material? Well, yes and no. Moving the knight is fine, with the jumping being accurate and precise, and given the look of some of the levels, that is a blessing. Jumping around, exploring all the far reaches of the screen will lead you to find the collectibles on each stage, and this is pretty good fun.
Combat? Less so. For some reason, your knight has to stand still in order to swing his sword, so fast moving enemies will mess you right up, and the ghost type floating enemies are the worst for this. Each swing of the sword will kill one ghost, but when there are six of them floating at you, running away is the only course of action that will see you survive. Swords & Bones has got the old skool difficulty nailed on, as you have three HP, and once they are gone, it’s game over. Although you can start at any level you have beaten, so it isn’t quite as bad as it could have been.
All the way through the first level I was thinking “I wish I had a projectile weapon to deal with these enemies” and it never appeared. Then, after defeating the first boss, I noticed on the world map a node called “shop” where you can buy magic attacks, alongside other useful upgrades like extra hit points or a double jump. No mention of the shop in the introduction or the early game mind…
All in all, Swords & Bones does just enough to scrape a recommendation. It is hard and punishing, and almost completely unfair, but this is how I remember games from this era being, so it is fitting. Getting enough coins together to buy all the upgrades will need a lot of grinding, and so things are set up to keep you playing for a good long time. However, the hook isn’t strong enough to ensure you want to play for that length of time. Swords & Bones has some good ideas, but the execution needs some work and maybe a touch of polish.
Swords & Bones is available from the Xbox Store