Coming from Ratalaika Games, purveyors of cheap games with very easy achievement lists, comes Thy Sword. Taking the approach of a retro sword-swinging platform epic, does it do enough to make it worth playing, or is it just another excuse to pad out your Gamerscore? A world of swords and sorcery awaits.
The land needs a hero to break the power of the Dark Overlord, and to bring about peace, happiness and fluffy bunnies to all. The only way that the Dark Overlord could be defeated is to have a hero – i.e. you – to gather five mystic crystals and then use their power to give the Dark Overlord a good kicking. A point that is worth mentioning here is the presentation of the story in Thy Sword, as each step that you take the story is presented in the form of a poem, or a rhyming verse, and these are very well-written and quite humorous. A definite tick goes there for the developers.
The graphics are suitably retro, in an 8-bit kind of way. The characters are nothing but a pile of pixels, but somehow they manage to portray a bit of personality, and there are two classes to choose from as well: a Barbarian, who relies on strength and a big pointy sword to keep his enemies at bay, and a Valkyrie, who has a short sword but makes up for it by coming tooled up with a bow for ranged attacks. Choosing the Valkyrie is the easiest decision, mostly as I prefer my danger at arms length, and obviously keeping socially distanced from the enemies is a good idea.
Setting off into the world and we discover that each level is a side-on platforming screen, with ladders, barrels, boxes and baddies to destroy. Once you have managed to slaughter all the enemies on a level, the exit to the next will open, and it is then when you can safely move on. There are usually five levels in each area, with a couple of exceptions, and on some stages the gate glows red; it is then you’ll know that you are almost at a boss fight. You have only one life, with five health points, and each enemy hit takes away one point – you need to be careful as if the points are lost and you die, choosing to continue will start you at the beginning of that particular cluster of levels. That is pretty heartbreaking if you are on the fifth level. However, my pro tip for the day: when the game asks you if you want to continue, choose “No”, then choose “Continue” from the title screen, and you’ll start at the same level you died on. I have my nine year old son to thank for finding that particular workaround. Kids eh!?
Jumping about and attacking all foes is a lot of fun. The character you play as has two different attacks based around their sword, and weirdly Thy Sword’s tutorials don’t mention one of them. Pressing the X button causes your avatar to action a spinning attack, which while very powerful, easily decapitating your foes, does cover a lot of ground horizontally and is difficult to get the distancing right, especially when the enemies are walking towards you. Pressing RB drops a normal sword swipe, and this is the attack that saw me through the majority of the game; both jumping swipes and standing swipes are equally effective. It helps that if you jump and attack an enemy from a lower level, they will jump down to try and attack you, so for certain enemies which have to be decapitated getting them to the ground level makes landing the power attack a lot easier. There are also exploding barrels dotted around the stages, and shooting them with an arrow will kill any enemies in the vicinity; making use of the environment can make your life easier.
The enemies are an imaginative bunch though, at least in a fantasy kind of sense, with Golems and Trolls all easily distinguishable, and the bosses coming across as a real challenge. Each boss has a definite attack pattern that will take some understanding, but a little bit of trial and error will see you stumbling upon the pattern required for beating them. They do have some attacks that seem to be unblockable mind, so gritting your teeth and hoping is a valid tactic.
The real hook with Thy Sword is two-fold. There is a great deal of satisfaction in finishing a level with a large amount of gold and jewels, and then using it to trade in the village levels between the fighting levels. You can gamble your money in a game of Pontoon, where the objective is to get as close to 21 as you can without busting, and this is strangely compelling. There is also a mage-type guy who will sell you potions and talismans, and a blacksmith who will sell you new weapons. Best of all of these is a Master Quiver that holds double the arrows of the regular one – I don’t need to tell you how useful this is. Once you’re tooled up, it’s a case of moving on to the next level and carrying on.
The other hook though is that all the levels are procedurally generated, so each time you play it’s going to be different. In fact, you can play from start to finish and you won’t play the same level twice. This helps to add to the longevity of the game, and to be honest it does add a lot of fun to the challenge.
All in all, Thy Sword on Xbox One is a game that I have really enjoyed playing through. It’s the first Ratalaika title that I have played that actually requires you to finish the game in order to unlock all the achievements, but it delivers so much fun that you will be inspired to keep trying. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here, and this is a game that deserves a chance. Retro platformers might not be to everyone’s taste, but the gameplay on display in Thy Sword is strong enough to warrant giving it a go, especially with three difficulty levels to have a go at. Don’t just think of this as an excuse to grab easy achievements… it is much more than that.