Slain! – A review of a game that hates you.
Slain: Back From Hell is a game that likes to punch you in the face, then kick you in the nuts, then point and laugh as you’re curled into a fetal position crying. And I love it.
Some of the games I enjoy most are a hell of a challenge. Not enough to make you snap your controller in half and gouge your eyes out with the shards of hate and splintered circuit boards of course, but the ones that you’ll inevitably try many times to get through. Flashback, Out of this World, Heart of Darkness, Super Meat Boy…all those games can be relentless in their difficulty and puzzles to solve but they give you such a sense of accomplishment once they’re completed that it makes you want to keep going. Slain falls into that realm.
The original version of Slain, which I did not play, was not met with a lot of positive reviews prompting Wolf Brew Games to rework it and launch it under the new name Back From Hell. You follow a resurrected warrior named Bathoryn to clear a blighted land through half a dozen different levels, each with a different set of monsters with unique weaknesses, hidden traps, secret rooms, and a literal hatred for your stupid face. You will die, and you will die A LOT, making Slain a very aptly named game. You are free to choose whichever section you wish to do in whichever order you choose to complete them (with the exception of the final stage) as you wield your big-ass sword. The move set is limited to basically a stab and a slash, but you will also unlock a couple of different weapons and have the ability to knock back some of the projectiles that will head your way.
One thing that does help this game over games like Heart of Darkness or Super Meat Boy, is that you actually have a life meter so it’s not all one-hit kills. You’ll have a better chance to survive this way, but don’t worry, there are plenty of times that you’ll get Bathoryn one-shotted, exploded, burn to death, or impaled. The levels are interesting and challenging without being impossible and the save points are spaced out in such a way that you won’t have to redo 20 minutes of the game each time you get horribly slaughtered. But while the game play is solid, it can get a little tedious. The new weapons offer little more than an elemental weakness (fire axe on an ice skeleton, ice sword on a flaming monster, etc) and basically have the same attacks. So it could easily have become a tedious hack and slash if not for the experience of the visuals and the sound.
This game is pretty in a really creative 16-bit visual style, as if Symphony of the Night had been made for the Super Nintendo. The backgrounds pop, there are additional effects that give everything a feel of weather or other background fodder but not enough to distract from the game you’re playing. The music is epic. Taking a style from Castlevania you get a lot of heavy metal options and if you press the attack button after you defeat a boss at the right time you’ll perform an homage to the gods in the form of headbanging and pyrotechnics. So even when you’re frustrated by the excessive death, a mood-lightening reward is there waiting for you.
It’s easy to see why some people may not like this game in a world of hand-holding tutorials. This game can be unrelenting, but there’s no real difficulty curve so it can be easy to set down and pick back up once you’ve had a break and you’re ready for more pain.