Review – Slain: Back From Hell
Have you ever played Castlevania and thought to yourself: “I wish this had more gore and a kick-ass heavy metal soundtrack.” Well, you’re in luck because Slain: Back From Hell is exactly that. I haven’t played a game this focused on the badassery of metal since Brutal Legends, which is a must play for any metal-head. I am a little disappointed in myself that this flew under my radar until the Nintendo Switch release, but honestly, having it on the go in such a compact option is fantastic. That being said, not everything is perfect in this port.
In Slain: Back From Hell you play as Bathoryn, a doomed hero in a Gothic world, who seeks to liberate six cursed realms from six deadly overlords to the most metal sound track you have ever heard in a game. There really isn’t much of an important story here, but it really doesn’t need it. You’re awoken, again apparently, to wield a great sword with various elemental and magical abilities to defeat Vroll, an evil vampire who wants to take over the land and also has a special surprise planned for you. Before you get to fight Vroll you will have to defeat his hordes of minions and his Generals, who are as hard as the metal riffs blaring in the background.
There are six realms that you will have to fight through, all of them offering various stages, enemy types, mini bosses, elements and of course a main demonic baddie that needs to be vanquished. Even though some enemy designs are repeated or re-skinned, they’re given enough of a change to not feel too repetitive. For instance there is a magic wielding skeleton that will shoot projectiles at you, but depending on the realm he may shoot out magic, that if lands on the ground, will actually summon another minion. That being said, there are a few enemies that are simply just design changes like the flying enemies, but honestly its not a huge deal considering there’s a large amount of different creatures that will keep you busy.
Of course all realms hold their own theme, and while some areas and puzzle sections are repeated, there are always enough unique elements to each realm that it isn’t much of a distraction. However, some realms are definitely better than others when it comes to offering unique ideas and gameplay elements. One in particular lets you turn into a werewolf. Doing those dashing segments as a bloodied up werewolf with the amazing soundtrack blaring is great fun. But not all levels are designed very well unfortunately. There are a few sections, especially in the later levels, that will punish you for getting hit and result in a one hit kill. Timing jumps between platforms while dodging or deflecting fireballs is hard enough at times, but then getting hit results in you getting pushed off your platform into an insta-death blood pool. It’s these segments more so than the bosses that will have you pulling your hair out.
The combat isn’t exactly deep, but there are enough layers there to keep things fresh. During the first few realms you will be introduced to a few new moves and some new elemental weapons that will greatly enhance your power against certain enemies. You have a magic projectile that can be charged for a stronger blast. An area of effect move that does great damage to all enemies on screen, but can only be used when your magic meter is full. You also have access to a fire sword, ice axe, a charged heavy attack, a dodge backwards and a parry move that comes in very handy for most larger enemies. Mixing up these attacks and using the correct elemental weapon on the various enemies is the difference between defeating them in two hits or six hits. None of the combat, or really the whole game, felt overly difficult. Don’t get me wrong, there are some segments and one boss in particular that will have you taking a break, but it really comes down to parry timing and memorizing attack patterns.
Unfortunately the combat and gameplay do has some issues. There will be times where there are button delays, strange hit box detection, and even some frame slow downs. But I feel like the issues stem from the fact that the game had to drop down to 30fps for the Switch version and it just needs to be a 60fps game or your timing is just going to be a bit slower. It’s not all of the time and obviously i got use to it since this is my first experience with the game, but there were still times where I did feel that things weren’t as smooth as perhaps they should’ve been. Apparently there is a 60fps update in the works for the Switch version arriving in a couple weeks so that will greatly help with any sluggish feeling inputs.
The graphics are very good for a pixel art game. There is a very deep level of detail in the pixels used and it’s a treat for the eyes more often than not. I mentioned before that the realms all have different themes and this is where the art style shines. There’s a great mix of areas, indoor and out that are dripping in blood and Gothic design. The art design and themes fit the overall design of a hardcore, gory, metal Castlevania perfectly. The sound design for the various gameplay effects are serviceable, nothing that really stands out, but does it really matter when you have such an amazing soundtrack? The soundtrack was created by Curt Victor Bryant (formally of Celtic Frost) and it will rock your face off. If you’re a heavy metal fan, you will absolutely love this soundtrack as you’re destroying demons in brutal gory fashion.
Slain: Back From Hell is exactly as I described above: Castlevania covered in gore and set to a heavy metal soundtrack. If that isn’t enough to get you excited for this game then I’m not sure this is for you. The only times I wanted to put the game down were when I was frustrated from a boss, but after a quick break I was ready to hop back in and whoop its ass back to hell. Not everything is perfect with some strange hit boxes, some input delay and some stutters, but fortunately it’s still a blast to play, look at, and listen to. Also, there is a 60fps patch on its way to iron out the kinks.
Reviewed on Switch.
Slain: Back From Hell is available now on PC, Switch, Xbox, PS4 and Vita.
A copy of Slain: Back From Hell was provided by the publisher.