Slain!: Back From Hell is a 2D platformer released by Digerati Distribution in 2016 for the PS4, PC and in 2017 for the Switch. Set in a world so metal half the walls are adorned with skulls, you're tasked with slaying the evil overlord Vroll as the revived champion Bathoryn.
Being a metalhead, Slain's pixel art drew me in as soon as a I saw it. It's amazing, layered, full of movement with details everywhere. The enviroments are varied and use colours perfectly. The colors scheme of the lighting kinda reminds me of Blood Omen. And Bathoryn has white hair, uses magic projectiles and can turn into a wolf during one level. Hmm...
Look, I don't know what else to say, just look at it!
BEHOLD IT WITH YOUR NON-FLYING EYEBALLS AND RELISH IN ITS METAL MAJESTY!!!
Sorry, good art is hard to find.
I'm less in favour of the music on the whole. It's darker than I like my metal, very moody and somewhat repetetive. I can't say it doesn't suit the game's aesthetic, but I would have liked some heart-pumping Metal anthems.
I supposes you'd have to lighten up the game a bit for that to fly. But you can headbang in honour of the Great Horned Metal God (Ormagöden?) after killing bosses, which I approve of.
I think the story is the weakest part of Slain. It's barely there and very standard. Bathoryn gets revived and then goes through some levels before killing Vroll. That's all. There are some more characters added for flavour, but they are afforded very little screentime.
The writng leaves me a tad conflicted. I love flowery dialogue, but only when utilized properly. In Slain, pieces of the script feel overwritten, like they had to cram as many fun words as possible into every textbox. It lessens the effect such words are supposed to have.
The ending is also very confusing and feels like something only put in the game as possible foreshadowing for Valfaris. It's a twist that doesn't feel like a betrayal, nor bring new context to what has transpired. It just happens and then the game ends. Sorta like how one weird ending in Drakengard leads to Nier.
We'll see what comes of that prediction, but I don't think the ending works as well as intended.
The closest comparison I can make to Slain's gameplay is classic Castlevania. It has a larger focus on combat than platforming, but I still think the comparison is valid. Instead of a whip and sub weapons, Bathoryn has a sword and a couple of spells.
The sword is the most complex. You have a three-hit combo of regular attacks and an aerial swipe. These can of course be used to strike down boney monstrosities, but you should also use them to deflect projectiles.
I quite like what they do with deflecting. It starts as a defensive maneuver, but you'll soon realize that you can use it to deal damage and even stun enemies. The other way to stun enemies is to parry them.
Parries are very strong and are oftentimes the best way to fight. But they're difficult to use on a few enemies and can leave you open. On the whole, I think they're in a good place. If you just want to avoid damage at a lower risk, you can use the backstep instead. There's also a charge attack you can use in preparation of advancing enemies and after parries.
In order to keep things interesting, there's also an elemental system for the sword. You get three elements and the freedom to choose between them at any point. Enemies usually have a weakness and you're incentivized to figure it out if the game doesn't explicitly tell you them.
I have no major qualms with the system. It adds a bit more to keep in your head during the latter part of the game when enemy types get more mixed. But I'm not sure if every enemy has a weakness or if they push the system to its full potential. It feels like the elements should have some sort of effect on the game beyond damage. Like being able to freeze certain flying enemies so you could launch them at other enemies or somesuch.
The magic is very simple. You get a small pool of mana that can be used for a projectile, a charged projectile and a screen nuke. The projectiles are for support attacks against weaker foes or safe damage against bosses, while the nuke is for when you're swarmed.
The small amount of spells you get per checkpoint feels a bit limiting, but I think it's intended for emergencies. You can restore mana by killing enemies with parries and charge attacks.
It all comes together pretty well. I find it really satisfying to attack smaller enemies, parry big ones, predict when I can get in a charge and realize when to burn mana. Bosses are oftentimes duels where you can utilize all your moves and they're pretty good, if somewhat basic.
The game controls well and doesn't have any lives, so it has a bit of free reign to be dickish. Not overtly so, but there are still a few runs between checkpoints that feel too hard.
I can deal with the difficulty and I didn't feel like ragequitting. The great aerial control you have and the fast restarts do wonders to keep it fun. But during certain sections, the health of enemies feels overtuned. I'm glad the platforming isn't the aggravating part, in spite of the prevalance of instant death traps. It's pretty basic stuff and should only get you killed with the help of enemies.
Once one of the difficult parts comes along (looking at you, Mother Beholder), it's just a matter of gritting your teeth and perfecting as much of it as you can. Your success in these difficult sections doesn't feel random, but I think it takes a bit too long. I might just be bad, YMMV. Had the game featured lives, I would probably discredit it entirely. Good thing we've almost moved past them as a society.
(Note: This is a promo GIF, the Hogre fight happens in another area.)
Slain is notable for being one of few games to escape from a garbage state thanks to post-release support. If you look at early reviews, you'll notice that it seems like a different game. The combat was monotonous and random, the keyboard controls were delayed and it just felt lackluster overall.
It's my assumption that they felt pushed to release it after the prior delays and missjudged the state of the game. The main programmer leaving didn't help matters either. But after getting a new one and working at it for a few more months, the game slowly became playable. That dedication deserves praise.