VIDEO GAME REVIEW: SLAIN: BACK FROM HELL

By Nick Durham

Do you like metal? Do you like gothic-themed gorefests? Do you like being frustrated to the point where you will throw your controller against the wall and literally shit your pants in defiance of the fucking difficult atrocity before you? If you answered yes to any of the above, than Slain: Back From Hell is the game for you. A 2-D side-scrolling romp where you take down hordes of monsters and undead, Slain: Back From Hell has an interesting history behind it. Originally released simply as Slain!, the game was hideously buggy and lackluster to say it lightly. Developer Wolf Brew Games ended up pulling the downloadable game away, and the whole thing was overhauled and relaunched as what you see before you. Did any of the so-called improvements end up making any kind of difference? Well yes they did, but not nearly enough in some of the departments where the game really needed them.

Slain: Back From Hell puts you in the shoes of Bathoryn, a sword-wielding warrior. Your mission is to take down waves of monstrous beasts and some fairly massive bosses here and there as well. There’s some magic elements as well in addition to the sword slashing combat, as well as some typical platforming elements as well, akin to classic Castlevania games of yesterday. There’s basically nothing featured here you haven’t seen plenty of times before in games like this, but holy shit at least it looks very, very pretty. There’s some really neat graphical effects here done with the game’s pixel art, and it’s quite the sight to behold. I should also mention that the game’s metal-tinged music is worth the price of admission here alone. Composed by former Celtic Frost bassist Curt Victor Bryant, this music is fucking phenomenal. 

The biggest drawback of Slain: Back From Hell is that the game is unforgivably difficult. Like seriously, this game is so fucking hard it’ll drive you mad. Now normally I don’t mind hard retro-themed games like this because I’m a professional and grew up on this kind of shit, but Slain: Back From Hell is just plain fucking unfair. There’s so many cheap deaths and the game’s checkpoint system is practically a joke. Not to mention the fact that the game’s combat controls feel like there should have been more in terms of dodging enemy attacks and the like. The unrefined controls combined with the unfair difficulty really make this game much more of a chore than it has to be, and that is a damn shame considering the rest of the package is so close to being flat out brilliance.

All in all, Slain: Back From Hell is a disappointing horror-themed side scroller that looks great and features a beautiful metal soundtrack. It’s worth checking out if you can download it at a good price, just go into it expecting an infuriating experience that will probably leave you broken inside, and with a broken controller. It’s available on the Playstation 4 (which is the version I’ve played), Xbox One, PC, and now the Playstation Vita as well, though I’ve heard that version of the game features an extremely choppy frame-rate and a few other glitches to boot. My advice is to stick with either console version or the PC version instead.

Rating: 3/5

HORROR GAME VAULT: CASTLEVANIA: BLOODLINES

By Nick Durham

I have a lot of love for Konami’s Castlevania franchise, and have since I was about six years old or so. At that age I had discovered the original trilogy of Castlevania games for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (aka, the NES) and immediately fell in love with them, despite the fact that they’re incredibly difficult games. The gothic atmosphere, endless hordes of monsters to slay, and the incredible satisfaction felt by obliterating them with your whip and various sub-weapons made me a Castlevania fan for life. By the time the 16-bit generation was upon us, I had no luck in getting a Super Nintendo console, so I sadly missed out on the glorious Super Castlevania IV until much later. What I did manage to land was a Sega Genesis, and in 1994 the console was graced with the exclusive Castlevania: Bloodlines.

Unlike previous games in the series, Castlevania: Bloodlines doesn’t have you playing as a member of the Belmont clan. Instead you choose to play as either John Morris (son of Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel) who wields the Vampire Killer whip, or Eric Lecarde who wields a big-ass spear. The game’s storyline revolves around Dracula’s niece Elizabeth Bartley, who orchestrates World War I as part of a plot to resurrect her deceased uncle. John and Eric travel to Europe to confront her and her hordes of undead minions, concluding (of course) with a final battle against the resurrected Dracula. 

The first Castlevania game to not fully take place in Dracula’s castle (instead you travel throughout various parts in Europe), Castlevania: Bloodlines is mostly typical side-scrolling Castlevania fare. After Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES a few years prior allowed you to control firing your whip in any direction, this game returns you to the standard one-way whip attack, although there are a few times when you can switch up what direction you’re firing. The Item Crash feature from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood returns here as well, although it isn’t quite implemented as well here as it was there. Where this game really excels however is in its graphics and especially the music. The Sega Genesis wasn’t as powerful as its competitor the Super NES, but Konami really put their all into making this game look and sound wonderful. It’s still one of the best looking and sounding games to ever hit the Genesis, and remains one of the best games to ever grace the console. There’s interesting graphical effects including water reflections and multi-jointed/animated bosses. 

Like the previous games in the Castlevania franchise, Castlevania: Bloodlines is challenging as hell and will push you to your limits, but it’s still a massively fun and entertaining title. As I said, it’s one of the best games in the Genesis library, and one of my personal favorites in the Castlevania franchise. If you’re a retro gamer looking to pick this up, be prepared to drop a good amount of cash for a complete copy. 

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: AXIOM VERGE

By Nick Durham

In my youth, one of the video games I used to often find myself going back to was the original Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There was so much to do in terms of exploration and secrets and for an 8-bit game, it was pretty damn creepy. This formula would end up living on for years with various Metroid sequels and spin-offs, and even be adopted by Konami’s Castlevania series from the classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night onwards through a majority of their franchise. Because of this, this genre of gameplay would be dubbed “Metroidvania” by fans, and has helped birth other games throughout the decades; albeit they’ve often been too few and far between. Axiom Verge, from independent developer Thomas Happ Games, is probably the best Metroidvania-type game to be released in the past few years. We’ll be taking a look at the Wii-U version here.

 

The story of Axiom Verge revolves around a scientist named Trace. After an explosion in his lab, Trace awakens to find himself in a foreboding alien world where he has been tasked with helping the local populace in destroying a madman that is hellbent on obliterating all civilization. That’s all I want to say about the story, because there are so many twists and turns throughout the proceedings that this will keep you playing alone. If you finish the game with a high completion rate, you’ll see an additional ending. This alone ups the replay value and encourages even more exploration in a game that is all about exploring and survival.

 

The gameplay of Axiom Verge mixes the previously mentioned elements of Metroid and Castlevania and even sprinkles a little bit of Contra and Blaster Master in here as well. There’s side-scrolling shooter mechanics mixed in with the constant exploration and backtracking. The alien enemies you encounter range from easy to blast to pieces to being absurdly difficult to put down, but thankfully there are a ton of items, power ups, and gun upgrades to find along the way. The game offers a handful of enjoyable boss fights as well, even though they’re fairly formulaic in terms of memorizing patterns and exploiting said patterns to take down the bosses. If you’re a veteran gamer from the 8/16-bit eras, you’ll have little to no issues getting through this game.

 

Graphically speaking the environments of Axiom Verge look to be inspired from H.R. Giger and are creepy as hell. In fact, the atmosphere of Axiom Verge is one of horrific dread to say it lightly. You never know what’s around a corner and graphically speaking the whole thing looks pretty damn spooky and dark. The game’s music however is the best feature about Axiom Verge; a blend of synth and ambient sounds really help set the creepy tone of the game. The controls are good and there’s a lot of replayability here in terms of split endings and fully exploring the game’s large map. There’s even a speedrun game mode which encourages you to get through the game as fast as you can with as high of a completion rate as possible. I’m not trying this mode because I will undoubtedly fail miserably.

 

It goes without saying that if you grew up with Metroid, Castlevania, or other games of this type, you should go download Axiom Verge. It’s available on the Wii-U, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation Vita, and PC. For its budget price it offers a very rewarding experience and enough replayability to make you come back to it. Download it, turn off the lights, and strap yourself in for a super dark and creepy adventure.

 

Rating: 4.5/5