Hacking and slashing my way through Slain: Back from Hell, I feel like I'm suddenly that sixteen years old boy again, playing games like Shadow of the Beast on my Commodore Amiga I just got for a birthday. Like in Beast and other similar games all those years ago, the first thing you notice about Slain: Back from Hell is its absolutely gorgeous and beautifully animated pixel art. And then there's the stiff challenge.
Slain: Back from Hell isn't just riding high on waves of nostalgia though as it's one hell of a game. There are no levels to gain, no experience points to spend on talent trees and no dull grinding so many game nowadays are too keen to lean on, burying their bare essentials. Slain: Back from Hell is nothing more than a pure 2D side-scrolling action-platformer and proudly so.
The player assumes the role of dead warrior Bathoryn, who's woken up from his eternal slumber to banish evil from the mortal plain. That's it, no deep characterization or surprise twists. The story is just a backbone for players to witness six beautifully hand-crafted levels filled with hellish fiends and fevered visions. A heavy metal soundtrack accompanies the undead warrior as he battles his way through the minions of evil and faces the harrowing challenge of menacing bosses.
Six levels might not sound like much but that doesn't mean you're going to finish the game anytime too soon. You will die a lot, so much in fact that I very easily earned the 100 deaths achievement. Slain: Back from Hell is hard, terribly so, and it teaches manners to pampered modern gamers who are too used to their over-easy games that practically play themselves through a couple of button pushes in between cut scenes.
But Slain: Back from Hell is neither unfair nor impossible. Whenever you die, you know you did something wrong because the controls are perfect with just the right amount of inertia to get in the feel of the action. Dying here is always your fault. You mistimed your parry, jumped too late, got too headstrong with your attack strings or underestimated the challenge of even the lowliest of trash mob waves. You will laugh at how you will die over and over again, wipe the sweat from your forehead and try again.
A successful performance is like executing the meticulous stunt choreography of an action movie set piece. After several failures you get your act together by timing those perfect parries to swing devastating counters, reflecting ice bolts back to their casters and avoiding death traps in a masterful style, doing whatever it takes to reach the next checkpoint. Yes, checkpoints, a commodity we didn't always have back in the good old days. It was godsend if we even got one at mid-level, otherwise it was bluntly back to the start. An another alleviation Slain: Back from Hell gives over old games is unlimited tries instead of a limited number of lives.
Perhaps the main reason why Slain: Back from Hell is both a successful tribute to the old school gaming and a damn good game in its own right is the track record of its developers. They really did some of those Amiga games I grew up with back in the day. A heartfelt thanks to the graphics artist and the man behind the concept, Andrew Gilmour, and his co-developers for taking me back to my teen years. A time machine isn't invented yet but Slain: Back from Hell is surely the next best thing. Those pampered modern gamers might think otherwise as the game takes a good chunk of old school masochism to go with it.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.