Indie developers rarely capture the true spirit of old-school games. Thankfully, Slain: Back from Hell feels like a long-lost SNES game complete with enough frustrating elements that would make even the Dalai Lama throw his controller.
Just by looking at the screenshots, you can tell that Slain: Back from Hell is heavily retro-inspired. You play it by controlling the initially reluctant hero Bathoryn who goes on a quest to put an end to six tyrannical overlords within their respective realms. It's basically a 2D action adventure game where you move through mostly linear stages in order to reach the end and face a boss. You battle foes by swinging your sword and using magic projectiles. To defend, you can use an evasive move or block oncoming attacks. If you time a block perfectly, you'll stun your foe so you can slay them easier. Similarly, you can charge your melee attack to unleash a powerful blow. Learning how each enemy type moves so you can take advantage of their predictable behaviour is extremely satisfying as you evade, block, and slash your way to victory. You can unleash a powerful spell that depletes your entire magic meter if you're in a sticky situation, too. Overall, this is grueling 2D action in its purest form.
Slain: Back from Hell simply looks awesome. Whereas most retro-inspired indies focus on crafting old-looking graphics, Slain appears more genuine with loads of details that make its crazy world come to life. You'll see heavy winds blowing through environments, blood dripping everywhere, and many subtleties that add up to create one epic world. It's gorgeous, which in turn makes playing it all the more enjoyable. The gothic metal soundtrack provides a suitable backdrop to the gory onscreen action while the sound effects make every slash a satisfying moment. I'm very impressed how Slain manages to remain authentically retro throughout the entire journey.
Each one of Slain's stages is enormous. Although there isn't much exploring to do, traversing the massive environments feels epic. You'll come across a ton of variety as some sections involve platforming, minor puzzle solving, and battling through plenty of combat arenas. You may even transform into a wolf then get chased by an enormous ghost-like entity. As you progress through the stages, you'll find parts of a medallion and unlock a couple of weapons in the form of a flaming sword and an ice-covered axe. All of this being said, there sure isn't much character growth. I know that having RPG elements would take a lot of challenge away, but why not at least have usable items or methods to increase your stats even slightly? The lack of these features makes the quest feel less fulfilling than it could have been.
The biggest problem with Slain: Back from Hell is that it has very limited appeal. While old-school gamers will probably love it, everyone else will find it way too tough to enjoy. I wish there was a difficulty option so more gamers can enjoy it. Speaking of difficulty, one part that I found to be annoying is when there was long stretches between checkpoints that acted more like tests of patience than reasonable challenges. For example, a section could consist of a few rounds in a battle arena, lengthy corridors with loads of relentless foes, or giant rooms with annoying platforming. It's hard not to just give up when you retry the same thing over and over again.
Slain: Back from Hell is a brutally tough yet impressively genuine retro 2D adventure. The combination of gratifying combat and beautiful visuals set in a gory fantasy world make it a must-buy game for anyone who grew up playing Super Nintendo.
- + Authentic and intensely challenging retro gameplay with satisfying combat
- + Gorgeous old-school visuals
- + Massive and memorable stages
- - Far too challenging for casual gamers
- - Not much character growth
- - Some long stretches feel more like endurance tests than enjoyable challenges