Throughout the years I have played quite a few games that attempt to emulate Castlevania, but none of them do the job quite like, Slain: Back from Hell. From the platforming and story, to the art style, this title manages to rekindle the 8-bit horror of the 1980’s. There was only one difference that stood out from the predecessor, which is the combat is the central focus, as opposed to platforming.
Back From Hell
The narrative of Slain: Back from Hell is a simple premise to follow and doesn’t require the player to pay much attention in order to follow, but this works well being gameplay focused. You play as Bathoryn, who is brought back from the dead in order to eliminate the evil overlords that seek to keep the world in turmoil. The motivation of our protagonist is his urge to return to his eternal slumber, which seems like the only thing that keeps him going. But considering the world is based around death, destruction, and metal music, I understand the grim intention of the hero.
I love the art style in this game! Slain is a pixelated, bloody, and disgusting gore fest that is shockingly appeasing to the eyes of any horror savant. I found myself impressed and cringing at the environments I encountered. A great example of this is in the sewers. Everything about this level was gross and unsettling. From the slimy and dirty corridors that were filled with green water to the level’s boss, essentially a gross floating ball with fangs called Mother Beholder, that shot acid and dropped eggs out of its boils.This, to me, is the embodiment of what a good platforming horror game should be. Other disgusting levels included Old Town and the Highlands, which were gory, war torn battlefields that made my stomach churn from all the death, destruction, and mutilation throughout.
Character sprites are another major contributor that added to the cringe worthiness of this whole ordeal. Some enemies were pretty generic, such as skeletons and giant rats, but the larger enemies, including main bosses and minibosses, is where the art shines. Besides the aforementioned Mother Beholder, there was one miniboss in the highlands that had these bloody tentacles protruding from its head and shot a barrage of red tadpoles. Through all this the real star of this nightmare is watching Bathoryn die in only the most brutal ways possible. Seeing him decapitated, disemboweled, burned alive, and crushed, just brings home the key point that this is metal as Hell itself.
Pray to the Metal God
Besides brutal deaths, Slain: Back from Hell focuses on two things; platforming and combat. Platforming is a standard slew of jumping on an array of different platforms while avoiding pits and other obstacles. There are also pretty basic puzzles and collectibles scattered throughout each level that can be manipulated by finding the corresponding switch, which the majority of the time is sitting in plain view. Where Slain truly stands out is in the combat department. What starts out as pretty basic side scrolling hack and slash combat evolves as you gain new weaponry and the roster of enemies increases. There are three weapons that you will have to choose between; the basic sword, a fire sword, and an ice axe. You will have to determine which one of these tools of destruction is the best fit for each scenario, because each enemy has their own weakness and you will need to exploit their flaws in order to successfully finish each stage. A few examples include; skeletons are weak to the standard sword, witches and most flesh based enemies are weak to the fire sword, and fire and heavy enemies are weak to the ice axe. I found this semblance of strategy refreshing and a nice homage to the source material.
The Final Say-So
Slain: Back from Hell is a fun throwback to the classic Castlevania series, but still manages to create an identity for itself. I highly recommend this title for the combat and atmosphere alone. This is a fantastic six hour journey, and with Halloween right around the corner this might be the classic survival horror fix you’ve been looking for.