Thursday, February 6, 2020

REVIEW: Goblin Sword

I saw an article about this game shared in a local gaming group and the screenshot alone had me excited to check it out. When I saw the list of features I knew I had to play this as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to get an early look at the game, so read on to check out my review. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Goblin Sword courtesy of Gelato Games.
Opinions are my own.

Goblin Sword is a retro-inspired action platformer with light RPG elements. An army of monsters led by an evil wizard have invaded your hometown. Slay as many monsters as you can, collect loot, avoid dangerous traps and defeat menacing bosses, before facing the evil wizard himself.

When I first got a hold of this game, I got an initial impression that there wasn't much too it. I figured out early on that it was originally a mobile game and a lot of the first levels were kinda too easy. Then I hit the first boss and realized that this game wasn't kidding around.

On my first day of playing Goblin Sword I actually stopped, put the Switch into Sleep Mode, walked around my apartment for two or three minutes, and then went right back to playing. I did this like three times. I just couldn't stop. It's definitely a small game, but it's still challenging. As of this writing I haven't even finished it.

Goblin Sword's story is perfectly simple and straight to the point. You play as a nameless, gender-neutral hero with blue hair and are told to go off and defeat the big bad. That's it. Three or four text boxes at the beginning and away you go. The only other NPCs you meet along the way just offer basic tutorial stuff or add a touch of world-building. There's no Belmont soap opera or Dr. Wily anime scheme here.

The game features 89 levels over six major areas; a forest, a castle, a cave, a lost city, a temple, and some ruins. These are fairly straight forward. There's no volcano or desert levels or any SteamWorld-esque surprise alien levels. The simplicity instead evokes the retro feel of old fantasy games like Castlevania and Gauntlet which I appreciate.

The world of Goblin Sword is not a fully sprawling Metroidvania. Each major area has a couple dozen levels to select from including standalone boss battles and a super hard extra level. Levels start out fairly small and simple. Go right, kill monsters, collect treasure, get to the exit before you die.

As the game progresses, the levels get larger and more complicated. Each major area adds new obstacles and stronger enemies not to mention a few puzzles here and there. Connecting all of the levels Metroidvania style might have appealed to the retro crowd, but splitting each level up makes Goblin Sword a bit more accessible to casual players.

You start off with a simple sword but are able to buy others at the store or find more in treasure chests. There are 30 total weapons, but most of them are some kind of sword and finding anything else is going to take some time.

The weapons are varied enough though to shake up the gameplay. They each do different amounts of damage and have their own range and speed. Additionally, you can find magic orbs in levels to temporarily activate a magic attack. These are different for each weapon and usually add devastating area damage or long-raged attacks.

My only gripe is that this limited ability is on your basic attack button. This means you have to waste a special attack just to smash a vase or even open a chest. This does, however, keep with the retro feel of the game. Goblin Sword uses very few buttons, fitting right in with NES style gameplay, and thus is able to offer single Joy-Con support.

To aid you in your adventure, Goblin Sword features 30 relics that grant different abilities. I actually struggled through my first few hours of the game because I had totally missed these in the item shop. Some of these relics incease enemy drop rate for things like hearts or gems, others give extra abilities like a tripple jump or immunity to lava damage. 8 of the relics summon a guardian that follows you around and assists you throughout the levels. The relics are great, but you can only equip one at a time so you have to choose wisley.

Goblin Sword also has some cosmetic features as well. There are 14 unlockable armors that don't add any gameplay advantages - they just look cool. Most of them are different kinds of suits of armor, but there's also a viking armor, lion skin, and even a ninja suit that looks just like the dude from Ninja Gaiden.

Some chests you'll come across also contain souvenirs that can be used to decorate your home. However, most of them are common household goods like dinner plates or a lamp and if you remove all of them the house is still pretty much decorated by default. You can also display trophies from boss battles - hanging up a minotaur's head is way cooler than putting a clock next to a shelf.

If all of that isn't enough to keep you busy, Goblin Sword also has 46 quests - although they're more reminiscent of Achievements than a typical RPG "quest." There's things like "Destroy 100 Vases" or "Defeat 200 Enemies" and one for beating every boss or finding all of the crystals in the game. But there's also one for getting the "Good Ending" which has me feeling like I'll be playing this game for quite a bit.

Visually, the beautifully drawn pixel art and the fun level design ensure that there's always something great happening on screen. A few times I died just because I was watching a new enemy and wanted to see what it did. There's a lot of great and subtle worldbuilding in the enemies. Flying birdmen and little gremlins that throw boomerangs and a werewolf that breathes fire because why not?

For such a seemingly small game developed by only two people, there is a lot to do and see in Goblin Sword. Just look at how much I had to say about it - and remember I haven't even finished it yet.

Goblin Sword is now available digitally on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $4.99 (£4.49 /€4.99) but which is a great deal considering I've already sunk 10+ hours into this and will probably go for another 10 before I start over!