|December 15th, 2016
|Action / Platformer / Roguelike
|CERO A, GRAC All
I’m not sure exactly what I expected from Bard’s Gold. I heard it was a roguelike, so I immediately had fond memories of Rogue Legacy and similar games available on the Vita. Also a mark in its favor was that it was published by Eastasiasoft, a company known for bringing us quirky and interesting games from various developers. This particular game was developed by German based Pixel Lantern, a group I knew little to nothing about. That said, I was excited by the potential of it, and decided to give this classic, challenging roguelike a try. Was Bard’s Gold the next great rogue title, or something altogether unexpected?
First let me get one thing out of the way. Bard’s Gold is not Rogue Legacy. Not even close. The reason that I say this is to downplay expectations a bit, since this game is much more old school than I anticipated. Which isn’t to say Bard’s Gold is bad per se, just different. The basic premise is that a goblin has stolen your father’s gold and you follow him into a portal to get it back. That’s pretty much it, and that’s actually more than you get from the actual game, since I pieced that together from the press kit. I knew going in it was supposed to be challenging, but I didn’t know the extent of that challenge.
An example of that is the health system, or the lack thereof. See, in Bard’s Gold, one hit from anything will instantly kill you. You are equally at risk from hulking scorpions and wimpy little slimes. Further complicating this is the fact that you can never increase your health (with the exception of Rogue-Like Mode, more on that later), only the number of extra lives available to you. This meant that I had to take the time to learn enemy patterns and plot my course through stages with deliberate care. Which was especially true because of all the traps. Yes, this may be a roguelike, but it sometimes thinks it’s 1001 Spikes instead, which got a little frustrating given the “one hit, you die” policy. You constantly have to be on the lookout for tripping switches that fire arrows at your head, falling stalactites and spike traps. Worse, the sound effects for this game are very muted even turned all the way up, so while there is an audio cue for all of those threats, you really have to keep your ears open to hear them. It eventually became second nature after my numerous deaths to always expect arrow traps near ledges and to creep forward when I saw spikes on the wall, knowing at least one of them would try and crush me to death. The game really was only built for hardcore gamers, and if you don’t have the patience for it, you’ll soon lose interest.
I admit I was worried I wouldn’t have the stamina to beat Bard’s Gold for review. Luckily, I stuck with it, and started to develop an appreciation for the game the more I played it. This was helped in part by the upgrades you can unlock. You can find these by acquiring hidden map pieces in levels or by beating bosses. Then, once unlocked, you can spend your hard earned cash with the Reaper to boost them. Remember how I said you have no health bar? I quickly made up for that fact by churning tons of gold into additional lives. Better yet was when I unlocked the range upgrade, letting me toss my knives from a safer distance. There’s a decent handful of upgrades to unlock, and not all of them are progressive. For example, one of the best upgrades I got was the one that unlocks the Magical Glasses at the start of a given run. These let you see hidden locations of items, such as gems, map pieces and even bonus areas. They greatly increase your cash flow, which is integral to getting more upgrades which in turn give you a better chance of survival.
Luckily, upgrades aren’t the only tool you have to assist you on your journey. Some levels also have little shops you can visit to buy items, such as the aforementioned Magical Glasses, enhanced strength, axes, triple knives and more. There’s just one catch – if you get killed, the item you bought goes with you, unless of course you thought to buy a shield to protect your purchases. Otherwise you’re out of luck. It’s a bit of a brutal system, and really forces players to bring their A game.
Bard’s Gold is comprised of 4 worlds which are each split into 6 levels and 1 boss fight at the end. Each world is different, ranging from a library to a desert to a cave to a graveyard. There’s nothing super original, but each world does a good job of distinguishing itself from the others. While the graphics are decidedly simple, they aren’t ugly either. Of special note are the diverse and challenging bosses, which all look distinct and offer a robust challenge. The only time I took issue with the graphics was when my Bard double jumped. That animation looked a bit awkward to my eyes, and was also relatively slow, but this was an outlier issue. The backgrounds looked good and the enemies looked good enough. Sure they could have had a bit more spice, but I think I can safely assume that this game was made with a small budget in mind, and can thus forgive it somewhat. What I have a harder time forgiving are the sound effects and music in the game. I’m not sure why the sound effects were so quiet or why the music was usually so muted. It definitely didn’t help draw me in, with exception of World 2, which had great music compared to the rest of the game. Combined with the basic visual design, I can’t give Bard’s Gold high marks in the aesthetics department. Everything here is pretty bare minimum.
As I mentioned earlier, there are various Modes in the game. I played it for review in Normal Mode, which had the most additional lives, but there is also Retro and Rogue-Like Mode. These each have various bonuses and drawbacks. For example, in Retro Mode you have less lives but get more cash. In Rogue-Like mode you actually have a health bar but only 1 life, as well as more randomized level generation. For the sake of my patience Normal made the most sense, but the others do add a bit of replay value.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint – the lack of variety. Unlike Rogue Legacy, there is only one class in Bard’s Gold, and that’s the titular Bard. This wasn’t actually that bad, since I grew to enjoy the simplistic yet hardcore gameplay. What was more frustrating was realizing that the 4th World was the last one. I felt the game was starting to hit its stride towards the end, and even thought I would unlock more worlds after the boss. Unfortunately, all you get by beating the game is the Contract of Reaper, which randomizes traps more yet gives you more money. That’s it. No real incentive to keep playing, other than unlocking and maximizing all the upgrades. Which is too bad, because despite all the things holding it back, Bard’s Gold is not half bad. The problem is that for anyone except serious fans of roguelikes, it’s not going to hold any real appeal. It’s definitely a bargain to get 3-5 hours of gameplay at $8.99, but I find it hard to recommend to anyone outside that small crowd. That said, I did actually end up enjoying my time with Bard’s Gold, and hope to see a more robust game next time from Pixel Lantern. If they can build upon what they have here and add a lot more content, their next game might be a legendary quest instead of a small diversion.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher