Retro-styled roguelikes are a popular genre, and the whole “roguelike” genre has been around since the days of the original Rogue. A new one by Paper Lantern called Bard’s Gold is now available on the Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita, so I equipped my sword and quaffed my potion to find out more.
In Bard’s Gold, the story goes that you were riding along when you were suddenly ambushed by a treasure-thieving goblin. Treasure-thieving goblins are good at precisely one thing, and he’s now made off down a mysterious well with your family jewels treasure. Naturally, family heirloom treasure being precisely that, you head off into the well after the sticky-fingered purloiner to get the loot back.
From the first off, Bard’s Gold presents itself as a merciless, no-holds-barred, hard-as-f**k side-scrolling platformer that gives absolutely no quarter. You can start the game in one of three different modes: Normal, Retro, and Roguelike. Normal starts you off with more lives, but you pick up less loot and there is less variation in the progression of levels. Retro gives you more loot per kill, fewer lives, and mixes up the levels a bit. Roguelike mode gives you a health bar, plenty of loot, a decent mix in the levels, but furthermore doesn’t bother to checkpoint your progression through the game’s worlds. In both Normal and Retro modes, the hero is a one-hit-wonder, and will lose a life and respawn at the level entrance if you take even an iota of damage. To be frank, it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re initially playing on Normal or Retro, because either way you’re going to die fairly quickly.
Monsters you encounter drop plenty of loot, which you can use to buy goodies to increase your strength, increases your lives, increase your weapon power, or allow you to spot loot hidden within each level. The huge downside of this is that if you lose a life, you lose the stuff you bought or acquired, making easy mode a ridiculously annoying way to play, since buying anything is essentially a waste of money,at least until you’ve figured things out a bit. The stuff is excellent during a Roguelike mode playthrough, though, since you have a health bar instead of lives.
At each game over, you’re allowed to level up attributes with any loot you’ve managed to accumulate in the playthrough, but the only initial attribute is your health/lives, and it takes a long while (and a fair amount of bravery) to figure out where to get the additional attributes from. The extra lives help a lot though, and you’ll eventually be able to progress through many more levels than before. So it makes sense that in the first number of playthroughs you’re better off not even touching the shop, although later playthroughs will certainly make using the shop worthwhile, especially if you’re out to find all the game’s secrets (and there are a lot!).
The levels themselves aren’t procedurally-generated, but were carefully crafted by a troll to present the most painful, most difficult way to play a platformer since Manic Miner back in the late 80s. Many of the perils you’ll face will be the level’s various monsters that run the gamut from slimes to bats to blood ghosts to worse. But the monsters are usually the least of your worries, since there are also many, many spikes in the game, most of which have been placed in such a way as to fall when least convenient to you. Then there is the layout of the platforms themselves, many of which require carefully-timed leaps. The fact that the levels were crafted turns out to be a kind of blessing, because it means that you can eventually memorize where the worst hazards are. This is not a game you want to go through hastily. In this game, more than in others I’ve played, haste kills.
Since Bard’s Gold is cross-buy, it makes for an excellent purchase, even if it’s not cross-save. It plays equally well on either platform, and since the graphics are retro-style, you don’t need to see superfine details on the Vita’s screen. Arguably, there’s slightly better screen real estate on the PS4, allowing you to see more of the level and more dangers. While I’m a veteran of deadly-hard games, even this one gave me pause. It took me more than a few dozen goes to even get to the first boss. Beware: this game is not for the easily frustrated. If you’re looking for a challenge, then you have definitely come to the right place.