Review: Slayin

By Sean Clancy 15 Apr 2013 0
Is it wizard-nados that spin counter-clockwise south of the equator? Or is that just wizard-toilets? Is it wizard-nados that spin counter-clockwise south of the equator? Or is that just wizard-toilets?

Hello everyone, my name is Sean C., and... I am a mage. Sorry, it's just... First-timer. Now, you name it: I've been there. Incantations, summoning, illusions, cryomancy, blood magic--everything short of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. My friends turned a blind eye, for a time. Said I had a "minor talent," was more druidic, really. And the whole time I was dropping six gold a week on candles alone. I'm here tonight because I've been four months without mana. Or, I had been, until someone showed me Slayin.

Slayin, from FDG Entertainment, is an attempt at capturing that classic (sorry), old-school (sorrier), 8-bit (mea maxima culpa) 90s-era action-RPG aesthetic for mobile audiences. And it's worth noting right from the get-go that, visually, it's a success. As tired and played-out as the whole "quote-indie-unquote pixel-fetish" thing is--and really, it's run its course gang--one can't help but warm up to the lovingly crafted scenery and colorful sprites of Slayin. The devs put the work in.

I was so taken in by the presentation that, upon loading my first run with the warrior character, I didn't even bother to wonder if the game has to make concessions, control-wise, in trying to mimic an action-OH GOD WHY AM I MOVING LIKE THIS. LEFT. RIGHT. LEFT. RIGHT. LEFT. LEFT. LEFT. RIGHT. I just- can I- I want to sto-

Minotaur don't fare all that well outside maze environments. Minotaur don't fare all that well outside maze environments.

So yeah, that's the thing: the game has to make concessions, control-wise, in trying to mimic an action-RPG. In Slayin, you're either moving left (via the "left" button-space on the virtual controller at the bottom of the screen), or right (via the "right" button-space). Selecting a direction means your little pipsqueak of a hero automatically moves in that direction--no need to hold down the button, and no ability to stop. In the case of the warrior, this is also how you attack, by ramming your constantly held out sword into the slimes and other assorted bads that appear on the screen.

And here's the other thing: it's actually not as bad as it sounds. Sure, it's obviously not as precise as the actual controller the game purports to mimic, and it's been designed specifically with touch controls in mind but, oh yeah, that's not actually a bad thing. It just takes some getting used to. Slayin is a game about moving from left to right, intermittently doing special things, without ever really going anywhere; stages don't scroll, but the backgrounds change after each level. But because the game never tries to deny what it is, or pretend to be something other than a game about moving left to right (and vice versa!) it's not really a problem. And you'd be surprised how much play Slayin wrings out of this admittedly simple mechanic.

Take, for example, those aforementioned special things. Would you be surprised if I told you Slayin has three character classes? And that those classes fit neatly into the fantasy standard of warrior-mage-thief? And that each of these classes has different abilities and upgrades, as well as class-specific challenges to complete? Or that only the warrior is unlocked from the beginning, but it's fairly easy to unlock the other two, so you might wonder what the point of making them locked was in the first place? (Okay, that last bit is odd.)

So our warrior can... well his action is jump, but he can also shop for different swords, which can increase his attack range or speed, and armors, which... protect him, as you'd expect. Or the rogue can... also jump, but not quite as high, I guess, but also he gets two swords, and his swords get you more gold which you can then spend on... buying more swords which only serve to generate more gold. Hum. Now let's see, the wizard (who's also THE CUTEST THING), she can turn into a goddamn tornado and cast fireballs and she's invincible when she attacks and...

The point is, Slayin stumbles in its approximation of RPG leveling. Not a disastrous stumble, but no small trip either. Two of its characters, though fun to play for a time, just don't have the same sort of mechanical progression that the wizard does. Their play is mostly jumping, and jumping is so floaty that in trying to dodge one enemy in a crowded level you'll likely end up landing on another. Meanwhile, the wizard is clearing entire lanes of enemies with fire and dodging boss attacks by tornadoing through them. Over-powered? It'd be more accurate to say she's just "powered," and powered in the most compelling way.

Slayin has so much content to offer: great boss fights, collectibles to unlock, an "ultimate mode" where players start at level 80, and so on. But some of its core mechanics are uneven, and saddled with strange design choices. For example, the wizard can get a fireball spell early on that quickly and effectively clears entire screens of enemies. Later, she can upgrade to a costlier ice ball that... only freezes enemies, or an even costlier lightning ball that... seems no better than the fireball. Now, even if the mana junkie in me won't admit it out loud, even he knows the difference between getting more of something and getting the better of something.

Review: Slayin

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