Switch version tested
Review code provided
Retro platform games are a bit two-a-penny, but Goblin Sword on the Nintendo Switch is worth a gem or two. If you can find them. No, that doesn’t mean you should raid your nan’s underwear drawer just yet, but there is an expectation that you go out into the wilderness and scavenge anything that sparkles, like a D&D magpie.
Goblin Sword is a classic platform game where you jump over spiky stuff, double jump to higher ledges and, of course, poke enemies with your own spiky stuff – one of 30 odd weapons you can unlock as you progress through the almost 90 levels. It’s a big game, and it has to be said, a fine one at that.
There’s not much of a story here, nor is an explanation needed on how to play the game. Goblin Sword is incredibly simple and gives a very knowing wink to similar titles of the 16-bit era, utilising just two buttons: one for jump, the other for a melee attack. There aren’t any special moves or combos, but a great deal of unlockables – each with their benefits and suited to your play style.
Each zone is broken up by individual levels with the same theme, i.e. the early levels have an area based in the forest, the next, a castle. The levels are relatively short, but there’s enough to keep you coming back for more. Either speedrun through to unlock the next stage or explore every nook and cranny for one of three elusive crystals on each level. The benefits of these crystals enable you to unlock more, but it isn’t always necessary to collect everything. It was my best intentions to explore and lock everything, but there’s a catch: if you die, you have to restart the level – losing everything in the process.
Thankfully the levels aren’t too long, so it’s not the end of the world, but sometimes you have to backtrack on a level to get the third and final crystal, only to jump on a spike in error, then redo it again. You start with three hearts which means you can be hit as many times, but Goblin Sword awards you with new hearts from killing enemies or smashing through vases scattered throughout the levels. While it’s quite easy to get yourself killed, the difficulty level is very fair – most of my deaths were through my stupidity or trying to rush a level. The same for the controls – I haven’t played a platform as good as this since… well, the 90s platform games that Goblin Sword is based on.
Smashing through vases and killing enemies gives you jewels galore, plus a power-up. The gems you accumulate can be used to unlock new costumes and weapons, and it’s pretty darn awesome that you unlock new gear within the first levels. As for the costumes, they don’t add too much of a change other than appearance. I opted for a ninja at first, and for some reason, I played much better. The ‘new skin’ placebo effect, methinks. Weapons, on the other hand, are plentiful, and they have a skillset suited for swift attacks or even powerhouses. Until reaching a boss, you could get away with any weapon, but as they have a lot more health, you either need something to get in with quick attacks or that do more damage. Other than a new sword, you can also get apparel that improves your speed, offence, defence, or my favourite – an indicator that appears above enemies with their HP.
How about bosses then? A mixed bag really as it’s not that they hit hard, but expect to dodge a series of projectiles before being able to get a hit in. It’s not unreasonable, but when you have such limited health, you need to learn their attack patterns before countering. Unlike Dark Souls type battles however, these attacks are easy to project and it’s down to your timing. For example, the first boss has three attacks: a hovering attack that shoots a diagonal wall of fire, a brief blast of projectiles that dart across the screen and then a melee attack that resembles a baseball player having a swipe. If you have the patience, you can come out unscathed pretty quickly, but the meathead that I am, I would get in with multiple attacks with a massive sword, meaning the boss was only able to pull off three hits in the first place. The ‘tactic’ doesn’t last as bosses get much harder, but once again, far from impossible.
So that would pinpoint the criticism of the game: the difficulty. Myself, a fellow bearded gamer with a whiff of vintage, I welcomed the more relaxed gameplay as that’s one of the most significant selling points of Switch titles; pick up and play and not too taxing. However, some might prefer the choice, and for better players, not necessarily hardcore gamers, they might be put off by the speed and the level of difficulty. Other than a few variations of locations, gear and hazards, there’s nothing new in Goblin Sword – but I’m okay with that – it was excellent in every way. Well, apart from the music – that was repetitive and got on my nerves, to be honest. Still, I wouldn’t mark it down for that, that’s just my taste.
The best part about Goblin Sword is the amount of fun I’ve had with it and that sense of nostalgia when playing similar games from the 90s. Gelato Games has got this perfectly. It’s not that the game is a retro pixel art fad that’s pumped into the eShop to make a quick buck, Goblin Sword just so happens to be a top 16-bit title that has an exclusive release on the Nintendo Switch. If this were a remastered version of a platforming classic, I wouldn’t be surprised as it’s just great.
Whether you will like this game depends if you’re a platform fan or not. There aren’t any challenges in the game that would warrant this as a puzzle title. Also, despite being touted with RPG elements (that’s like saying Alex Kidd is a Skyrim-lite title), at its heart, it’s a platform game through and through, it just so happens to have a range of costumes and weapons to choose from that weren’t as common back in the 90s. You’ll like your bubbles, bullets and bananas and that’s that.
One for the 16-bit veterans, retro fans and anyone who thinks Bubble Bobble or Turrican 2 deserve their own statues in [insert your city here]. If you don’t like platform games, give it a miss. For anyone else, the graphics are great, controls are tight, and there’s plenty of replayability – the only major criticism would be the difficulty level might be a bit too easy for some.
TBG Score: 8/10
Platform: iOS, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 13/02/2020 (iOS out now)
No. of Players: 1
Developer: Gelato Games
Publisher: Gelato Games
Download link: eShop