While Capcom, Konami and many of the other games companies which forged their reputations during the 8-bit era have since moved on to creating next-gen experiences, they have left a rich legacy of retro gaming brilliance which is proving to be particularly fertile ground for indie studios — one of which is Causal Bit Games, the team behind Insanity's Blade. Coming to PCs at the end of this month and already confirmed as hitting the Wii U eShop at some point, this side-scrolling action title boasts a 2D art style, a soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place on the NES and plenty of guts and gore.
We sat down with the PC demo to get a feel for what Insanity's Blade has in store and came away suitably impressed. The demo covers the first level of the game and from the fire-ravaged backdrop to the way in which the stage's title is presented on-screen, we couldn't help but think of the superb Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. It's clear that the game has taken a lot of visual inspiration from Konami's vampire-slaying franchise — as well as other classic platformers of the period — but to brand it a clone would be foolish. The moment you scoop up the pad and assume control of the lead character, it becomes glaringly apparent that Insanity's Blade does a lot of things very differently from the retro classics it seems to imitate.
First starters, hero Thurstan has a surprisingly large array of combat moves at his disposal. From the off he can punch his undead foes into submission, while pressing the punch and jump buttons together unleashes a dashing blade attack which deals out a hefty amount of damage in exchange for a small portion of Thurstan's life bar. He can also grab enemies in a variety of ways; pushing towards or away from an opponent when pressing the grab button will cause Thurstan to hurl said assailant in that direction. However, try the same move with an up or down directional push and he will either rip them apart above his head or snap them in two over his knee. Basically, he's not the kind of chap you want to offend unduly.
These attacks differ depending on what enemy you're dealing with. Stronger foes, for example, can be thrown but can't be ripped apart — instead, our undeterred hero simply tears off one of their arms and then uses it as a surprisingly powerful weapon. He may have forgotten to put on a shirt and trousers before leaving the house, but no one can accuse Thurstan of not being a practical thinker.
As the gore-splattered Thurstan cuts a swathe through the vast legions of monsters which populate the opening stage, he gains experience points which allow him to level up. Given the short nature of the demo we were only able to level up once, but the effect was still dramatic - Thurstan gains the ability to throw knives, which means you can keep some of the stronger enemies at bay. Even this new skill comes with caveat - certain enemies are capable of blocking projectiles with shields, which means you'll have to mix up your attacks to come out on top.
The opening level closes with Thurstan facing off against a massive demon which fills the entire screen, but despite its immense size it abides to the traditional boss template in that it has a few different — and predictable — moves and a massive, quite obvious weak spot. From start to finish the opening stage is frantic and enjoyable, and the feeling of progression afforded by the levelling system only makes the experience all the more riveting. Add to this a quite exceptional soundtrack and you've got a game which feels like it has been transported fully-formed from early '90s.
It remains to be seen if Insanity's Blade can maintain this standard throughout the entire duration of the adventure, but from what we've played the early omens are certainly positive. Despite the popularity of retro-style games these days, precious few are genuinely successful in capturing the same spirit and tone of the titles they so badly want to emulate; Insanity's Blade does things its own way and seeks to include some new elements, but at the same time it looks, sounds and plays like some of the best 8 and 16-bit outings of the late '80s and early '90s. It's yet another promising indie title coming to the Wii U eShop, and one you should all keep an eye on.