Side-scrolling hack and slash games fall into a tricky genre. It's such a simple concept at its core, but it can easily be ruined by something as basic as poor controls or lack of originality. Swords & Darkness, the latest in the genre to make its way to the 3DS eShop, is an unfortunate example of what happens when little effort is made to make a game unique.
Starting out with a cinematic sequence that covers the exceedingly dramatic and convoluted fantasy plot, Swords & Darkness drops you right into the action without much hesitation. From here, it immediately becomes apparent what went right and what went wrong in the development process. We've seen games on Nintendo platforms such as Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara and Code of Princess combine hack and slash gameplay with RPG elements in effective ways, but Swords & Darkness fails to take advantage of the mixture. What we're instead given is a sub-par experience that relies much too heavily on button mashing over skill.
Combat follows a standard two-button formula for light and strong attacks while the right shoulder button blocks. Special attacks can be learned and items can be activated, both of which are linked to multi-button inputs, but neither are convenient to use in the fray of combat and will mostly go unused. Movement isn't much better and feels entirely too stiff, especially when you are being harassed by enemies from both sides. To put it bluntly, the gameplay found here is not very good. There's no fluidity in the combat, so you'll mostly find yourself jamming on the attack buttons and hoping that your enemies back off enough to give you room to reposition yourself. To this end, Swords & Darkness is a surprisingly difficult game, but only in the sense that it is uncooperative in its controls.
Experience is earned as you work your way through the map and defeat enemies; skill points are awarded with each increasing level, all of which can be allocated to different stats as you see fit. Despite being able to customize your character in this way, increasing one stat over another seems to make very little difference in gameplay. Noticeable changes to damage and defence occur when different purchasable weapons and armour are equipped, but applying skill points to your strength or agility seems to provide no discernible change. It should be noted that, even with the upgrades allowed by new equipment, the majority of character movement remains awkward and slow.
The one genuinely redeeming quality of Swords & Darkness is that it features an art style that works well for its fantasy setting. The character sprites layered on top of more detailed environments are reminiscent of the RPGs of old, allowing a little bit of nostalgia to force its way into the affair. It's too bad that the style wasn't used to its fullest, however, as most of the environments tend to repeat themselves, and the enemy units don't change much either. Beyond colour swaps and alternating backgrounds, the enemies and environments, like so much else in this title, don't provide much in the way of originality. It's not fun to play, not pretty enough to look at, and the story does little to keep players engaged.
Swords & Darkness takes classic hack and slash gameplay, mixes it up with RPG elements, then uses very evil magic to turn the combination into an overall cumbersome experience. The concept is there, but the gameplay is so repetitive and slow-paced that it very quickly becomes a burden to play. It's a difficult game to play – not on purpose, but instead due to poor mechanics – and a difficult one to recommend. If you're looking for something within the genre, there are so many better modern and classic options already available on the 3DS.