Nearly 9 years after its initial release, Dark Souls’ influence is as strong as ever. Its brutal difficulty and focus on slow, methodical gameplay have become iconic staples in modern gaming, with some games taking inspiration from the title, and others outright copying it. 3000th Duel sits somewhere in the middle. It’s a side-scrolling action game that feels great to play with just the right balance of difficulty but ultimately fails to carve its own unique identity.
You play as a hooded adventurer with striking white hair, piercing purple eyes and an intimidating broadsword. Awakening with no memory, you venture out into the harsh environment, coming up against a vast array of monsters, all vying to beat you down. 3000th Duel’s difficulty isn’t nearly as unforgiving as that of Dark Souls, or even Hollow Knight, but it certainly isn’t easy, either. When you start, you’ll have little more than your main weapon at hand, but as you progress you’ll gain access to more and more items and magical abilities to help you along the way.
Borrowing from Dark Souls’ currency mechanic, 3000th Duel uses ‘karma’ as its method of levelling-up. As you defeat enemies you’ll gain more karma, and this can then be used at various intervals to level-up your character. You can spend your karma on various attributes such as vitality or strength, and the menu utilised for dishing out these upgrades will be very familiar to fans of From Software’s franchise. Of course, should you die at any point, you’ll temporarily lose your karma, but the game gives you the opportunity to retrieve it if you return to your place of death and destroy a floating orb that houses your lost karma. This can hurt you if you let it, but just 2 or 3 decent swipes with your sword will ensure that you regain your lost power. Just try not to die again before retrieving it, otherwise, it's gone for good.
The general gameplay is fairly straightforward and feels very much like your average Metroidvania. You'll be jumping across platforms and swinging your weapon with a simple tap of Y. Early in the game, you'll also gain the ability to warp across short distances, which is effectively a handy way of dodging enemy attacks. You'll find more and more weapons as you progress through the game of course, along with accessories that will boost certain abilities and attributes. At first, it can feel like a bit of a grind, but as you gain more abilities, the game opens up a lot more, and you'll soon be relishing the idea of exploring every nook and cranny, obliterating any enemy that dares stand in your way.
To aid you further on your journey, the game implements a fairly comprehensive progression system in the form of a grid. You can spend points on whichever perks are available at the time, but you can only go through the grid via specific paths. It's important to keep going into the progression screen at regular intervals to unlock new perks, as these will be vital in making exploration of the dungeons and caverns all the more manageable. The game is also fairly generous in handing out points and karma alike, so you'll never really feel like you have to grind in order to level up or unlock new abilities.
Of course, the most memorable moments within 3000th Duel come in the form of numerous boss encounters. These can be incredibly intimidating on your first try, but like all good action titles, you’ll quickly come to learn their move sets and adapt your approach accordingly. Defeating them grants you a decent chunk of karma, and mercifully the game will always provide you with a handy save point after each boss. As such, the game never feels quite as challenging as some might like it to be, but it’s nevertheless a far more approachable alternative to a Dark Souls game.
In terms of its graphics, the game is a bit hit and miss. It looks serviceable enough, but the art style certainly lacks character and flair. The enemies are familiar creatures such as skeletons or wolves, and the environments, in particular, look quite drab, with bland colours and a distinct lack of variety. To soften this blow, however, the performance is generally very solid, and the framerate remains smooth throughout, even during the more hectic encounters in the game.
To be honest, you probably won't be interested in this game for its graphics. The gameplay is incredibly satisfying, and the game keeps you hooked by introducing new items, bosses, and areas at decent pace, ensuring you never feel bored. It might not be particularly unique, but it's a lovely take on the 'Souls' formula that understands exactly what makes it so special.
3000th Duel is a highly enjoyable Metroidvania that some would argue borrows a bit too much from Dark Souls. With engaging combat bolstered by lots of unlockable weapons, a decent progression system, and some truly memorable boss fights, it can stand proud amongst the many examples of the genre currently available on Switch, even if it doesn't quite do enough to feel truly unique. Still, if you loved From Software's Souls series and fancy some more of the same, you could do a lot worse.