The legacy of King Leonidas is once again subject to adaptation, but this time instead of a historical epic based around the Battle of Thermopylae, you've got an arcade platformer that promises to test your mettle among your Spartan peers. But will you be kicking your Switch down the pit instead of Persian emissaries? Read on…
Since this is a 2D platformer built using the Unreal Engine there are no performance issues on Nintendo Switch in both portable or docked modes, always clocking in at a stable 60fps. It's clearly labelled as a homage to old arcade titles such as Super Ghost ’n Ghouls (from where it borrows the double-jump) and, as such, you should be prepared to die often and frequently before you eventually learn how to clear certain sections from the game’s challenging 24 levels set across four distinct worlds. No one ever said it was easy to be the King of Sparta.
King Leonidas (well, the cute super deformed interpretation of him) wakes up one day to find Sparta sacked of its weapons, armour and gold. Instead of leading an army of 300 equally amusing super deformed spartans, he decides to take on this quest alone to recover everything and punish whoever is behind this cowardly attack. As far as homages go to retro platformers with nearly non-existent plot-lines, this is certainly a 'spartan' effort.
The game wisely starts you on a tutorial level that will quickly explain all King Leo can do: you can jump and double-jump (a risk-reward mechanic that can both save or kill you if used improperly) with ‘B’, run spending limited but self-recharging stamina with ‘ZR’, wall cling and wall jump (on certain surfaces only), swipe you sword with ‘Y’, raise your shield forward and upwards with ‘L’ or ‘ZL’ plus a direction and push boxes with ‘R’. This is the complete set of skills that the game will require you to master to tackle its mix of platforming challenges and boss battles.
King Leo is very floaty for a spartan, though. He's not exactly hard or frustrating to control, but you will need to always be ready to compensate for his momentum, especially in mid-air. Particular hard sections in the levels will make you completely master certain classic platforming tropes in order to progress, but thankfully several checkpoints spread on the big, non-linear levels meant that frustrations usually doesn't settle in before you can achieve progress. This is, however, very subjective to each individual player and as such your mileage may vary on this point; There is a really great feeling of achievement when you finally clear a particularly tricky section (of which there are many), but whether you'll be throwing your Joy-Cons before doing so it is truly a matter of personal perseverance and patience. Old-school retro gameplay mechanics working at their finest.
The cute and colourful, mobile-ish art assets might trick you into thinking this is a kid friendly, casual platformer but this is anything but that. The music is rather nice, with some ethnic flair to it and the sound effects do their duty. It's not the best looking or best sounding platformer on the ever growing impressive range of Switch platformers, but for what it offers, it does so with competence.
Issues do arise on some level design choices. It's possible to accidentally activate previous checkpoints after having progressed past them, making you lose several minutes of hard working through tricky sections. The default difficulty 'Spartan' setting can be changed to ‘Wimp’ - which gives you three extra hearts you can call up at any time with ‘X’ to refill your energy - but since most of the challenges are either of the platforming nature or one-hit kill traps it doesn't really make much of a difference. These certainly put a dent in King Leo’s otherwise competent adventure.
Spartan is the agōgē of platforming video games: If you manage to clear it all the way you will be able to say you have conquered an extremely hard video game. However, and much like the Spartans of old, we doubt you will be having a very good time while at it. There is nothing particularly wrong or game breaking about the whole package that often hits the hammer right on the nostalgia feelings for old 16-bit platformer fans, but we can’t fully recommend it because of the usual suspects also being also available on the system (Celeste, Slime-san, Little Triangle and, eventually, Maldita Castilla EX).