Saturday, 8 April 2017

Whiskey Reviews: Lament

Platform: PC
Release Date: 31 March, 2017
Developer: RadCroc
Publisher: RadCroc
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £3.99 (Steam)
Review Copy: Yes

As I write this I just got off of finishing Lament – my heart is pounding, palms sweaty, and a small fly buzzing around my room is still triggering the reflex to dodge when it enters my vision even slightly. But what is Lament and is it worth playing? Hit the link to find out!

Lament is a classic 8-bit style action platformer that's reminiscent of a number of different games from the era. There's strong hints of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, minor notes of Vice Project Doom, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, and a couple others thrown into the pixel blender to produce a delicious not-kiwi flavoured smoothie. Lament wears its influences on its sleeve, with obvious references to Castlevania areas like the clock tower.

You play an anthropomorphic wolf with a giant sword who's out to destroy the forces of evil for some reason – truth is, you're never actually told. In fact, information is very light on the ground. Harking from the days when you had to read the manual for a clue to what's going on, but like a game from the 80's there is no manual, presumably because the dog ate it. Either that or the developer couldn't resist calling the main character Wolf Job (you're welcome for that reminder internet) and decided it'd be better to just not bother. A lack of information isn't going to hamper your enjoyment of the game.
This looks like a cakewalk!

Gameplay in Lament is fairly basic. You start out with the ability to walk, jump, and attack and are thrown in very much at the deep end with an old-school resolution limiting your forewarning of incoming attacks often until it's too late to avoid a fireball or thrown blade to the face. For gamers who weren't around in the 80's this was standard practice and it can feel incredibly cheap and unfair when you lose several lives in a row to the first couple of enemies in the first level in rapid succession.

A charming musical number by Windmills At Dawn is both calming and encouraging, like a patient teacher hoping you'll not give up on a difficult problem. Perseverance is key, you're going to get kicked to the curb a lot by projectile timings and enemies placed in areas where you might have time to react but mistime it and you're left open to a counter attack and launched down an insta-death pit or shot with something nasty that'll take a chunk out of your very limited health bar.
Spoiler alert: It wasn't a cakewalk.

Don't be fooled by your initial fragility – the wolf dude gains a new special ability at the mid-point of every level that opens up new ways to get around those pesky platforms and monsters. Care for a throwable blade, sir? Why yes, I think I will. Want to momentarily dash at super speed? Yup. What's this? It's just the ability to block with your Volkswagen Golf sized sword.

Each new move fits neatly into each level, so no matter what course you chart you'll almost always be able to find a use for your shiny new doohickey. Depending on the route you take some backtracking might be in order, not because it's necessary but just to see what new routes or items you can find by experimenting and exploring. For example, it's possible to bypass a decently large and challenging labyrinth in one level by climbing atop the roof and taking a running leap of faith over a spiked pit. Without the dash ability it's impossible. See fig a.
Fig a. A wolf man doing a sweet jump over a pit.

Difficulty throughout the levels varies wildly – the first half of the Barachiel level is a dick disintegrating kick to the pants. At the other end of the spectrum Metatron's sewers are an absolute breeze that can comfortably be wandered through in just a couple of minutes with little likelihood of death. The bosses also vary wildly in both difficulty and form – mostly they're recognisable takes on classics such as the bastard that jumps and the bastard that flies. Once you get their pattern down they rarely pose too much trouble but finding the optimal strategy might not be immediately obvious.

Seeing Metatron jumping for example will give veteran gamers an instant heads-up to what's about to happen but he'll occasionally throw in a sword slash if you stay too close to him to keep you on your toes. Other bosses like Azreal seem unassailable – he'll sit at the top of the screen and rain hell down on you while your attacks don't touch him. But each boss typically has some kind of weakness to the ability found in that particular level and a bit of messing around will eventually see you come out on top.

While the learning curve seems steep RadCroc has taken some notes out of the design playbook of classics like Mega Man and Mario. Level design will teach you things if you pay attention. For example, there's a type of enemy that can be knocked to the ground by your power attack and after getting the power attack you'll have a chance to see this happen as you break through a wall. It's carefully timed and you learn a mechanic without even realising it. Other ideas are expressed similarly, from wall jumping to your thrown projectile travelling for as long as you can see it.
Like here, where it's about to explode a whole bunch of dudes into red mist.

Lament is not a long game, trading length for a game that's about the same length as most classics of the era it's aping, lasting about 30-45 minutes once you're decently good at it. My first playthrough took somewhere in the region of about an hour and a half as I didn't quite get in the groove, wanting to rush and hack away at enemies with no regard for timing and caution. Once I fell into the mindset of 30 years ago I was really getting into it, my heart rate was up, my fingers ached from gripping the pad so tight in a particularly tense boss battle, and I may or may not have blinked for about five minutes straight for fear that it'd take me out of the zone.

Overall Lament is a solid action platformer that does a commendable job of copying aspects of older games, from the colour palette to the musical style of the 8-bit generation. That's not to say it doesn't have its flaws, large rectangular hitboxes both work for and against you, and at the time of writing a couple of small bugs still exist and controls aren't rebindable. That said, it's a small package for a small price and fans of NES style action platformers will get their money's worth out of it.

Score: 7 out of 10 Belmonts wish they were wolves.

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