Slain! Brings Castlevania Back to Its Classic Roots

When you think of Castlevania, there’s usually a certain style of gameplay you think of: the mazes, the backtracking, the standard of what would later become called “Metroidvania.” The enormous stages of Symphony of the Night on Playstation set the benchmark for what Castlevania would do in the future, while the linear “classical” Castlevania was set aside. That straight-ahead design is now being channeled into Wolf Brew Games’ Slain!, formerly The 7 Towers. After being funded on Kickstarter earlier in March, Slain! is now firing on all cylinders to bring back the OG Castlevania style. It’s still a technically rough build, but there’s still a lot of promise for this adventurous indie offering.

Slain! does nothing to hide its apparent Castlevania influence. From the horror enemy designs to the nimble leaping dreary worlds, it’s clear that Konami’s iconic series is held in high regard by Wolf Brew Games. Slain! takes the better parts of more classic games in the series, leaning away from the labyrinthine Metroidvania of Symphony of the Night and sticking to a more linear, straight-ahead style like in the original Castlevania or Super Castlevania IV. The goal isn’t to mad-dash around an enormous castle; it’s to reach the end of the stage, take on a boss, and progress. Very few games these days that take influence from Castlevania as a series have used this traditional linear design, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see that the original Castlevania format hasn’t been forgotten.

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Combat in Slain! is a big part of the game. You’re given a typical sword combo, a kick, mid-air attack, magic spells, and the decapitation swing. Using the decapitation attack lets you earn more mana for spells, but is a single attack. Attacking isn’t particularly combo-heavy, as your sword still has a weight to it. It’s not a nimble whip attack and there is a noticeable delay to using it. In the heat of battle, this can become pretty annoying, but you steadily accustom yourself to the slower combat. The game’s most apparent issue is the collision detection, which rarely offers a solid definition of attack or defense. Hitboxes are extremely unclear, leaving combat in a sketchy and frustrating state. However, Wolf Brew Games are aware of the game’s collision detection issues, and since the game is still early in development, they aim to fix them prior to release.

Levels are straightforward in the recent build, but thanks to a mix of environments, they have their share of variety. Hopping over blood lakes in a gloomy garden contrasts a dank dungeon full of skeletons. Some levels require you to reach torches in certain places, powering platforms or opening doors. It’s a bit too simple, rarely offering any left turns, but the level design doesn’t feel convoluted and sticks to the concrete linearity of traditional Castlevania.

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Graphically, Slain! is superb. With a pixel art aesthetic, Slain! might seem like an 8-bit imitation in screenshots, but thanks to some absolutely amazing animation, the game is less NES and more 90’s era PC game. The buttery smooth animations (especially the hero’s flowing mane) echo a Blizzard game circa 1994, with some incredibly fluid attack motions on display. In fact, the graphic design in Slain! isn’t just beautiful, but detailed. Backgrounds are grim and gothic, taking sharp influence from Super Castlevania IV, but the textures are astoundingly detailed. Every crack and crevice on the stone statues in the backgrounds is richly visible. Enemies drip with blood and flesh. Fires crackle with embers. Slain! is so atmospheric because of this attention to detail.

The sound design is simple enough. While few sound effects were present in this early build, it still felt eerie. The splatter of blood upon an enemy kill was great, though without any sword impact sound or the like, it felt soft and lacked a visceral chop. Still, this is an early work, and considering how strong the rest of the presentation is, it’s a minor qualm.

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Slain!’s improvements since November might not be significant, but the vision remains and it’s still shaping up to be a nice throwback to classic Castlevania fundamentals. The gloomy atmosphere is second to none, a strong example of both creative and technical proficiency for its genre. The combat, for all its weight and slightly cumbersome nature, is gritty and gory, a stylistically intelligent move. Level design dodges the mazes of Symphony of the Night and brings Castlevania back to its oldest roots: with solid, linear level construction. The collision detection issues are problematic, though, so hopefully those get ironed out through development, as they wreck an otherwise great display. Slain! looks to be a fine spiritual successor to old-school Castlevania. There’s clearly still work to be done, but I’m looking forward to Slain!’s ghostly rise as a Gothic indie platformer.