There are games that are just difficult to quantify quality-wise. Projects that are just so close to greatness that it is tempting to split the difference and just recommend wholeheartedly, especially when it seems the developers seem to really care. Pixel Blitz Studios has managed to hit that mark with Evil Hazard. They have crafted a decent budget priced game that does so much right that one can’t help but root for them, but the experience is hampered by a few niggling problems that keep it from rising to to the realm of a classic.
The quickest way to describe Evil Hazard is that it is a 2D, pixel based soul-crusher. That is: it utilizes roguelike elements. There are health potions that can be replenished at save points, currency to collect (and lose) to procure level ups at the same checkpoints, a stamina bar and a load of loot to find and equip. And it is more difficult than justifying the purchase of a DeLorean to the wife.
Pixel Blitz doesn’t ease the player in, either. After an extremely fast text crawl explaining the bare bones plot (the player needs to save the “lifes” of everyone), it’s time to get to it. The controls are described in the lower left hand corner, and that is all the help that is provided. Part of the issue here is that there is no controller support. The action and platforming here requires an extremely high degree of precision that was difficult for this reviewer to master using keyboard only. There may have been a rage quit or two before even reaching the first checkpoint. It took downloading third party software and laboriously mapping the keys to a controller before the challenges here could be explored.
Once this was done, the gameplay did become manageable, but there is not ramping up. It starts off full bore and then dips and spikes as the game goes on. One of the earliest challenges was a jumping sequence where it was easy to impale the nameless hero’s head upon spikes in the ceiling and buzz saws roaming the floor. These types of portions are okay after players have been given an ample opportunity to get used to how a character handles when jumping and moving. To throw this type of obstacle up before letting the players get used to the physics is poor sport. Even Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and so on gave the players a healthy opening section before pulping them into a fine paste. They give the player a chance to get invested in the challenge.
Once the control issue is handled and the first checkpoint is reached, Evil Hazard becomes more manageable. While moving through the 2D environments remains difficult, it is doable. There are numerous sequences that elude a perfect run through for this reviewer, but it is possible to brute force these by farming gold to level up. As is the norm for this style of game, saving resurrects previously defeated enemies. While this can add to the challenge, the pay out for defeated enemies here is such that it becomes the “win” button for the patient. This actually is not a complaint. The skilled player does not need to utilize this method, and it allows others to move on and see what is on offer.
This is great news as what is here brings back memories. The aesthetic can best be described as a fan-made tribute to the very first Castlevania game. Moving through the dreary environments, killing monsters, and working to down difficult bosses in the arena-like rooms brought back memories of working through the Konami classic with my late father, trading the controller back and forth. It made me feel like a kid again. A foul mouthed version to be sure, but a kid nonetheless. There are some missteps with the pixel art. A few monsters that don’t look like much of anything beyond a blotch of pixels can be found. For the most part, though, it feels like a higher end NES classic.
There are a few other issues. When originally launched, Evil Hazard did not feature full screen support, but did feature random frame rate drops. These were both quickly rectified, but for some reason, the full screen mode and windows mode have separate saves that cannot be transferred between the two. There is also no easy exit option. This is not too big of a hassle when playing in a window, but it became an issue when playing full screen mode. For some reason, it just did not want to close. Finally, turning down the music is recommended. The tracks included are droning and dull. Pull up an artist or play a CD instead (recommendation: anything by Turisas seemed to fit well).
Despite all of its stumbles, there is quite a bit to love about Evil Hazard. The challenges may not always be the most fair, but surmounting them does feel good, even if the path to victory was cheesing the systems. There a numerous pieces of equipment to be found and used, which adds the thrill of the hunt. Most of the pixel art is quite good and there is just so much to enjoy with this title that making a qualified recommendation hurts. This game really is only for the most patient, be that because death is frequent and sometimes unfair or because grinding is the path to victory, Evil Hazard is only for players with a tolerance (or love) of titles that are complete jerks. Anyone who is unsure of how they feel, well, this is a good way to find out for only five dollars.