A few short decades ago video games were much simpler affairs. There was no need for this extraneous third dimension, adjustable camera or more than two buttons. Those who did not grow up in that era may not get the appeal of throwback games, but there is a fairly large group of people that are enjoying this retro trend among indie developers, this reviewer included. Cast of the Seven Godsends Redux is among this breed of new games that attempts to recreate the magic of an earlier era of gaming.
It is not uncommon for these type of games to wear their influences on their sleeve, and Cast of the Seven Godsends Redux is more akin to a full sleeve tattoo. Before playing the game begins, the intro cutscene makes it clear that the developers have played Ghouls and Ghosts at least once. The player assumes the role of King Kandar, ruler of Dareca. The evil emperor Zaraaima has kidnapped his infant son and heir to the throne. It is up to Kandar to single handedly embark on a quest to rescue his son. Well, single handedly with the help of seven gods that give him power that make achieving his objective easier.
Kandar is a fragile man with fragile armor. A couple hits is all it takes to make his armor disappear, and after that anything can kill him instantly. In fairness, unlike another king in a similar game Kandar has enough dignity to never be seen running around the battlefield in his underwear. There are a few different weapons Kandar can collect that operate slightly differently from each other. Daggers are quick straight forward projectiles, the sword has a short range but powerful arc, and hammers are thrown at an angle to name a few. Attacks can only be made in two directions, forward and up, the ability to fire diagonally is strangely absent. The real weapon variety comes from the different suits of armor that represent a different god. Each of these magic armors have a different elemental property affixed to them and change the attack in two different ways. The first way is these types of armor allow the player to hold the attack button to charge up a magic spell attack, such as launching a large boulder or causing icicles to shoot up from the ground. The spell is different depending on the weapon equipped, so with seven suits and armor and five different weapons there are 35 spells available, thank you 2nd grade math.
The other way it changes the attack is it causes the weapon to transform into something representative of the armor. These attacks can be a triple wave spread of flames or making plants sprout from the ground. How the plants are weaponized is not entirely clear, but it is not wise to put too much thought into the hows and whys in video games.
Cast of the Seven Godsends Redux makes no secret about the fact it wants to party like it’s 1991. This is not a game that one can simply muscle through, quick reflexes and memorization of enemy placement as well as boss attack patterns is essential to completing this game. There are limited checkpoints throughout the levels, and there are also a finite amount of continues. There are four different difficulty levels depending on how much of a challenge is desired, with the hardest one appropriately named Retrogamer. Retrogamer difficulty does live up to its name in that it is truly as unforgiving as the games that inspired it. Progressing through the quest is a straight forward affair, Kandar must run and jump through 2D levels while killing the various monsters that stand in his way. Each level has a mid stage boss and a final boss, following the blueprint used for arcade inspired titles decades ago.
The biggest draw of this title is its old school nature, which is also its greatest weakness. This 2D action platformer is virtually identical to games that came out two and a half decades ago, the only thing modern about it is the HD sprites make it so everything is much smoother than they were 25 years ago. The levels are not overly long but it will take some time to beat them because most of us will need to replay them several times before completing them, just like in the old days. A seasoned vet could beat the first Castlevania in about thirty minutes, after spending countless hours mastering the game which could apply here, especially on the harder difficulty levels.
What prevents Cast of the Seven Godsends Redux from achieving greatness is it clings too closely to its roots and doesn’t branch out from them. Axiom Verge and Shovel Knight are two examples of modern retro games that are great, but what makes them great is they are able to recreate what made the 8-bit and 16-bit classics great but were able to add contemporary features that made them feel fresh. Cast of the Seven Godsends is not terrible, but it feels like it is an unearthed lost game from 1991 as opposed to a new game making an homage to that era of gaming.
Cast of the Seven Godsends Redux could only be more old school if it actually was made in 1991. It plays like the video game equivalent of Ghosts and Goblins fan fiction, and like fan fiction, some of the hardcore fans will appreciate it and get enjoyment from it, but most of us are better off revisiting the classics that inspired this title. It succeeds in part with the nostalgia factor because it is able to recreate the feel of old school games, but fails to bring anything new to the party. As someone who is a fan of the Sega Genesis and SNES, there is an appreciation that this game was made, but on the flip side it feels like a rather generic imitation that makes me want to play Super Ghouls and Ghosts because that 25 year old title is a more rewarding experience, which is a shame because the love of old school arcade titles of the developers is obvious. If there was some innovation or more effort was made to carve out a unique identity, this could have been a great retro title. Instead we have something rather forgettable and only recommended to the most hardcore retro game fans.