Bard’s Gold is a “slow-paced” platformer from German developer Pixel Lantern that capitalizes on difficulty and gradual progress. Developed by entirely by a programmer and his wife, the game pits the player against a host of monsters, traps, timers and various other villains in a slow journey through a dark set of retro-style worlds. Bard’s Gold reminded me what rogue-style games are like – and why I’m horrible at them.
Before enumerating my shortcomings in the realm of rogue-likes, though, I’ll admit the game has a palpable charm. The main menu features a delightfully bright scene with rolling clouds, a quaint town in the distance and properly gleeful medieval music. The visuals and animations in-game are pretty in a way that I think most of us can connect with – no, this isn’t a groundbreaking indie game; no, the visuals won’t set the standard for pixel art for years to come – but Bard’s Gold is undoubtedly pleasant to look at and interact with. Grassy tufts, gritty bricks and simplistic architecture take advantage of the satisfying fidelity that only pixel art can offer. The overtly dungeon-themed background music isn’t outstanding, and that’s what I like about it. In a game where I’ll be dying and retrying again and again, it’s nice to have constants that aren’t too eye- or ear-catching. Unfortunately, however – save for some interesting design choices – this is where my praise of Bard’s Gold ends.
In Bard’s Gold, you jump around and throw things. There’s no way around it. If you’re naturally untalented in either of these areas the game won’t have much to offer you. Instant death means any creature or trap, no matter how unremarkable, could give you that last push to go ahead and pull your hair out.
To be fair, this is what several games have succeeded at (Super Meat Boy and Titan Souls come to mind) in the past, but the choice to omit player hit points feels extremely limiting in the slow-paced platformer setting. To use the aforementioned games as examples, it seems insta-death games require two key components to keep players’ attentions: easy replay access and easy enemy access. The greatest frustration I experienced came not from forgetting where traps or enemies were, but feeling heavy and ill-equipped to make up for lost progress once it was too late. Enjoying this game requires a great deal of patience; the Bard is slow and feels large in the game’s environment, and several enemies are difficult to hit with thrown weapons until the player is fairly close to them. Gem acquisition also feels a bit slow; I was able to check out the game’s alternative weapons to the Bard’s stock daggers, but was discouraged to lose them upon death and seldom earn enough gems to purchase more lives.
Ironically, the game’s after-death screen is what I found the most satisfying. After discovering that gems earned while alive can be spent on perks that carry over after death, I started focusing more on squeezing every last gem out of the easier levels than jumping around enemies to progress further. Perhaps realizing I couldn’t actually survive the game, even on Normal difficulty, encouraged me to start “grinding” in areas I knew I could handle in order to build my character before even trying to succeed in the harsh world of Bard’s Gold… and though the moment-to-moment play felt noticeably underwhelming at times, I think its rogue-like pattern (die and retry) helped me understand what the designer might have meant when he labeled the game “slow-paced.”
Overall, though its bright, innocent aesthetic gives it unmistakable charm, the uneventful game play in Bard’s Gold doesn’t let me justify a rating higher than “Average.”
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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