Swords & Bones is the result of Ghost ‘N Goblins wining and dining Jump King, shooting the shit over what makes a good retro game, then Netflix and chilling to the sounds of an 8-bit playlist. Has that set the scene for you? Now dip those lights, unseal the Pringles and pull some faces at my commentary.
Both examples are ridiculously hard games. Ok, maybe that doesn’t apply to you, but generally speaking, they’re tough games. They’re also very enjoyable. SEEP’s game has a similar difficulty and aesthetic, plus there’s a good chance of lobbing your Switch at the wall in places with the one-hit kills or unfair attack patterns, and surprise, surprise: annoying flying enemies.
For those who love a good yarn, Swords & Bones isn’t going to be the game that makes you dribble as it’s nothing bespoke. A wolf demon has shown up, being enough of a dick to make everyone cancel Christmas and encourage a wandering knight (you) to punch him in the face. Sword first. It’s a side-scrolling action-platformer that nails its 80s/90s references pretty well and is perfectly suited for the Nintendo Switch.
Developers SEEP also did Thunderflash – an enjoyable retro title that quickly got repetitive. Swords & Bones is also repetitive but in the grinding sense. If you’re the crafty type to run around a boss in your underwear without getting hit, you needn’t worry as you’ll beat the 50-something levels with ease. For the average gamer, grinding in this game makes it more manageable, thus enjoyable.
Coming back to that ‘lobbing your Switch at the wall’ comment, patience pending, the early part of the game can be irritating. On the surface the game is simple; broken down into brief stages with basic attacks, platforming and spells. Despite this appearance, the attack patterns in the game can seem harsh when the hero can’t hit back fast enough. The birds in the second area proved a problem for me as three would charge simultaneously, and without being able to hit all in one go, health loss was inevitable.
This is where the upgrading element kicks in. Every stage in Swords & Bones offers loot that can be spent in an easily accessible shop. Upgrades include health and mana points, abilities such as the double jump, and keys for unlocking treasure and spells. Spells incorporate a couple of attacks and regeneration, among others. Occasionally, there are the odd health/mana vials to refill on the fly, restore in full at the start of each stage, or upon death.
By the time the double jump is unlocked, Swords & Bones opens up and besides the extra agility, new areas can be accessed. Nothing unique mind, just platforms or invisible walls appear that allow you to collect the treasure for each stage. The store, available via the world map, also offers treasure for the completionists out there struggling to find everything.
Finally, there are the bosses. As with other games from its ilk, once you learn the attack pattern, these end of level bad guys aren’t so intolerable after all. All you needed was a little patience? Huh, fancy that. It can be tempting to charge the bosses and button mash with little health, but that strategy doesn’t work. No matter how often you think, “This time it’ll work”. Slowly, slowly, hurty bossy.
So, the best thing since sliced bread? Most games are better than sliced bread, including Swords & Bones. It doesn’t have the same hairpulling as Ghosts ‘N Goblins, nor the rage-inducing progress markers of Jump King, but I think these two games are a good reference point. Those, as well as Cathedral and maybe Alwa’s Legacy. On a presentation level, it’s great.
As for Swords & Bones gameplay, it’s a bit repetitive, but that option to beef up your knight with spells, health and mana, plus the double jump makes the game worth repeating. There aren’t any difficulty options, but you could make it harder for yourself by greasing yourself up, playing with a low battery and wearing a blindfold soaked in wee. Don’t complicate it.
My only suggestion for a game already made and unlikely to change based on one bozo’s comment would have been the option to upgrade your sword. Each spell kills an enemy with two hits, but the average melee approach is three. Considering how mana is limited, it would have paid to have a slightly improved stabby stick. Not that I’m complaining.
Swords & Bones is out now on the Switch, published by RedDeerGames (check out the other titles in their catalogue – there’s a tag at the foot of this review). If you like old school titles similar to Ghosts ‘N Goblins, give this some love.