Insanity’s Blade Review – Non-Stop Carnage in a Flawed World
UPDATE: The developer has reached out to me, informing me that you can find the save feature by pausing on the Map screen. They have also told me that a fix is imminent for the slow-down issues, and will come along with the game’s release on Steam for $6.99.
As you wander through burned-out streets filled with decaying undead and caverns filled with dusty, bloodstained traps, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Insanity’s Blade. Making vicious monsters explode in a shower of blood, their souls screaming upon release, while wearing nothing but a loincloth feels pretty dang good. I played through the game’s entirety in one long marathon session because I wanted to, although I technically had to due to the game lacking any save function. That lack of a save is indicative of a couple of problems the game has, and while I still had a good time playing Insanity’s Blade, some of those issues soured the fun of swinging a sword that shoots knives.
But don’t expect to start off throwing flaming knives from a sword made of madness right from the start. You have to earn the right to dole out the pain in several ways. You start with just your fists, which you can upgrade just by punching monsters until they explode. The game features an experience system that increases your damage output and your defenses, and you will naturally level up quite a bit as you progress through the game. There are tons of monsters to fight in every single stage, so I found I was leveling up pretty fast in the beginning. The game caps you at level eleven for some reason, though, which I achieved a little over halfway through the game. It was disappointing to cap so early, but at that point your character is pretty well-equipped for the travels ahead. I would have preferred having the levels spread out a bit more, but they do make it so that if you’re stuck early in the game you can power level easily.
Still, the only level that gives you a better weapon is level two, where you get the throwing knives. While handy, it’s much better to be throwing three or six of them at once, which is where treasure comes in. Enemies will drop treasure at random, and as you load up, you can find shops in certain levels where you can select upgrades that increase the number of lives you have, or the number of knives you throw. It’s handy stuff that will make your playthrough easier, but like my experience issue, I had enough money to buy every upgrade well before the last level, so treasure became a bit useless near the end of the game. Then again, I could only find a shop or two in the last six or seven of the game’s sixteen total levels, so it’s not like I had many places to spend it afterwards.
I missed out on many of the game’s non-mandatory hidden items. I only managed to get a sword while playing through the game (according to the in-game inventory screen), and was missing five other hidden weapons. They’re buried deep somewhere in the levels, but I thought I could go back for them at some point. The game doesn’t let you replay old levels from the map screen, for the most part, so once you miss something, it tends to be completely gone.
You can re-explore some old levels for the game’s mandatory side quests, though, which involve going through a previously-beaten stage and looking for a hidden path. Unlike the hidden weapons, most of these paths are pretty obvious, and I noticed each as I passed through the level the first time. This is the only time you can replay a stage, and only certain stages have this happen, so this is when you need to do your exploring if you missed anything the first time around. That being said, most of these mandatory side-quests take place in little self-contained stages, so why I had to go back through an old stage for a bit to get to them is beyond me. I would rather have just been able to access them from the map instead. It feels like padding to send me back through the same old stage for a bit.
I didn’t mind playing through the stages over again too much, as there is a lot of variety and fun to be had. The game takes players through many different locations, all dripping with detailed pixel art. The cities burn as bodies hang from broken windows and are tied to posts. The swamps bubble over with strange creatures that emerge from the waters. Crypts are literally filled with bones, with players walking on a sea of skulls and femurs. All of these places are relentlessly bleak and filled with death, creating one of the more horrible, oppressive places I’ve been to while playing games. You eventually do end up in an organic, pulsating hell as you descend to the finale, but the whole game world is literally hell on Earth. It’s choked with the dead and dying, and is a place where all hope seems to have been crushed. It’s the perfect world to bring justice with flaming daggers to.
The enemies are just as vile and decrepit as the places you visit. The game is filled with skeletons, zombies, harpies, orcs, mummies, and other sickening creatures I don’t even have names for. The game has a lot of variety to its enemies, only periodically re-using a few of them. Most of the time, you may get a completely new enemy design, even if its behavior is similar to that of an enemy in an earlier stage. You can see that a lot of work went into creating the unique undead for each stage. While my tactics didn’t really change much from stage to stage, the sheer variety of things to kill had me excited for each new area. The art design in the game, both for enemies and levels, is pretty top-notch.
Combat is pretty fun, too, even if it is pretty easy. You have a basic attack and a throw, with your basic attack being more than enough to handle most creatures. With the sword, you fire as many shots as you’ve upgraded to, along with swinging the blade, which lets you cut a swath through your opponents. Things don’t tend to live long when they stand in front of Thurstan (your character), and so a lot of the game is spent moving forward cutting everything down. With enemies literally exploding in front of you, it keeps you going through the appeal of constant carnage. It’s fun, and makes the player feel powerful.
The game has a few methods to trip players up and hurt them, but none of them work particularly well or elegantly. Some enemies block, and short of being able to throw the smaller ones, all you can do is keep messing with your range and attacking anyway. Most of the attacking ones still move forward every few seconds, so firing constantly will whittle them down as they drop their defenses to move. It’s more time-consuming than challenging, which is a big problem considering the game has a strict time limit on each stage.
The time limit is another way of padding the difficulty. For starters, the game flat-out doesn’t give enough time to beat each stage most of the time. It just doesn’t. It resets upon death, so it’s been designed as if the developers at Causal Bit Games want you to die at least once during every stage. You have multiple lives and infinite continues so this isn’t a big deal, but the timer makes it impossible to beat some stages with one life. You could try to dodge enemies to move faster, but the game fires new foes out at a relentless pace, and Thurstan’s jump is too clumsy to get over even the most basic creature. Fighting is the only solution short of pixel-perfect footwork, and the time limit just doesn’t accommodate that.
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