Remember The Lost Vikings? It’s a hell of a puzzle platformer with a bit of strategy, as it allows you to switch off between characters that each serve a special purpose. You can enjoy it all over again in the recently released Blizzard Arcade Collection, but if you’re into that sort of game, I’ve got a hearty recommendation in Astalon: Tears of the Earth.
This is a completely different type of game, built around a classic 8-bit NES style engine that you just don’t see anymore. However the core mechanic is about the same, as you guide three different characters through a harrowing journey into a darkened dungeon. Nevertheless like Lost Vikings before it, it plays off in spades with its wonderful gameplay mechanics. Also its art style and storyline breathe some fresh life into the genre to boot.
The game blossoms with the style of classic 8-bit adventures, where exploration pays off in spades and you’ll have to deal with hazards one at a time, from statues that spit out projectiles to jumps that could spell your doom if you’re not careful to activate doors that allow you access to new areas. And being able to switch between the characters is a key mechanic, and also allows you to change up battle tactics. For instance, the knight’s sword is ideal for close-range attacks, but the wizard can shoot a fireball to take care of enemies from a distance. The rogue is also excellent with her arrows, ideal for hitting something even further out.
What’s more, these characters grow over the course of their journey, thanks to RPG elements that enable you to add new abilities. For instance, once the Rogue gets her hands on the Griffon Claw, jumping is way more accessible with chaining, which means being able to reach new areas you couldn’t before. The game’s growth is staggering, especially since it’s designed like an older adventure.
At first, switching characters isn’t instant. You usually have to find checkpoints that let you switch between parties, which can lead to a little bit of backtracking. This eventually gets resolved later in the game, so hang in there. It’s a wonderful mechanic that really picks up. That said, be prepared for a challenge. This is an NES-style game, after all, and the difficulty is right up there with the best of them.
Also, don’t be sad when you die. This is the sort of game where your return actually makes you stronger. You can sell whatever orbs you obtain for new items, leading to new discovery of gameplay abilities or boosts you never really expected. It’s pretty rad, actually.
Where Astalon truly shines is its presentation. Again, it’s 8-bit inspired, and it’s pretty amazing, right down to the little animations and the sprawling level design. It doesn’t have too many moments of parallax scrolling or anything, but it doesn’t necessarily need it, as its compelling craft shows off in other ways. Plus, its darkened theme will feel right at home for people that are in the mood for Dark Souls with a retro motif. The music is also excellent and well worth the listen, along with the sound effects.
It helps that you get prepared for a challenge, because Astalon presents it. However those that step up and take it on will find this game is worth its weight in gold. The character switching tactic is awesome, the gameplay holds up significantly with RPG boosts and other neat discoveries, and the presentation can’t be beat. This is a genuine surprise that grows on you the more you get into it, and we’re all for that. Astalon: Tears of the Earth may have a sad title and approach, but don’t be surprised if it leaves a devilish grin on your face.