Over the past couple of years I’ve been broadening my gaming horizons, checking out games I rarely played/liked, and really committing to getting to know more genres of the industry I love so much. One of those genres is the rogue-style games. One I particularly enjoyed was Rogue Legacy. I spent a great amount of time playing the game on my Vita, and it really helped me appreciate these kinds of experiences. Once I saw Bard’s Gold, I was pretty sure I was on board for getting myself into another time-sink in the genre.
Now, I should be a little more specific here when I mention I started to enjoy these kinds of games. It’s mostly the sub-genre kind of games, with the perma-death, procedurally generated levels, and upgrade systems that carry over once you “bite the bullet”, so to speak. The 2D platform-style games, and these typically come with the pixelated art that someone my age has been fond of for decades. Bard’s Gold does all of that, and even introduces a bit of leniency on the way you play, too.
When you start off Bard’s Gold, you see the bard himself running after a little dude who jumps into a well and you follow. That’s the entire set up, and it’s all done on the main menu (you can get a bit of lore on the game’s website). This recalls the kind of game it’s trying to be, the 80’s and early 90’s style of game where you get a quick intro and move on to the game. You get dumped in the world and you need to figure out how everything works. Creator Erdem Sen (and company Pixel Lantern, which consists of only him and his wife Jennifer, the only ones who have worked on this game) has done a good job providing that feeling.
From the main menu you choose between 3 different modes: Normal, where you have checkpoints and a few lives (die and you restart at the start of that level, with everything you’ve done still in effect), Retro, where you have a couple lives and checkpoints (same as Normal, only less lives to start with), and Rogue-Like, where you have no checkpoints and a small HP system. In that one, once you die, it’s over. One of the other benefits you receive from the first 2 modes is the upgrading that you do once you get a Game Over, which will carry over to he next play through when you unlock/level up a skill. The Rogue-Like mode doesn’t offer that, and once you’re dead, you restart. All the gems you accumulated are gone forever. A nice touch for the sadistic side in all of us.
Due to its penchant for wanting to evoke the old school feel, the artwork on display is certainly up to snuff. Obviously it’s at a much higher resolution to fit the times, but the overall feel of it definitely hits the spot when it comes to getting that retro look. Also on the obvious scale is that the PS4 version looks a lot better in every respect, but make no mistake, the Vita version is no slouch. The Vita is also the platform I played the most on, because I just feel like this kind of game is great for mobility (and, of course, playing in bed before sleeping). Besides, it gave me a great excuse to dust it off.
There’s a surprising amount of detail in such a small game. This isn’t a knock on the game’s size. Levels are full of a good amount of visual flair, be it background decorations or what you directly interact with. There’s also a large number of enemy types/designs on display. Each of the 4 worlds (7 levels each, including a boss) has its own specific design to it, and within those worlds are all different enemies. Sure, some do the same things as others, but each is unique in look and pattern, which is something you do want to get used to and learn. It’ll be the difference between living or dying. Sometimes, even knowing that doesn’t help.
The sound design in the game is your typical retro fair, but the limited music does get more involved than typical retro-era games, and it’s all pretty catchy, too. I didn’t really mind hearing the same tunes over and over, whether that’s because I was so focused on living and looting, or because what’s here is really good, I can’t discern as easily, but I do know I still keep the music loud when playing, where I would mute and have something else on if I were tired of it, so it’s a win in my book. The sound effects of collecting and enemies aren’t going to amaze you, but I also never found anything to complain about, either. Overall, for such a small project, I have few complaints in the sound department.
When it comes down to how the game plays, it’s your typical 2D platformer, with each level playing out with height and a little bit of length to each. Every level is contained within 1 screen, but you move vertically and horizontally to reach items, enemies, loot, and doors. No loading within a level, you just move the camera with you, while also using the right stick to peek up or down if desired. Levels aren’t very big by any means, but they are packed with plenty to do and see. Not just what you can actually see, either. There’s wealth of hidden items and secrets littered within each level. There’s a good grind in Bard’s Gold, and if you appreciate that kind of game, you’ll have enough to keep occupied with here. There’s a plethora of items to collect and upgrades to max out. And inside this little indie is around 100 variations of levels, so you’ll have enough to keep you busy.
You start off with a basic attack, which is tossing a dagger in a straight line, but over the course of play, you can find or buy new weapons, each with their own trajectory and power. Don’t die, though, because you’ll lose all your upgrades when you re-spawn. If there’s a shop in the level, you can go back and buy items again, but you’ll need to weigh whether that’s worth losing out on gems for upgrading when you get a Game Over. You also have a jump, naturally, because what good is platforming without one, right? These are the only 2 moves you have. Another callback to yesteryear. You do have a double jump, and you’ll want to get good with it, because you’ll be using it. A lot. Each level has a timer, and once it hits 0:00, something not so nice happens and you’ll need to be even more precise with it.
While there’s plenty of upside to this game, I would be lying if I said there weren’t any bad portions, too. For some reason, you can’t pause on certain screens or sections of the game. One being boss battles. This is crazy to me. Hitting the button does nothing. I don’t know if this is a bug or not, so I have to assume it’s not. Jumping – or rather, double jumping – on the Vita can sometimes be spotty. I found this to be most noticeable in later worlds and in boss battles. I would have said maybe it’s my system, but testing it out proved it wasn’t. Something that may not be a bother to you, but definitely was to me, is that the ending once you beat the game is very lacking. I know that’s not really the point of a game like this, and with the way it opened, it should be expected, and it was, but to a certain point. What we get is not enough for me.
The difficulty could potentially put some less inclined people off, but I honestly don’t think it’s that big of an issue. Once you fart around with the game and start to understand how it works, you should be understanding of what it is and be able to combat it eventually. Now, I’m not saying it’ll be a cakewalk at some point, but once you get what you need to get down, you can be secure in knowing the difficulty isn’t really an issue. I saw one person complaining about this, but this person is a fan of the Souls games. That seems to me he just wanted to complain, or just doesn’t appreciate 2D experiences. I don’t really fault the game for it, but I’m including it just so potential players are aware if this isn’t something they’re used to. If you enjoy rogue-games, you already know how tough they can be, though I wouldn’t put this game in any kind of “toughest” class. It all feels appropriate.
If you’re looking for a Platinum here, you’re looking in the wrong place. The game costs $5, and with Sony’s weird rules for what games can have one, who knows the reasoning behind what can and can’t. However, that’s not to say they aren’t fun to go for. They definitely are, and will of course require grinding. There’s only 13, so you won’t have many to get while on that grind. We do have the ability to get 2 lists complete, because Vita and PS4 each have their own set, though the Vita one is labeled as both for some reason. I don’t know if that’s a glitch or because I played before a patch came through and now I have separate lists, but, if not, I really enjoy when games have their own for each system.
Speaking of glitches… You should know, the Trophies were glitched, and I ran into that problem personally. None of them would unlock for me at some point. I don’t know how or why it happened, I just know after a recent patch it’s now supposedly fixed, so know that if you already should have received one, it won’t retroactively give it to you, and you’d have to do it again. I assume. I haven’t gone back and done any of those things again yet. But I likely will, because, as I said, I’m having fun with the game. That’s probably why the percentages were so low on a lot of Trophies until recently. I didn’t think some of them were that hard to accomplish.
Once again I got sucked down the rabbit hole on a game like this. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it happened. You can lose hours just grinding your way through, and I didn’t mind a bit. I don’t use grind in a bad way like many other games could, nor do I mean anything negative when I mention this game is small. It is. It’s a fact. It may be a small game, but there’s a lot packed in this “small” game. A lot more than I think many will realize when they see the $5 price tag. And factor in that it’s a Cross-Buy title? Well, you get plenty of bang for your buck. I’m still having a lot of fun with the game and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon, because even though I’ve beaten it, I still need to unlock the rest of the skill books (plus those damn glitched Trophies) and do some odds and ends to get 100%. The $5 price tag may scare you off, for whatever reason, but I dare you to play it and not have fun and not find it’s worth that.