Insanity’s Blade is the kind of game everyone can relate to. When demons rise from hell to demolish your village and then proceed to burn your wife and child alive in front of you, it hurts. I’ve been there. We all have. But what Insanity’s Blade adds to this classic coming-of-age story is what really matters. It’s got jumping, climbing, punching handfuls of flaming knives out of your fists, beating demons down with their own arms after dismembering them, and MUCH, MUCH, wait… no that’s pretty much it.
Causal Bit Games released Insanity’s Blade this week on Steam a year after their successful go on Kickstarter last December. The game is gratuitously old school, and it makes no secret of its classic arcade roots with obvious references to Black Tiger, among others. The graphics place the game right in the Golden Axe era (no, not that one) of barbarian beat ’em ups, which means they are fairly ugly, but do their job. The tunes rock their little synthesized hearts out, and at times deliver goodness, but also had a tendency to wail annoyingly.
The gameplay is very primitive, which can be expected of an homage to the old days, but players of this decade are used to getting more in their gaming experience than Insanity’s Blade can provide. It’s not the limited arsenal of attacks that hold Insanity’s Blade back, as plenty of games have gotten by with just a punch, a jump kick, and their timeless charm. But rather it’s the enemies lack of variety that becomes completely tedious within minutes. There are basically two types of enemies in the game, small ones that slowly walk toward you and are beat down very quickly, and larger ones that slowly walk toward you and block the shit out of your attacks for no good reason. You might think that there is a clever way to take down these tanks, such as snatching away their shield, or waiting until they are in a vulnerable position before attacking. But no, you simply must spam the hell out of your one attack—that is, throwing butt loads of knives—and wait for 45 seconds while the enemy gets hit with enough of them between his spastic blocking/unblocking routine to die.
The developers play a tough round of “Are they serious?” with this one. Despite having the ability to rip apart zombies with WWE-style suplexes, despite the geysers of blood that erupt from everything (even the toads that you step on), and despite the ultra-cliche imagery, I was still on the fence about if the game was made tongue-in-cheek or not. The morbid details of the story are delivered so straight, and the hero remains so solemn that I begun to think the developers truly had a hard-on for corny barbarian pulp. That is until I caught wind of the “cock puncher”—a sword wielded by a man who “hates roosters”. Yeah ok guys… ya got me. But the overall tone of trying to be suuuuuper badass (imagine a 6th grader in 1995 saying this) doesn’t come across as overly cool or funny.
I enjoy playing retro games, but when I’m playing an old game I find that its shortcomings are often patched up by nostalgia. I didn’t have a nostalgia band-aid for this one, so it simply did not hold interest. So if you long to play a game that nicely replicates the repetitive and narrow gameplay of the games of yore (with a healthy does of over-the-top 8-bit gore), you might give this one a try. Otherwise don’t.