Slain: Back from Hell review (Vita)

Slain: Back From Hell for the Playstation Vita has been a long time coming, but has finally hit the PSN store as part of a cross-buy bundle with the PS4 version.

When we first heard about Slain, we were excited about the title coming to the Vita. Since the only Castlevania titles available for the Vita are two older PSP games, something that looked like it would fill part of that void was more than welcome. With its 2D/retro visuals and plenty of platforming and brawling, Slain certainly looked like a welcome title on Sony’s handheld.

Then, when looking at the reviews after the initial Steam release, our expectations were severely lowered. Slain was released to poor critical reception, with gamers and reviewers pointing out several technical and gameplay issues as the reason for their dislike of the game. Since then, developer Wolf Brew has pulled Slain from the Steam database, went back to their original code, and refined the game until they had addressed the majority of the issues. Cue the release of Slain: Back from Hell – the version of Slain that has now made it onto the Vita.

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Slain isn’t a mere Castlevania clone. It’s not inspired by tales of Dracula, but rather by a dark/gothic world that is heavily influenced by heavy metal music and the imagery that goes with it. Of course there’s some overlap here, but it makes Slain a game with a very different vibe – one that’s more violent, combat-focused and a lot more “in your face”. It’s also very difficult – almost punishingly difficult.

You control Bathoryn, a long-haired and bearded protagonist inside a demon-infested world that he intends to liberate. The variety of enemies and backdrops is excellent – you’ll be battling it out in open areas as well as in confined space, and you’ll run into everything from werewolves to witches. Slain is also structured in such a way that there are mini-hubs to traverse, and defeating each of the six major bosses/overlords will allow you to progress to the next one.

Slain is very melee-combat friendly, but also has its fair share of magic attacks for you to use – which comes into play during long range combat especially. You’ll need to use the full range of weapons and attacks available to you, especially during boss fights – and they vary greatly in their attack patterns and vulnerabilities.

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Two aspects hold Slain back from being a title I’d blindly recommend. The heavy metal theme isn’t going to be for everyone, and it’s a hard and sometimes frustrating game to get through. Heavy metal isn’t my go-to choice either by the way, but the game’s soundtrack also isn’t exclusively metal. The difficulty level is definitely something that might scare people off though – it’s a tough game, especially on the small Vita screen where the margins for error feel even smaller than when playing with a full sized gamepad. It’s too bad the game isn’t compatible with Playstation TV, as that would have solved that issue.

Nevertheless, Slain: Back From Hell is a more than worthy addition to the Vita library, and certainly one with plenty of character. It’s unique and perhaps a bit of a niche title, but one where we’re glad that Wolf Brew didn’t just stick with the original, flawed, release.

Score: 7.2/10

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