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Game Info:

Bard's Gold
Developed and Published By: Erdem Sen/Pixel Lantern
Released: August 14, 2015
Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS, Linux, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita
Genre: Arcade Platformer
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 
Price: $4.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Pixel Lantern for sending us this game to review!

A goblin has stolen the Bard’s Gold, a legendary treasure and family heirloom. The bard gives chase, following the critter through a magic portal to a strange land. That is all Bard’s Gold gives you for a story; as a love letter to an older generation of games, the story is relegated to the manual, and the gameplay takes center stage.

Bard’s Gold is an arcade platformer with a few borrowed elements from other genres, namely RPGs and Roguelikes. The core of the game revolves around exploring one of the four different areas’ levels, searching for the exit door and the key it requires. Each area is filled with traps and monsters, which the bard is rather ill-equipped to deal with at first. You collect a steady supply of gems along the way, however, which can be traded for equipment at the semi-common shops found throughout the levels. Upon death or game completion, you can enhance the bard’s natural abilities with the remaining gems; unlike the shop items, these stay with you permanently.

The bard is sluggish and weak to start, which unfortunately makes the game hard to get into at first. His throwing knives have little range and power, and nearly every creature outpaces him. Between the monsters and the many traps, some of which are well hidden, you’ll have to take it slow – but not too slow, as each room has a timer attached to it that, when expired, triggers fireballs to rain from the sky. While the source of some tension, it’s more of an annoyance, as clearing out the enemies becomes a tedious game of standing one level above or below, dropping/jumping to hit them with two or three daggers, then moving out of the way until they come back around.

Bard's Gold
Highlights:

Strong Points: Responsive controls; steady and satisfying character progression
Weak Points: Very slow gameplay at first; little variety in level layout; occasional cheap deaths
Moral Warnings: Light violence; cartoony undead monsters; can make deals with, including selling your soul to, a Grim Reaper-type storeowner

The further you go into the game, the less this becomes an issue, as the gems you pick up from pots and defeated monsters give you access to upgrades, including different weapons, power potions, speed shoes, and the like. Given enough money, the weakling bard quickly becomes a powerhouse capable of tearing through enemies. Of course, if you get too cocky and bumble into a trap, you’re back to square one – death removes every item you’ve collected. You can buy a protective sphere to shield you from one hit, and a shield to protect your items from one death, but being too careless can be costly.

Death is something you get used to in Bard’s Gold, but each one is avoidable for the most part. Traps can be hard to spot, but still have telltale signs that your eyes adjust to after some time. Enemies have different abilities that can surprise you at first, but are all easily identifiable by color, design, and/or sound. Death is common for the new player, but experienced ones can very well go the whole game without a single failure. The controls are very responsive, with every movement exactly as ordered, so death is always the player’s fault – mostly. Sadly, the bard can’t look up (though he can look down), and offscreen enemies are still active but are silent. There were a few occasions where an unseen slime monster spat a blob of acid that dropped from the sky onto the bard, with no warning or chance of avoidance.

Upon the end of the game, a screen appears that allows you to pump whatever gems you have remaining into the bard’s skills, ranging from more starting lives to better attack distance to starting each game with an upgrade or three. As such, even if you are struggling with the game, enough time invested will ensure the bard strengthens enough to help out – though most abilities are locked at first, and require finding skill books in-game. Like the rest of the game, the rise to power is slow but steady, and coincides with player skill enough to feel like a reward rather than a handicap. It is important to note, however, that this end screen only appears on game over or game completion; quitting out from the pause menu gives you nothing.

Once you’ve beaten the game, Bard’s Gold offers a few different ways to vary it up. Each world has a small selection of pre-defined, unchanging levels, offering a chance to memorize and speedrun the game for a spot on the integrated high score leaderboards. There are three difficulties; the two harder ones limit your starting lives and increase enemy health, but multiply the gems you receive. In addition, the hardest one has no checkpoints, requiring a start-to-finish run of the whole game. Finally, there is an item you can unlock in the shop that randomizes the traps in each level while doubling your point gain, offering a breath of fresh air if you’ve grown tired of the normal stages.

Bard's Gold
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 80%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 80%
Violence - 6.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

The presentation of the game is high quality throughout. The pixilated graphics are crisp, clean, and generally well animated, with particular care given to the movements of the bard. There are only two resolution options, with one being miniscule and the other fullscreen; suffice to say, fullscreen is the way to go if you want to actually see traps, especially in the game’s darkened first level. The music is generally appealing, with each song fitting the world it’s in, but the two-minute loops can get tiresome after a while. Finally, the game runs smoothly, with no crashes or hiccups in sight.

There are a rather surprising amount of moral issues to be found in such a simple game. Combat is prevalent, though only against fantasy monsters like slimes and robots and creatures like bats and worms. The enemies and the bard all vanish upon expiration with no corpses or blood – aside from a bleeding effect, which only puts a red droplet icon above the affected creature. The final world is a graveyard populated by cartoony undead, mainly skeletons and ghosts. Most egregious, however is the storeowner you barter with, being a Grim Reaper analogue. Along with the obvious issue of dealing with an avatar of death, the aforementioned item that randomizes the traps in each level is the bard’s soul, which he sells to the Reaper for a thousand gems. While never necessary, and indeed requiring a conscious decision to unlock in the first place, it’s still selling your soul for money and points, even if it makes the game harder.

All in all, Bard’s Gold is an engaging little game with a decent amount of variety to it. The biggest draws are the solid controls and the player progression – if you can get through the sluggish opening, driving the bard from wimp to slayer is satisfying and makes the game enjoyable to come back to. With the game currently sitting at $4.99 on Steam, there’s little risk in picking it up – just remember to mind your step, watch your head, and keep both hands on your soul at all times.

-Cadogan

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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