It’s never a good sign when a zombie jester shambles into view, but Dark Raider makes things worse by locking you in a room until one of you is dead.
That’s just one of the horrors that this pixel-art slasher inflicts on you as you slaughter your way through a series of dungeons. There’s probably a more complex reason behind this mayhem, but I was too busy struggling to survive to worry about retrieving the fabled Stone of Xyyzzy or whichever cursed artefact fuels Dark Raider’s apocalypse.
Dark Raider‘s procedurally-generated levels are visually varied; one minute you’ll be slaughtering your way through a gloomy dungeon, and the next you’re wandering around a giant floating rock. But your foes never let up – wander into a room and you’re sealed in until you’ve annihilated at least two waves of enemies.
Dark Raider’s combat is generally entertaining enough to stop this from becoming a chore – or at least it was in the demo I got my hands on. I chose to play as the sword-wielding fighter since, as entertaining as her abilities were, I didn’t want to be responsible for the magical girl being crudely decapitated. This choice paid dividends when I discovered that a perfectly-timed block was enough let me bounce back at my enemies and divorce their limbs from their bodies.
Aside from just slashing at your foes, you can charge your attacks, dodge, and deliver a powerful (if hard to control) super attack. Making contact with monsters – which range from frogs through to the undead – is suitably satisfying, and delivering the killing blow is a wonderfully visceral experience. Laying into dizzied enemies, while hardly chivalrous, is equally enjoyable.
But there were times when I resented the way Dark Raider locked me in with these horrors. Some foes charge at you, others use ranged attacks and some attack at close range; the game mixes these up, so you can find yourself fighting three sword-wielding skeletons while two archers try to perforate you from further away. The snag is the rooms are sometimes so small that you’re perpetually rolling around, with no way of retreating.
I’m hoping the final game gives you the ability to lock onto enemies; losing three levels of progress after dying once would have felt fairer with this feature. Nevertheless, Dark Raider has a lot of promising features, from its fluid combat through to the many varied enemies it throws at you.
You can check out this pixel-art hack-and-slash when it hits Steam Early Access mid-January.