Pixel art. Time Travelling Cyborgs. Futuristic industrial cities, oh and of course a lack of checkpoints. We must be in the 80s! Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior is Ratalaika Games’ incredibly nostalgic take on the hack-n-slash games of yesteryear. And happily, it doesn’t just replicate the success of past games, but adds much, much more to the genre.
To begin with, the story is gloriously 80s. A strong and powerful hero from the year 409AD sets out on a quest to do something none others before him have done, wield the fabled ‘Sword of Ages’. After a long quest, our hero comes across the sword and with all his might, manages to pull it from its resting place. But, immediately after, the hero is struck with lightning and zipped into the future – a foreign land where everything is out to get him.
It’s a story that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of the 80s. A crazy, action-filled, time travel caper that’s ridiculously over-the-top, and of course, filled with buff heroes, explosions and guns. And luckily, the gameplay manages to keep with this 80s theme.
Cybarian: The Time Travelling Warrior consists entirely of 2D side-scrolling, sword based platforming and offers a surprisingly difficult experience. The combat is fairly simple and at its core is a simple, 3-stage melee attack that requires near perfect timing to perfect – misclicking or going too early will result in your character stumbling and making themselves vulnerable to incoming attacks. On top of this, the more bosses you take down, the more your move pool grows. Before getting stuck on a particularly difficult boss (more on this later), I’d managed to unlock the dodge roll and the ability to use my sword as a ranged weapon, which offers a lot of variety in how you play.
As mentioned earlier, the game is fairly difficult. Personally, I see this as a positive. A key thing to note is that in Cybarian, there are no checkpoints. You die, you have to restart the level. At first, I thought that this would frustrate me, the repetition causing me to become jaded towards the game, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because you’re constantly going back and facing the same enemies, puzzles and challenges, the game, oddly, becomes more of a rhythm game as you learn how and when you should strike enemies, jump over traps and trigger certain enemies. The more you die, the more satisfying it is when you eventually overcome the obstacle.
In terms of difficulty, the bosses curve nicely with each level. As is to be expected, each boss has their own gimmick: One drops bombs across the map, one uses escalators to move the player etc. But the bosses never feel stale, they utilise obstacles that you’ve encountered during the previous level, adding a few new mechanics to keep things fresh. This means that nothing is ever impossible in the game. It might seem difficult (here’s looking at you The Twins, who I am still stuck on!), but you’ve experienced most of it before so it just requires a little perseverance.
In an age where we’re getting pixel-based indie titles published left, right and centre, Cyberian comes as a refreshing addition. It has beautiful nostalgic throwbacks, a great artstyle and some delightfully difficult gameplay – in the best way of course. If you’re looking for a relaxed platforming experience, this is definitely not the game for you. But, if you’re looking for your next big challenge, I can’t recommend Cybarian enough.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*