Insanity’s Blade

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Causal Bit Games for PC, originally released in 2014.
Insanity’s Blade is a dark and gritty action game reminiscent of late 80’s arcade titles like Black Tiger and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. You take on the role of Thurstan, a muscle-bound warrior on a quest to avenge his wife and daughter after his village is attacked and burned. Thurstan fights his way through hordes of demons and the undead in order to venture into hell and save the souls of his murdered family. Along the way, he teams up with a surly old dwarf (Is there any other kind?) named Finn who appears in interstitial cutscenes in single player mode and is available as a second playable character in offline 2P co-op.


Players may select between Story Mode and Arcade Mode at the title screen. Story Mode sees the player selecting locations on a world map, speaking with the occasional NPC, and returning to previously-completed stages in order to locate objects required to move forward. However, the dialogue and cutscenes are representative of the middling quality of the arcade and 16-bit console era, adding little to the experience. Arcade Mode removes cutscenes, additional quests, and backtracking, along with the ability to save the game, offering a more streamlined pure action experience.


The game begins as Thurstan returns to his village to find it burning all around him as demon warriors close in and a few surviving villagers run away Golden Axe-style, screaming in fear. Thurstan has no weapons at the start of the game and must rely on his raw strength, but he is quite formidable. He can punch enemies to knock them back, grab them and throw them across the screen, and rip off the arms of larger enemies and beat back his foes with the disembodied appendages. He can even pick up smaller enemies and tear them in half with his bare hands.


The game is gritty and gory, with enemies bursting into sprays of blood as their bones fly asunder and their souls burst out of their newly-cleaved bodies. All the while, the fire rages on, with demons pouring forth and corpses burning in the background, setting the tone of things to come. The level ends with a boss fight against a gigantic horned demon, after which Thurstan is tossed backward through a building, landing in a pile of charred bodies. The narration describes Thurstan falling into unconsciousness beneath the sounds of his family being slaughtered and burned alive by the demon.


From here, the player is taken to a world map (in Story Mode), and movement is limited to pointing a cursor and moving to highlighted areas. Additional points appear on the map but are not accessible until the player completes certain challenges. Often, the player must enter a level, complete it, and speak with an NPC who asks that the player return to the level to retrieve a certain object – usually located behind a previously unbreakable wall – before he is able to move on to the next area.


The player is not able to return to previously-visited locales at will, which means that it’s possible to miss out on exploring branching paths. However, players may revisit levels once the game has been completed, allowing them to complete side quests and locate any secondary weapons they may have missed on their initial attempt.


Thurstan has a 2x nonvariable jump and he is able to toss a series of daggers in a straight line while standing or ducking. Most vertical surfaces may be climbed – often with branching paths leading up or down – and Thurstan jams his daggers into walls to climb up or slide down. Killed enemies drop coins that may be used in shops, as well as occasional health restoratives. Each killed enemy also rewards experience, allowing Thurstan to level up and cause additional damage with his strikes.


Secondary melee weapons may be found lying around certain levels, although these are temporary. The player encounters permanent weapons early in his adventure, however, including a couple of varieties of ball and chain, maces, and swords. These weapons do additional damage and greatly extend the player’s reach, and they may be swapped in the pause menu. The player continues to hurl knives regardless of which weapon is equipped, but he tosses them more quickly when unarmed.


Thurstan’s daggers may be upgraded in shops that rise up out of the ground within the level. Some shops appear along the main path, but the player must often explore the environment to discover them. Upgrades include 3- and 6-way daggers with a wider range and more potential for damage, as well as stronger flaming versions of each. In addition, players may purchase health restoratives, 1UPs, and axes for Finn.


The player has a limited number of lives but infinite continues. Losing all of his lives returns the player to the start of the level, but his money and XP carry over. As this is a brawler, the player generally loses health in small amounts as he takes damage, but it is possible to be killed instantly by falling into spikes or being smashed by a giant crusher.


Getting killed sends the player back to the most recent checkpoint, and these appear at a moderate rate. Per arcade standards, levels are timed, as is the time spent in the shop. However, players who continue moving forward should have no trouble reaching the end of any given stage before the timer runs down.


There’s not a great deal of variety in enemy behaviors, with most falling into brute or popcorn categories, but there are some interesting level designs and set pieces across the 16-level adventure. For instance, the swamp area features coffins with the words “RIDE ME” appearing in glowing letters above. Walking up to the coffin allows the player to pull out the skeleton within and ride it down the hill like a snowboard, using the skeleton’s arms to steer and slow down.


Pressing the ATTACK button causes the skeleton to belch out 3-way slime blasts to take down enemies. The skeletons break apart when the player reaches the bottom of the slope, but they appear at a few places in the level… and nowhere else in the game.


Later, the player enters a shmup sequence while riding on the back of a skeletonized dragon, shooting energy bursts at other dragons as he flies through the night sky. The mechanics are simple, with some basic dodging and shooting, although there are some weapon pickups that allow the player to alternate between regular shots, arced projectiles, and a 3-way shot, as well as a lightning bolt that damages everything on the screen. The sequence ends in a boss fight against some kind of undead fish serpent thing that moves in and out of the water.


Other unique encounters include a cathedral populated by projectile-vomiting nuns, giant bladed pendulums, Castlevania-style heads that fly in a sine wave pattern, and a number of grotesque enemies. In addition, each stage terminates with a battle against a large boss creature, and there is a good deal of variety between them, although some have insta-kill attacks that can make initial encounters more difficult.


Aesthetically, the game is quite detailed and offers a lot of visual variety. Level themes include swamps, graveyards, cathedrals, dungeons, and nightmarish hellscapes, supporting the dark themes and dour tone of the experience. Additional flourishes include rain effects, piles of skulls, hanging moss, and patches of fog. The player may also select between an 8- or 16-bit-style soundtrack.



2D CRED
Insanity’s Blade was developed by Christopher Obritsch and Daven Bigelow under the Causal Bit Games label (that’s Causal Bit as in cause-and-effect, not Casual Bit as in casually playing games). Christopher is the owner of the studio and is credited as the lead developer, artist, sound designer, and composer, while Daven is credited as the developer and programmer. This was the studio's first commercial release.

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