A Bloody Night

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Emanuele Leoncilli for PC and Mac, originally released in 2017.
A Bloody Night begins with… well, a bloody night. In the region of Greyplain, a young woman named Asteria manages the family inn while her brother, Kerykos, recovers from battle wounds in one of the rooms. One night, a group of soldiers arrives at the inn, and Asteria welcomes them inside. One of the soldiers approaches and stabs her in the chest, and then turns to walk away as she gushes blood and slumps to the ground. Kerykos is awakened by her screams and finds his sister’s body outside the inn. Consumed with rage, he pursues her killers, wiping out every soldier he encounters.

The game begins with Kerykos standing in an open area, sword in hand, with a counter on the screen showing how many enemies are in the area. The goal in each of the game’s 20 levels is to move from left to right, killing soldiers along the way. Levels are short but there are plenty of ways to be killed, whether at the hands of enemy soldiers, at the point of an archer’s arrow, or by one of the many spike traps.

Gameplay is fast and furious, with Kerykos breaking into a full run when the player presses LEFT or RIGHT, and he has an incredibly high jump. Environmental design is simple, consisting mostly flat plains with the occasional ledge to be mounted. This makes environmental navigation simple and allows the player to focus on combat, which is the core of the experience. However, the player’s fast speed can cause him to lunge headlong into traps that diminish his precious health.

The player begins each level with a full health meter, which can be depleted in a matter of seconds if he finds himself overwhelmed. It only takes a few strikes from enemy swords to send the player back to the start of the level, and there are no restoratives to be found along the way. Instead, the player must focus on defeating enemies quickly, avoiding retaliatory strikes, and understanding the behaviors of different kinds of foes.

The player has a 3-hit combo which is performed by pressing the ATTACK button three times in rapid succession. At the start of the journey, it appears that players will be performing this one simple combo over and over again, but this strategy only works in the early levels. Each of the three strikes affects enemies differently as well, as a killing strike delivered with the opening thrust can punch a hole in an enemy’s chest, causing him to spew blood from the wound, the second strike hits lower and cuts across the midsection, while the third strike can break shields.

In addition, the player has access to a strong attack, but this move functions differently from other games. Typically, melee-based action games allow the player to alternate between weak and strong attacks to unleash different sorts of combos. Here, the player begins the game with the ability to use this strike only once per level, and it instantly kills most enemies, even those carrying shields. As such, it’s best to hold this maneuver in reserve until it is most needed, often for the final enemy in the area, which is often tougher than those that come before. It’s also effective for luring multiple enemies into bunching up as they chase you, allowing you to kill them all with a single blow. It is possible to gain an additional strong attack, however, by completing a minigame in one of the bonus levels…

The player begins his journey in the plains, starting out on a map with five levels and a bonus level. The main levels must be completed in order, and the bonus level is initially inaccessible. However, each time a level is completed – even if the player replays a previous level – the counter next to the bonus level goes down. When it reaches zero, the player can enter the level and try his hand at a simple minigame, which requires him to press a button rapidly to fill a meter while a timer counts down. If the player manages to fill the meter far enough, the protagonist slices through a tree with his sword, and an additional strong attack is unlocked.

If the challenge is failed, the player must play through regular levels until the bonus level becomes accessible again. As the player moves into the desert and mountains, he encounters two other bonus levels, one of which gives him a chance to increase his health if he manages to time a button press properly, and the other allows him to unleash his inner fury and deal more damage to enemies.

As mentioned, basic enemies go down in just a few hits, and the player must use the third strike of his 3-hit combo to break enemy shields, at which point they fall in three hits as well. Green soldiers have poison armor that damages the player continuously if he touches it, requiring that he keep his distance and dispatch these foes quickly. There are some more powerful foes in the form of hulking knights that require many strikes to destroy, and they can drain your health quickly if you don’t avoid their attacks.

Additionally, there are some dark knights that can be knocked to the ground, allowing the player to hop on and smash them in the helmet with the hilt of their sword. Using these smashing attacks requires some strategy, as they leave the player open to attack from other enemies, but leaving a downed enemy for too long means that he will get back up and attack. As such, players may lure these enemies away by getting within range, and then quickly running in the opposite direction as they run to give chase, allowing the player plenty of space to bash their brains out of their heads without fear of retaliation. Later foes are even more heavily defended and can kill the player in one or two hits, and they can block most attacks.

The player is able to block incoming attacks as well. This maneuver can be difficult to use in the heat of battle with regular enemies as attacks and retaliatory strikes are delivered quickly. However, this move is quite useful against archers who tend to run away from the player and pick away at him from a distance… and they’re even more dangerous if you’re trying to fight other enemies while within their range.

Despite the simple gameplay constructs, there are subtle design choices that allow for additional depth. For instance, the player’s movement speed is slightly faster than that of soldiers, but slightly slower than that of archers. As such, the player can lure soldiers into giving chase in order to separate them from groups; however, archers will run away from the player when approached and will continue pulling away until they reach an impasse. One level features a low ceiling that prevents the player from delivering an overhead strike, meaning that it’s impossible to deliver a 3-hit combo, thus requiring an entirely new strategy. And once the player earns the final upgrade, he is encouraged to kill enemies quickly at the beginning of each stage in order to activate this ability, after which, he can smash through soldiers, killing enemies and knocking away shields in a single hit.

Interestingly, blocking enemy attacks drains the sword meter slightly – although blocking a cannonball drains it a lot – and as this meter is drained, the player loses access to his strong attack. When it is drained completely, the player loses the ability to block as well. These design decisions require that the player alter his tactics, possibly even sacrificing a bit of health for the sake of retaining his attacks.

Traps come in many forms, and it can be difficult to react quickly enough given the game’s high speed. Jutting spears are hard to spot while running, and some traps can fall in from the top of the screen. Spread around the environments are regular barrels and exploding barrels, and slashing an enemy in front of a barrel causes it to explode, taking of a significant portion of your health, although traps can impact enemies as well. In a nice touch, background objects can be sliced as well, allowing the player to strike an enemy down while a rock or other background element is cleaved in twain, sliding stylishly down. Similarly, some strong enemies can be sliced in half as well, or blown apart by a cannonball, in addition to the bloody sprays and flying body parts that come from regular combat.

Despite the simple level designs, the game has a stylish presentation. Each level is themed differently and features parallax scrolling. The protagonist runs quickly through the environments with his body angled forward in determination and his sword held behind him, and sword strikes are accompanied by heavy clangs. When approaching enemies, the camera zooms in quickly for dramatic flair, and the entire experience is driven by a pumping soundtrack that is as relentless as the onscreen action.

A Bloody Night was developed by Emanuele Leoncilli over the course of three years. This was his first commercial release.