Lords of Strife

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Revolutionary Interactive for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2018.
Lords of Strife falls into the “rage platformer” subgenre of platforming games that require professionally-executed jumping, flawless timing, and pixel-perfect precision movement through environments fraught with danger around every corner, with even the slightest mistake spelling instant death. You take on the role of a simple peasant whose village is invaded by one of the Dark Lords, along with a number of nearby villages. You take it upon yourself to set out across the land and rid the world of their evil, and destroy each of the Dark Lords along the way.

Unfortunately, the world is not a very safe place, and even reaching a Dark Lord is no easy feat. Practically every surface is lined with spikes, and there are narrow opportunities to jump between them and reach safe ground… only to be confronted by yet more dangers.

The player has a 2.5x variable jump with very touchy midair direction control, requiring very precise button presses on the part of the player, lest he oversteer and send himself face first into spikes, which is a common occurrence. There aren’t many enemies in the game aside from the end level bosses, but the player character is equipped with halberd that can be swung as rapidly as the player can press the button. The player can also press a button to lock his orientation to constantly face forward regardless of his movement direction.

The game world consists of a series of interconnected single screen environments and is largely linear. There are some treasure chests and alternate paths for truly skilled players, and a few environmental puzzles that require the player to retrace his steps across several screens, but for the most part, the goal is to make it from one side of the room to the other. In most cases, death respawns the player at the entrance of the room with full health.

The player has three units of health, but most mistakes result in instant death, so it’s rare to be killed by running out of health. Bosses and most enemies only drain a sliver of health when attacking, although there are a few instances where one full heart can be lost upon taking damage. On rare occasions, enemies drop health restoratives, but given the quick deaths and full health respawns, these drops may be largely ignored, as can health-regenerating cups of life.

When killed, the player’s death count is displayed briefly, along with a humorous quip about how he died (with spelling and grammatical errors here and there). These are generally silly and are often tailored to the way in which you died, or the environment you were in at the time. There are only a handful of death notifications, so you’ll notice them repeating as your death count climbs well into 3-digit territory. In most rage platformers, respawning is instant, helping to reduce the player’s frustration when failing the same challenge a dozen or so times. Unfortunately, this game employs a fade out that lasts a couple of seconds, doubly punishing the player for his lack of platforming prowess.

The game’s key mechanic centers on bounding off of objects in order to cross pits of spikes. The player has only a single jump, but he can perform a jump by walking off a platform and jumping again in midair. Early on, the player is introduced to scarecrows that can be bopped upon for added height, and following a bounce, the player can jump again in midair. This allows the player to get some distance on the first bounce and then perform a jump for more distance, and sometimes multiple bounces and jumps are required in succession, often with spikes placed above and below the player, requiring a careful balance of jump height and distance.

One of the stranger aspects of this mechanic is the fact that players can collect hearts that sit directly above spike pits, and doing so grants them temporary invincibility that wears off as soon as they touch the spikes below. As such, players can bounce from spike to spike, as long as they don’t miss grabbing the floating hearts, which requires precise midair direction control. Grabbing these hearts and bouncing on the spikes also grants an extra midair jump.

There are numerous situations where the player must bounce on top of a moving enemy in order to get over a spike pit. Unfortunately, there are several ghostlike enemies that are made up of nebulous clusters of pixels, and this design makes it difficult to tell precisely where their collision boxes are located, which is a must in this kind of platformer. With these instances of poorly communicated collision information, players will often find themselves muddling through ghost infested rooms and relying on their stock of infinite lives to eventually slop their way beyond the obstacles before them.

Oftentimes, the player deals with non-antagonistic animals instead of enemies. In these cases, the player makes use of the animal's position in the environment in order to navigate forward. This includes precisely timing jumps to bounce off the back of flying owls, performing multiple hops to ride a running wolf across a pit of spikes, or dealing with environmental changes as hopping frogs activate and deactivate switches. (These frogs are often a source of your untimely demise, and it is quite satisfying when you are eventually given the opportunity to kill one of them.)

Some challenges see the player dealing with scarecrows that pop up and drop down, with popup spikes appearing in their place, and some of the more complex puzzles see the player navigating multiple rooms while flipping switches in each. In these multi-screen puzzles, the player cannot rely on the safety of an instant respawn when he makes a mistake, as failing the challenge sends him back to the first room in the series to try again. There are also some platforming challenges that punish players by having them fall back into earlier parts of the environment if they miss a jump.

Throughout the game, nearly every permutation of jumping, bouncing, air jumping, and enemy/animal bopping is explored, with the final areas requiring quite a bit of thought on the part of the player over what is needed to move forward. In most cases, running at full speed and employing delicate use of the controls will see you through, but there are some tricky areas that require a mindset oriented more toward puzzle platforming.

Per genre conventions, there is very little room for error, but spikes are extra dastardly here as they don’t just kill you when you come in contact with them, but also when your collision box is immediately adjacent to them. This means that jumping straight up alongside a wall that has spikes at the top will result in your instant death, as opposed to requiring that you press toward the spikes to overlap with them. The result is that spikes often seem a bit bigger than they appear, and safe ground a bit narrower. In precision platforming circles, this is what is known as “fucking bullshit”.

The game takes place across seven themed environments, each terminating in a boss fight against one of the Dark Lords. Dark Lords hover in the air, requiring the player to jump up to reach them, and attempt to wear down their life bars before they are killed in the process. In some cases, the player must bounce off of flying projectiles in order to get enough elevation to reach the boss, and it’s also possible to bounce of the head of a boss to get a bit of extra airtime. Most of these fights are pretty straightforward, and you can absorb a lot of damage before you die. Environments tend to be pretty open, but there is a multi-phase battle toward the end of the game that challenges you to fight the boss and be wary of obstacles.

Lords of Strife was developed by Chris Johnson under his Revolutionary Interactive label. The developer previously released Proxima-B and Annihilation 3150.