words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by RadCroc for PC, originally released in 2017.
Lament is a retro-style action platformer inspired by the NES renditions of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. The game stars a wolfman with a gigantic cursed sword, venturing through five themed areas, completing platforming challenges, slashing enemies, and earning powerups to increase his combat skills. The world is made up of chunky low-rez visuals like the 8-bit games that inspired it, along with a minimal color palette, 4-color sprites, and a chiptune soundtrack.

The wolf man’s sprite is at a low enough resolution that it’s not readily apparent that he is indeed a wolf, but if you look closely, you can see that he has an elongated snout, a pair of ears poking up on top of his head, and a tail. The wolf man has a limited moveset, with a 2x variable jump and the ability to slash his huge sword to the left or right while standing or jumping. He can also wall jump and wall slide, and he is capable of jumping up along vertical surfaces, although some tight quarters occasionally make vertical navigation difficult.

The wolf man has a moderate movement speed and a slow sword slash, making combat slow and deliberate, not unlike that of Castlevania. Most enemies can be killed in a single hit, but some require multiple strikes to destroy. Many enemies can deliver melee damage, but some can strike from afar, requiring additional strategy on the part of the player until a upgrades are earned later in the game. The player character has a large knockback when taking damage, potentially pushing him off platforms and into bottomless pits, spikes, or lava, any of which will kill him instantly.

The player has a long life bar, but many enemies can reduce the meter by several units, and the player has a limited stock of lives, although he has infinite continues. Each level offers only a mid-level checkpoint and a checkpoint at the start of the boss battle, so players will need to repeat a lot of ground if killed… But just like 8-bit classics, the player learns enemy placement by replaying levels, making future attempts easier.

Each level offers limited health restoratives in the form of hopping white bunnies (wolves love the taste of bunnies), and these are often placed just off the main path through the level. More importantly, players can earn additional lives by killing enemies and collecting the wispy spirits that rise from them. Killed enemies produce several of these wisps, which are automatically drawn toward the player, and once 100 are collected, an extra life is earned. In the hands of a skilled player, extra lives can be earned with great enough frequency to effectively nullify lives lost during the level, and collected wisps carry over upon losing a life or even using a continue.

There are five levels in all, and at the start of the game, the player is free to select from any of the first four levels by entering one of four doors. If all lives are lost within a level, the player has the option to retry it from scratch, or exit the level and enter another of the doors. Once the first four levels are complete, the final level opens.

At the midpoint of each level (except the final level), the player earns a powerup that alters his movement or combat abilities, and these powerups are retained even if the player is killed and uses a continue. One powerup is the ability to block projectiles, which is an invaluable tool toward making progress in later levels. Environments are often cramped, giving the player very little room to dodge, and the player’s large knockback effect upon taking damage often leads to instant death, which can be avoided by blocking projectiles.

Another powerup allows the player to press UP and ATTACK to launch a spinning projectile all the way across the screen, and since the projectile doesn’t disappear when it hits an enemy, it allows the player to kill several enemies with one shot. This is a great tool for use against imp-like enemies that run toward you and explode on contact, and it can also let you take out projectile-firing foes from a distance without risking an up-close melee attack, although you can only have one of these projectiles on the screen at a time.

Another powerup is the double-tap dash, which allows the player to dash forward and to cross large gaps. Upon collecting this upgrade, the second half of the level is filled with large lava-filled gaps, interspersed with flying enemies, putting the player’s platforming prowess to the test. This added mobility makes some of the platforming challenges in other levels somewhat easier.

Finally, there is a heavy attack, which allows the player to smash through destructible blocks, and it can also be used to do double damage to enemies. The attack may be initiated by holding ATTACK for a couple of seconds and then letting off, or by pressing ATTACK rapidly, unleashing a 2-hit combo that consists of a regular attack followed by a slow overhead strike. Using the heavy strike also causes flying enemies to fall out of the sky, and this tactic is required to beat the boss at the end of the level where the powerup is earned.

Boss behaviors are simple, but they can still be challenging until the player learns their behaviors, and additional tension is added by the very real possibility that the player will use up all of his lives while fighting the boss and sent back to the start of the level to try again. However, once new powerups are earned, combatting bosses becomes easier, as players gain the ability to block projectiles, dodge quickly out of the way, strike from a distance, and deliver heavy strikes. As such, by the time the player reaches the game’s final boss, he may not find the encounter overly challenging.

Like the classic 8-bit games that inspired it, the entire game can be completed in a single sitting, but gameplay is extended by high penalties for death. Replaying levels allows the player to develop some strategy, as there are a limited number of non-respawning enemies that always appear in the same places, rewarding retries with additional knowledge needed to move forward.

Lament was developed by RadCroc, which previously developed Umbra and Project Action, with music by Windmills at Dawn.