Steel Sword Story

A game by 8bits Fanatics for PC, originally released in 2019.
Steel Sword Story is a sidescrolling actioner featuring sword-based combat and set in a medieval fantasy world. You take on the role of a former knight named Azul Palan Baru who has been banished from the kingdom after being falsely accused by the traitorous Prime Minister, Rufus. With nothing left to lose, Azul returns to defeat Rufus and restore the kingdom, using his old steel sword to serve up a nice cold plate of revenge.

The developer, 8bits Fanatics, is known for its chunky sidescrolling actioners, although they tend toward zanier premises, such as the spike-heavy worlds of 1001 Spikes, or the zombie head-juggling of The Tempura of the Dead. By comparison, Steel Sword Story is considerably more straightforward, with battles against creatures and bosses across four themed areas. The game is somewhat less colorful than the developer's previous efforts, and the game is not terribly well optimized, which may be due to the Pixel Game Maker MV tool on which it was built... and someone went a little overboard on the light bloom effect.

At the start, players are able to run, jump, and perform a dodge roll. In combat, players can attack to the left, right, or upward, and downward while jumping, and the sword emits a wide blue slash effect that does damage slightly beyond its reach. The player can also toss a fireball, which drains a magic meter with each use, and an upgrade later in the game allows him to toss three projectiles at once, doing heavy continuous damage to enemies and bosses.

The game offers a focus on exploring the environment to find items and pieces of equipment to give the player a leg up on his adventure. Treasure chests are tucked away behind false walls and breakable objects, and while finding them is entirely optional, each treasure offers an advantage. Pieces of armor allow the player to absorb more damage, an ankh reduces magic consumption when tossing fireballs, scabbards sharpen the player's sword and allow it to deal more damage when attacking, and glass vials allow the player to carry additional healing potions.

There are also several items that may be purchased from shopkeepers, each of which grants new abilities. These include the ability to double jump, air dash, attract gems to you from a distance, and perform a multi-hit combo by holding down the ATTACK button (which has the same effect as mashing the button quickly). Many of these items command a high price, so it’s important that you collect as many gems as possible.

Gems are dropped by killed enemies, but they don’t just fall to the ground; instead, they bounce somewhat haphazardly around the environment until they are collected, or until they fall into an area that you can’t reach. Gems disappear after a few seconds if uncollected. Tougher enemies drop higher value gems, and it’s pretty easy to rack up money in the back half of the game.

Many enemies respawn when scrolled off the screen, but given that levels are generally linear, this mainly grants players the option of farming for additional gems. Also, players are free to return to any previous levels to farm for coins, visit shopkeepers, or seek out treasure chests. Some treasure chests can only be reached after the player has acquired abilities unlocked in later levels, so some backtracking is required in order to collect everything.

After completing a series of levels, the player reaches a fountain where he is able to heal, restore his magic meter, and fill his health potion vials. Or the player may exit the game and restart on any level with all of his health and magic restored, and his potion vials filled. Health potions may be used at any time to restore a bit of health, but the player leaves himself open to attack for a few seconds when he does so. Players may also pay money to the fountain to increase their maximum health.

Given the close quarters combat, players must be mindful of their health and be careful to avoid taking damage. A dash maneuver allows the player to dodge retaliatory strikes, projectiles, and charging enemies, granting temporary invincibility as he rolls along the ground. Most enemies are momentarily stunned while being attacked, and the player can parry many enemy strikes, so getting in close and mashing the ATTACK button is an effective strategy for most foes. Enemy movement patterns and abilities are easy to parse, with weak flying enemies, ground-based patrolling enemies, projectile tossers, and brutes that require multiple strikes.

Bosses offer more complex movement patterns, requiring the player to actively move around to dodge projectiles, and dash through heavy attacks. Players can deal a bit of damage by attacking the boss anywhere on its body, but each boss also has a designated weak point that causes it to take additional damage when hit. The player faces these bosses again toward the end of the game, but they are significantly easier given the items acquired by the player throughout his adventure.

There is little penalty for failure, as getting killed returns the player to the start of the level with his health and magic restored, and the same is true when the player is killed during a boss encounter. The player’s health and magic are restored upon defeating bosses, and a treasure chest is dropped in the room with an item… although these items are of the same variety as those found through exploration. Their effects stack, so collecting multiple scabbards, for instance, increases the player’s damage output.

Steel Sword Story was developed by 8bits Fanatics using the Pixel Game Maker MV tool, which was created by Kadokawa Corporation.

The game was published by Playism / Active Gaming Media, which also published Kero Blaster, Pink Hour, Pink Heaven, Gunhound EX, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, Touhou Luna Nights, Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, Mighty Goose, La Mulana 2, and some versions of La-Mulana.

Prior to this, 8bits Fanatics developed Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, which has you platforming through dozens of enemy- and trap-filled rooms. As you might imagine, there are some spike traps… lots and lots of spike traps. And if the spikes jutting up from every conceivable surface aren’t enough to stop you, the arrow-firing blocks, patrolling scorpions, falling rocks, and pits of lava should be more than enough to do you in. An enhanced version of the game was later released by Nicalis under the title 1001 Spikes, with new levels, unlockable costumes and characters, and 4P multiplayer.

In The Tempura of the Dead, you have the ability to switch back and forth between two characters, a machine gun-wielding President Thompson (modeled after President Obama), and a sword-wielding samurai named Sugimoto, as you wage war against an army of zombies. But you don't just kill them; you must use the “Tempura-Ryu Samurai Arts”. Basically, if you decapitate a zombie, and then juggle its head long enough, the head will turn into tempura and the zombie’s soul will be freed. Obviously, this is a game that does not take itself at all seriously.

Each of the characters has different movement and attack abilities, and their stats can be upgraded during the course of your adventure. The goal is to chain zombie tempura attacks together until you enter “Tempura Fever”, which allows you to instantly tempura-ize any zombie head with just a single hit. Ultimately, you're out to clear each of the levels of several mutant creatures known as Germs of Calamity.

Prior to The Tempura of the Dead, the 8bits Fanatics game that was best known among English-speaking audiences (because it received an English translation) was a freeware PC game known as Challenge from Kiyoshi (a.k.a. Takeshi no Chosenjo). This is an extremely challenging and unforgiving 2D platformer that will try the patience/sanity of even the most hardcore game fans.

The game also appears to have been the basis for Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes, as evidenced by its difficulty, falling rock traps, fireball-spewing lava, and of course, its numerous blood-tipped spikes. The game is chock full of trial-and-error gameplay and numerous insta-kill traps. Oh, and the game also gives the player 2 different jump heights and a starting cache of 1,000 lives, further proving its ancestral nature.

Kolkhoz2928 is a Russian themed game about a robot farmer in the year 2928, who must harvest crops and dodge enemies through numerous single-screen platforming environments. The robot must harvest a certain crop quota in each level in order to provide food for the people who are suffering due to global climate change and population explosion.

And finally, there is Christmadius, which seems to have gained its name as a combination of the words Christmas and Gradius. In this game, you take control of Santa on his sleigh as Rudolph pulls him through the skies, and he hurls presents and candy canes at hapless little boys and girls. Then he collects their love, which appears in the form of floating hearts. This is a casual sidescrolling arcade-style game with very mild shmup elements.