STAFF REVIEW of Bard's Gold (Xbox One)

Friday, July 1, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Bard's Gold Box art Remember the days when 2D platforming games offered you a tremendous challenge and a ludicrous reward after completion? Welcome back. Bard's Gold is the latest release from the ID@Xbox program by the people at Pixel Lantern, and their goal was to create a challenging platforming title with "light" RPG elements. With a price tag at $4.99, could this be the reason we have the phrase: "Good things come in small packages?" Let's set off on our adventure shall we?

I have to say that when going into this game I have a very small amount of knowledge about it, and after having played it for quite some time... I still know very little. Apparently the overall premise of Bard's Gold is that there is this nefarious Goblin that has stolen, well... all your gold, and now you must venture out to various worlds to hunt him down and reclaim your riches! Thankfully though the story doesn't really matter, but at least it's there in all is pixelated glory. But playing a platformer to focus on the story is like reading the back of a cereal box and thinking you can now unlock the secrets of the universe, it's not really gonna happen.

However, what you really play a platformer for is the gameplay experience. Responsive controls, challenging levels, and enemies that have their own identities are all qualities that we look for in a quality platformer, and how many boxes does Bard's Gold check? A lot of them. The gameplay mechanics are so simplistic that you start to wonder if Bard's Gold seems dumbed down for the gaming public, but then you enter your first of several worlds with your goal in this one being you must obtain the key on the level to open a door to continue in the time limit provided. If for some reason your timer hits 0:00, get ready, because fire will start raining from above, and will continue to do so until you either perish (where you will respawn and the time will reset to just over 50 seconds) or you manage to get to the door to the next level and exit.

To do all of this you use your A button to jump, X button to attack, and your Left Stick to move, all while you traverse the level and defeat the enemies that lie in your way. It really doesn't get much simpler than that folks, but that’s ok because you don't need to have an overly confusing control scheme to have a good time. Sometimes keeping it simple is truly the best thing to do. These levels though are challenging and can be quite tough at times, but it's nothing that we haven't experienced as gamers before. Just avoid the traps, kill the enemies, destroy boss characters, and you'll be just fine. As you progress through these levels you will acquire gems and gold that you can use to do business. Who's your shopkeeper? Why Death of course.

Yes, the Grim Reaper apparently has decided to go into merchandising and has setup a monopoly of stores that sell your character items such as an extra life, more powerful weapons, increased time on your timer, and even the ability to see hidden loot items. So basically Death is the 1% of Bard's Gold, but that's not all that happens with death. When your character dies repeatedly, and expends all of your lives, you will come to a character upgrade screen where any unspent treasure must be spent on upgrading traits for your character, or it will be lost forever. This actually creates a balancing act within Bard's Gold because now you have to choose such things as spending your money on things that the Reaper has that will help you complete levels or do you wait and save it till you die so you can pour all of it into upgrading your character overall?

These upgrades greatly influence your character's traits and gameplay, and unlocking these require you to find certain skill books. These can be acquired in many ways through boss fights, but I do remember for one of them I had to traverse a long series of pinpoint timed jumps throughout a tower which seemed to go on for ages, but I finally reached the top, and with it, my prize. Do make a note that because while your level progress saves, your gold does not. Also, it must be said that Bard's Gold switches up the level layout every time you start over, so whenever you run out of lives and go to play again, you'll have different level layouts. Which will happen a lot.

And all of this platforming excitement comes wrapped in a pixelated blanket of nostalgia. Everything from the details in the background outside the windows, to jars, and even the light itself is done in true retro glory, but unfortunately I cannot really say the same for the soundtrack. Sadly that's not the only flaw with Bard's Gold. You heard me ramble on about the gameplay; however, what I didn't mention yet is that Bard's Gold will literally destroy your controllers. Sure, you get a chance to select Normal, Challenging, and 'smash your TV in a fit of blind rage' difficulties, but none of that actually matters. While the game seems simplistic, the flip side of the coin is that it doesn't take much to make you start swearing, snapping controllers, and so much more because of the challenge. You could say though that completion also gives you some of the greatest feelings of accomplishment, and you'd be right, but at the expense of your wallet and a bunch of controller parts.

When it was all said and done, this pixel drenched platformer really surprised me. For $4.99 you get an incredible challenge. Think about it, a game cheaper than a fast food value meal that provides you an experience that is fresh, challenging, and very rewarding. Sure it has a fortune cookie for a story, there is no training to get you up to speed on the gameplay mechanics, and some of the later levels are downright rage inducing, but given its price you can't really beat its simplicity and content for the asking price. Nostalgic, retro, ancient, or whatever you want to call it, Bard's Gold delivers on a lot of key points. It may not be perfect, but it definitely is fun.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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