Developer: Southend Interactive / Publisher: Deep Silver / Played On: PC (also on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) / Price: $14.99 / ESRB: Teen [Violence, Blood]
Sacred Citadel plucks several mechanics from classic side-scrolling fighters that many have played and loved: Golden Axe, Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and intertwines these mechanics with fun and exciting RPG elements in a simple yet elegant visual style more suitable to modern day. It’s a comfortably-sized game with some frustrating low notes, but it offers a pleasant, almost nostalgic beat ‘em up experience for the time and money invested.
The game is a hack-n-slash-style action RPG that can be played alone or with up to three friends. There are a total of four acts with 4 to 5 levels within, each with their own theme, enemy set and end-boss.
The story within Sacred Citadel is straightforward and silly. There are no mind-blowing plot twists or jaw-dropping betrayals; it’s a simple hero’s journey across varied lands in an attempt to stop evil of all sorts (with some respectable but still wholly cheesy dialogue in tow). In a non-spoiler-y nutshell, you play one of four heroes set on taking down evil creatures hell-bent on doing evil things in pursuit of evil goals. It revolves around the retrieval of sacred artifacts that wield great power – and surprise, surprise, the aforementioned evil people want it.
The four character options include the close-combat-oriented Warrior, the distance-loving Ranger, the sorcery-skilled Shaman and the staff-wielding Mage. Combat will be familiar to those already acquainted with side-scrolling fighters, as you’ll dice, freeze, burn and bash enemies with punch and special move combos galore.
Each stage consists of scripted sequences that have you combating hordes of enemies skilled at both close-range and distance fighting. As you progress, new areas might contain an environmental hazard like swinging logs, puddles of acid, and falling stones, to name a few. These hazards can be used to your creative offensive advantage, but they can also be just as self-inflicting – so it’s always important to stay on your toes and use your blocks and dodge rolls frequently.
This leads to a great point regarding Sacred Citadel’s balance: you can’t button mash your way through the whole game. While most of the small enemies will fall back after a few swings, the medium and larger enemies will require the use of combos and chained moves to be defeated, especially as they arrive in droves in the game’s more difficult later half. But just as your feeling overwhelmed, the game will throw you a bone, like an elephant-like creature to ride that has a crossbow attached to its rear and a cannon to its front. Each stage is more or less the same: you take down some enemies, nab some loot and level up. Rinse and repeat.
As the game is an action RPG, elements of upgrades and point distribution are actively featured and implemented with simplicity and optimization in mind. Your skill buckets are a simple button press away, and consist of four categories: Attack, Defense, Dexterity, and Power. Though you acquire points to assign to these categories every time you level up, you also come across randomly dropped equipment that usually provides some sort of upgrade or trade-off to your current load out.
Following the theme of simplicity with the interface, small windows appear on-screen to immediately tell you if the weapon or armor is better or worse than your current choice. Design implementations like these are just one of many great features of Sacred Citadel, in that it doesn’t want you spending time in the menus. And what time it does put you in menus is entirely optional, like checking out move combos and point distribution (which already takes mere seconds). There’s even towns you can visit outside of the stage menu where you can buy health, rage (which gives you enhanced attack damage for a limited time), and power potions (which give you instant access to power moves when used), new armor and equipment, and speak with a gambling man who will place bets on your ability to complete challenges, in which your reward is more cash to spend. Additional interface nuances like not allowing you to accidentally swap weapons with those on the battlefield during a battle (but allowing it after all enemies are cleared) are a nice touch and help avoid frustrating moments.
Aside from combat, there are small platforming sections that help pace out and segment the level. It’s pleasurable and rewarding to spend ten straight minutes pounding away at a group of mining dwarves and forest trolls to then spend a minute hopping from rock to rock over a peaceful river, or bouncing from stilted walkway to stilted walkway in a mineshaft.
Sacred Citadel is a visual treat. It encompasses both the simplicity of water-color-style paintings and the rounded, color-infused cel-shaded charm of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. From the bubbly lava underworld to the snow covered alps to the green forests with blue brooks, the game is beautiful with its use of color and ensures each world feels unique. The ambient environment sounds mixed with the satisfying clashes and clanks of your weapons strikes a good, cohesive chord for the sound department – even if the Ranger’s bow and arrow sounds sort of squishy when fired.
That said the game is short. As in, you’ll have the game beaten in less than five or six hours. Yet, that time-to-beat-window only presents an issue if you plan to avoid replays with additional characters, not co-op with your buddies, nor pursue nabbing high scores to top the leaderboards.
Speaking of co-op, where the game suffers most is in its multiplayer, in that the game occasionally suffered from lag compensation issues that lead to a confusing and out-of-sync online experience. I frequently witnessed different enemy/player situations than that of my friend’s and it was pretty disconcerting. The local co-op works great and lacks these issues – save for a few notable moments where there was a bit too much going on onscreen.
Sacred Citadel is a fine hack n’ slash side-scroller, and it’s even better with friends. The online netcode could use an upgrade and I wish there was a bit more content to flesh out the package, but for the price, Sacred Citadel is a solid adventure to be had. And it doesn’t force you into piles of menus to manage your character – that’s a bonus in itself, am I right?