Golden Force is a game that sets out its stall very early on. When starting up a new playthrough, players will be dropped onto a ship in a storm and confronted with a handful of minor enemies against which they can learn the three main attacks: strike, slide, and dash. It may appear at first as a standard tutorial, with the ship’s captain calling out the various controls, but that illusion is broken inside of a minute when the ship is attacked by an enormous kraken and you are plunged into the first boss battle.
Given the difficulty of this game – players can only take a total of five hits before it’s game over – this is a pretty high barrier for entry and it may end up turning a fair few players away. That being said, it’s also a good indicator of what Golden Force has to offer and it does serve to let players know what they’ll be getting into; if you find yourself having a bad time taking on a difficult fight from the offset, you’re not going to have much fun in the rest of the game.
For anyone who does get through the opening challenge, the rest of the game takes the form of a series of platforming levels, with each island consisting of four main runs and one bonus one. Each fourth main level is home to its own boss, which players will need to defeat to unlock the next island and progress through the game. Individual levels aren’t particularly long, but the firm limit on the number of hits you can take and how uncompromising your own hitbox can be can make them very challenging. Occasional checkpointing does help to prevent players from losing too much progress too often, but there isn’t ever a lot of room for error.
To make things a little easier, there is a levelling system of a sort via the shop, which allows players to spend collectables to permanently improve their health or combo length, or to buy temporary buffs to damage or health. While the permanent improvements can prove very useful, obtaining the necessary collectibles to unlock more than the first level of each demands an extensive amount of work and time. Similarly, the temporary buffs, most of which only last for a couple of seconds, are extraordinarily expensive in contrast to the amount of gold you can collect in each level.
In part, this is likely to encourage replayability, something that is also backed up by the ranking system present in each level, but the prices are so high that many players are likely to ignore the temporary items entirely.
Outside of the game’s mechanics, there is technically a storyline – that the eponymous ‘Golden Force’ team is on the hunt for more money – but it’s so inconsequential to the gameplay that it doesn’t really matter. It gets a minute or so of screen time at the very beginning, but after that players are free to ignore it entirely and go about the business of beating up waves of enemies.
Overall, Golden Force’s main draw lies in its challenge. Despite ostensibly being a platformer, traversing each level never gets particularly unique or difficult; instead, the focus is combat. Simple though the controls and enemies may be, the precision with which players will have to navigate each level is going to be appealing to anyone who likes that kind of perfectionism.
Not all of this challenge is entirely earned, however. Golden Force has a number of technical issues that hamper its ability to really shine, most importantly some slight imperfections in registering inputs correctly. This is most notable with the dash, a darting directional attack, which can be very slow to read changes in the directional keys being used, leading to the avatar moving in the wrong direction. In a fight, that isn’t much of a problem, but for sections of platforming, it can lead to unavoidable deaths.
The same minor imperfections can be found on some platforms wherein the invisible structure contained within the game’s code that the player is standing on doesn’t entirely match up with the artistic structure drawn by the game’s graphics. While this was a problem I only encountered a few times in several hours of play, each time it led to the loss of one of my very limited lives through my being unable to see where the edge of the platform I was standing on really was.
A separate issue, though no less frustrating, is the intense frame drop problem that appears whenever too many enemies or items spawn in the level. This is particularly prevalent in boss battles when there are a lot of projectiles and mini-enemies to dodge, and whenever you uncover a gold goblin, which drops coins as it runs away from you.
The problem is only magnified if you try to use the co-op multiplayer system, which allows two players to connect remotely and work together to get through a level. The performance trouble here was so bad, in fact, that I was entirely unable to play a complete level in co-op and so I can’t reliably review the system’s merits or failings. Unless a future update manages to patch out the severe lag and frame drops currently bugging it, Golden Force’s multiplayer is a non-starter.
In many ways, Golden Force is a solid call-back to the earlier days of platforming, complete with beautiful retro graphics and a killer soundtrack, and if you remember those old games fondly, give this title a shot. However, that being said, this isn’t a nice, easy game to relax with at the end of the day and that is only compounded by irritating performance issues. Hopefully future updates will resolve the latter, but if you’re not looking for a challenge, I’d suggest searching elsewhere.