Never have I wanted to throw my Nintendo Switch out of a window with frustration more than when I played and reviewed Golden Force by Storybird Games and published by PixelHeart, VGNYsoft and No Gravity Games. This is a game which unashamedly holds its hands up and says ‘yes, I am like those unforgiving side-scrolling platformers that caused controller breakages on retro consoles’. But maybe, just maybe, that isn’t all bad.
Premise and Gameplay
Golden Force’s premise is a basic one. There’s a group of four adventurers (playable characters who are unique in design only) that like spending money and have run out. So, they’ve gone to Muscle Islands to beat the Demon King and get some more. The game is even more simplistic with its place names that are very unimaginative, Mount Mountain for example. If you were hoping for story this is not the game for you. If you are a casual gamer this is not the game for you.
You can unlock a secret bonus level on each of the four islands as well as completing each island’s four main levels. Level four of each world contains a boss (one of Demon King’s generals; all strangely named after Mexican food). The art is gorgeous; pixel art reminiscent of ‘retro’ consoles. The levels themselves are nicely varied in terms of designs, puzzles, obstacles, and challenges. This means that progressing to the different islands genuinely felt like progression rather than more of the same. This variation carries through to the monsters; all uniquely styled with different strengths, attacks, and methods to defeat them. This extends to the bosses as well (one of which gives you some challenging bullet hell craziness to deal with), and multiple routes to find the hidden treasures.
However, to navigate each level you get but five lives (six if you buy one in the store discussed later). Each level gives you a checkpoint midway but that only remains saved while you are playing that level. It is relentlessly challenging and so collecting the hidden treasures becomes far less important when you end up playing the same sections repeatedly. The game certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel here but does give you a sense of nostalgia for things that used to be in the world of gaming.
One of the interesting features that Golden Force does offer for all those coins you collect is a store that allows you to buy items. This doesn’t seem to have the intended impact as for the most part it isn’t overly necessary (except for that extra life!) and any items you do buy are single use even if you die and must re-start the entire level. Collecting coins goes the way of treasures though when you end up having to endure multiple attempts at the same level. Another interesting feature, that did become useful in the later boss fights, was the support mechanic. You fill a meter and can call in assistance from your boat dealing some much needed and high impact damage.
Controls for the most part are reasonably logical and responsive. I didn’t experience any input lag when I completed an action. My only issue was with the charge up ability; it takes too long. However, when it does work there is something immensely satisfying about bouncing enemies around the screen.
Golden Force, sadly, is not without some issues. There was one moment where I got trapped between two unnecessarily tough non-boss enemies (that for the most part I avoided to save time because the rewards were minimal) that I lost all my lives in one fell swoop because jumping wasn’t working. Similarly, at a later stage I fell off a platform and expected to die and be placed atop it to try again, except that didn’t happen. Initially I thought I had discovered a secret area where maybe there would be a unique reward. What did I find? A bug that meant I had to re-start that level from scratch as the only way out of it was to quit the game and re-start.
At certain stages in the game, you must take lifts up and across certain areas, naturally as you would expect there are obstacles to dodge. This is fine and exactly what you would expect from a platformer, however, should you be knocked off by one of these obstacles you find yourself waiting for more than five minutes before the platform reappeared to try again. The wait was unforgivably slow and threw off the pace of the game and waned my willingness to continue the adventure.
While this game was smooth and responsive in the Switch’s handheld mode playing on a big screen with a controller painted a different picture. Here it was plain to see that it wasn’t as well optimised as I had hoped due to screen tearing and minor lag. Still playable, just not as enjoyable so that is something to consider if you plan on picking up the Switch version of the game.
So, did I like Golden Force? I think I did. Sometimes. And sometimes I didn’t at all. It is a side-scrolling platformer that is trying to emulate the nostalgia of similar games which are now considered ‘retro’. I can’t fault this game for that; it does it well. It also captures the frustrations from those games we’ve forgotten about as we look back at them through rose-tinted lenses.
Things like hits against you sometimes being questionable but you lose that precious life anyway. It isn’t perfect; but then neither were those older generation games. It’s unimaginative in terms of character and place names; but who cares? How often do people pay attention to that kind of thing in a platformer. It has no story; but it isn’t supposed to. I want to dislike this game because of its issues and the frustration of how difficult it is; but the nostalgia grabbed me and kept me playing the same incredibly challenging content, desperate to beat it, for hours. To that goal, it succeeds.
Golden Force may play better on other platforms than it does on the Switch, it may cause controller damage and a lot of shouting at the screen; but when you get to the end and finally beat the game’s last boss you can sigh with relief; hug your loved ones and feel a true sense of gaming accomplishment that perhaps is missing from modern games. It isn’t the prettiest, it isn’t the most imaginative, it doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen before and some of the things it does try it fails at; but it’s worth a go… or in reality many, many, many, many goes.