A knight, a wizard and a knave walk into a tavern…
If there is one thing that the rise of iOS gaming has proven, it’s that the world is full of dedicated independent developers who finally have a platform to easily showcase their works of passion. We’re talkin’ clever artistic types who might otherwise have a tough time breaking into the industry. These are developers who’ve honed their game-crafting skills for little reason beyond the love of the medium, and Pixel Licker is one such developer.
The brainchild of just one dude, Reggie Schreiber, Pixel Licker has provided adorably addictive flash games (Pumpkin Patch, Knightly in the Dark Forest) on its website since 2006, and a new relationship with German publisher FDG Entertainment (Across Age, Banana Kong) brings Schreiber’s talents to an iPhone or iPad near you in the form of Slayin. Hearkening back to the early days of arcade gaming, Slayin is just the type of über-retro RPG-lite title that will draw all us 30-somethings who still discuss the merits of the glorious MIDI soundtrack days of yore and/or the stylized, pixelated brilliance of the NES era.
The premise is simple: you’ll step into the shoes of one of three characters, the Knight, the Wizard or the Knave. You must then take on the vast monster hordes attempting to destroy the land. Touchscreen controls are equally simple and limited to shuffling back and forth across the screen while doing your best to not touch any of your enemies. It seems awfully boring at first, but the longer you play the more you’ll notice there are actually a lot of clever little elements at work, and that there is more than meets the eye to Slayin.
Each character has a different attack style suited to different types of players. For example, the Knight has the ability to jump while wielding a sword whereas the Wizard may not be able to leap but can briefly transform into an invincible tornado. These differences are seemingly small, but actually make a huge difference to how each level plays out. Say you’re an impatient gamer who just wants to get down to, well, Slayin…you’ll probably want to choose the Knight, whereas those looking for a semi-strategic challenge will enjoy the wizard’s differing spells. We won’t spoil the Knave for you, but let’s just say he’s the most fun to play—and the hardest to unlock.
Killing the wide variety of enemies grows increasingly satisfying as they drop loot that can be used for weapon upgrades, new spells, health, armor and more through an in-game merchant who pops up sporadically. He’s easy to miss when you’re contending with flying skulls and Minotaurs but the merchant is a clever means to keep us hooked, and there are many occasions in which you’ll want to play just a little longer simply to check out that item you’ve had your eye on. Leveling up grows addictive as well, especially since it happens so often and is signified with an outrageously pleasant sound effect. It’s a little irritating that leveling up offers no real reward beyond bragging rights, though. A little extra health or loot would have been a nice touch.
In an attempt to add depth, Pixel Licker has built in mini-objectives or quests ranging from killing a boss within a certain amount of time or chaining together attacks without taking damage. Each quest you complete yields in-game currency known as Fame Points which can be exchanged for anything from cosmetic changes to the interface, customizable gravestones that signify your position vs. your friends on the leaderboard or more challenging modes like the sadistic Boss Rush. You’ll need a lot of them before you can reap the rewards you’ll actually want, and it takes a whole hell of a lot of time and effort to pile them up. Lucky for you, Pixel Licker has been good enough to include micro-transactions for easy early unlocks. Maybe this downplays the thrill of accomplishment, but that’s just how the wind is blowing in the world of iOS gaming.
The 8-bit chiptune soundtrack provided by Norrin Radd (who did the Retro City Rampage soundtrack) is easily the most awesome part of Slayin. It’s rare that a mobile game’s soundtrack surpasses a base level of functionality, but these tunes bring games like early Final Fantasy or Mega Man to mind, and they will get stuck in your head.
While there is no denying that Slayin is an incredibly charming title, it’s hard to recommend a game based on charm alone. Yes, this is a great way to kill a couple minutes, but it is also easily forgettable and just about as niche as it gets. Schreiber, however, is clearly an immensely talented artist and developer and we look forward to whatever he cooks up next. Anyone who longs for the simplicity and challenge of yesteryear’s classic NES or arcade games will find plenty to like here, but gamers who want a deeper experience won’t miss out on much if they keep on scrolling through the App Store.