Epic Flail reminds me a lot of the games I’d play years ago on my Commodore 64. In this case, it’s a much more refined version of those challenging days, but it’s got that kind of vibe to it. The aim of Epic Flail is to survive as long as you can while negotiating many moments of gladiatorial combat. It’s a simple game both to learn and play, but it’s pretty tough too.

The idea is more to do with dashing around than the usual, more clunky method of hacking and slashing. Controls involve two floating virtual buttons. A joystick to the left dictates your direction, while one button to the right is your means of attack. The key here is to combine those two buttons in order to shoot off in any given direction, slashing out at the enemy ahead. It takes some practice to really pull off, and some of that is down to the more challenging sides of Epic Flail.

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You see, one hit from an enemy kills you early on. That means that while Epic Flail is fast paced, your best method is to take it easier and try not to overdo it. Sometimes, the best form of attack is defense. This is because if the enemy misses you, they’re vulnerable for a moment, giving you the ideal opportunity to strike back and take them out. As a result, your early experiences with Epic Flail are equally as satisfying as they are frustrating. You soon learn that rushing in really doesn’t solve much, but you also have to be reasonably aggressive to stand a chance. It’s almost like a kind of dance to the death, especially when there are only a couple of enemies on screen. That risk/reward system ensures that Epic Flail is challenging in its own right straight from the start, but it gets trickier still.

While each level is a single screen arena with waves upon waves of enemies, the game eventually adds traps, and even boss fights. The traps are pretty innovative but also tough going, giving you another thing to dodge while trying to take out your foes. Hopefully you’ve practiced a lot at mastering moving around as you’re going to need some finesse to succeed here. To help you out, you can pick up armor that protects you from one blow, ensuring you’ll survive a bit longer. It’s still spectacularly tough though.

And that’s where Epic Flail falters a little bit. It’s going to require some patience. With no choice of difficulty level, this is a game for those groomed on the old school ways of the 1980s rather than more recent, casual-friendly fare. Epic Flail taps into that feeling right down to its visual style. Implementing pixel art means that, while it looks fantastic, it also looks like an old arcade game. Such charm is certainly welcome here, given any other art style could have just looked bloodthirsty and unpleasant.

Epic Flail is a game that requires a certain level of patience and skill. You can’t buy your way to success, which is mostly a good thing. Instead you’re going to have to practice like crazy. In particular, I’d recommend spending a while on the first stage so that you can learn how to use the controls to your advantage. Being able to essentially dive bomb your enemies is fun, but it soon requires much more gentle tweaks and manipulations if you want to stand any chance of surviving once the traps start.