Friday, 18 March 2016

Dancing Sword (X68000)

Firstly, I'll apologise for the kind of lacklustre screenshots attatched to this review. Dancing Sword is a very fast-paced game, and that fact, combined with the very small sprites it uses, makes for poor-quality stills. Anyway, in this game, you choose between a knife, a sword, and a meat cleaver, and your chosen weapon will spin and fly around the screen at your behest, slicing up monsters. The three weapons take the usual positions of fast and weak, average on both counts, and slow but powerful. With that in mind, you should go for the cleaver everytime: the slow speed makes it a lot easier to control than the others, and its extra power means less hassle taking care of enemies that need multiple hits.

Of course, the game would have almost no challenge at all if you could just fly around the screen chopping things up willy-nilly, especially since your weapon is indestructible. The challenge comes in the form of elements. Pressing one button on the controller sets your blade alight, while the other makes it really cold. The game gradually introduces types of enemies that can only be killed by freezing or burning them, as well as enemies that change colour and weakness every few seconds. Hitting an enemy in the wrong form makes you bounce harmlessly off it, immobilising you for a second, which is a big disadvantage, since each stage has a time limit (though you can just re-try as many times as you have patience for).

There's also boss fights every five stages. The first boss is pretty much just an enemy that takes a ton of hits to take down, but as the game goes on, the game's bosses really start to test your reactions more and more. The third boss, for example, is a group of five flying swords, that fly across the screen in a random direction every couple of seconds, with a randomly-coloured jetstream behind them, that's also different for each sword, each time. To damage the swords, you have to hit it with the element that matches their stream (with yellow representing a neutral blade). Even with the extra attack power of the cleaver, this boss is incredibly difficult to beat in the time limit, and it's all thanks to that infamous ugbear that crops up time and time again on this blog: randomness. It's frustrating, and feels like the only way to beat the swords is through a combination of superhuman reflexes and incredibly good luck.

But even ignoring the luck aspect, this boss fight also brings up another problem: sometimes blue enemies are killed with fire and vice versa, killing them with the opposite element. Sometimes enemies have to be killed with the element that matches their colour.  It's inconsistent and annoying. The game is pretty frustrating in general, just thanks to its very nature: tiny sprites flying around the screen at high speeds, and strict time limits and all that stuff. But like I said, selecting the cleaver does temper that a little.

Dancing Sword is a pretty original game, and could probably be really good in the hands of a slightly more skilled designer. As it is, it's a better idea than it is a game, unfortunately. Maybe there's a sequel out there somewhere that addresses its issues, waiting to be discovered?

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