Sacred Citadel Review
Sacred Citadel is quite a pleasant surprise for beat-em-up fans. Out of basically nowhere, the folks at Southend Interactive have delivered a fantasy-themed game that sticks to the Golden Axe formula, but tweaks it enough to make it not only seem different, but also engaging from beginning to end. While playing as one of a band of four warriors, you’ll go through nearly 20 stages (not counting the optional day-one pay DLC) killing hundreds of enemies and many bosses along the way. The plot isn’t very compelling, but does feature some cutscenes with some amusing banter between a mother monster and her many sons who have all been slaughtered by your group.
The core gameplay is like Golden Axe, but with far more depth and some platforming thrown in. You’ll traverse large areas, beat enemies, grab potions and gold, while also snagging new weapons and armor to better your offensive and defensive strength without having to spend a ton of money at the in-town shops. There’s a fairly robust combo system at play using different combinations of X and Y in concert, while using B to set off a huge special move when a three-tiered bar gets filled by either potions or more ass-kicking. The former is a lot faster, while the latter is more fun and satisfying.
Combos lead to point multipliers, which in turn lead to massive scores – including an amusing bit where you’ll earn an achievement/trophy for getting more than 9,000 in one shot ala Dragon Ball Z. The depth in the system lets you do things like stun an enemy, or set of enemies as the game progresses, then repeat your stun>attack chain until they topple. Beyond enemies, you’ll also have to dodge things like mine carts and falling rocks and the like, and the only way to safely avoid those things is to flick the right stick and roll away.
You can roll in any non-diagonal direction very quickly, and the responsiveness is key because you’ll often have to roll to avoid boss attacks, and those can easily overwhelm you if you don’t make proper use of the roll. There, you’ve got the giant boss, whatever their attacks are, and a horde of minions to contend with. If you aren’t careful, you’ll die and have to restart the boss battle over – so be sure to keep a steady supply of potions handy and feel free to use them a tad early since damage can build up really quickly if you’re not paying attention.
With four characters to choose from, there’s something for everyone. If you want brute strength, go with the warrior, while rangers (who sadly aren’t mighty or morphin, can be quite powerful) offer up more speed. Unlike a lot of games of this type, the big lug actually has some speed, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve got cement shoes on. The mage is a lot like the ranger, but much faster and with more emphasis on magic, while the shaman is the strongest with magic, and fairly weak with attacks. She does have an awesome roll animation though – instead of rolling, she just kind of slides around like she on ice skates. It’s bizarre, and yet quite awesome. The usage of optional animals to hop onto ala Golden Axe is great and helps mix things up further, as does the GIANT TANK you can control. Why are there giant tanks in a fantasy world? I have no idea, but they’re really fun to use and do a lot of damage fairly quickly.
Whether playing solo or with friends, the game is a lot of fun. You can also only have three players online, which seems a tad off since there are four characters to choose from. Online, it’s a bit of a mixed bag with latency being a problem and folks just outright leaving games. Local multi-player is quite fun though, and basically gives you all of the good of the online without any of the bad. One downside to the game using a leveling system is, like with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, no one really wants to use an under-powered character, which means you can either grind them up to a decent level before a play session, or just use your fully loaded character and help your friends avoid death as much as possible.
Visually, Sacred Citadel is stunning more often than not. The in-game graphics are lush, full of color and life, and animations are quite smooth. Each level looks very distinct, and they’re all heavily bathed in certain colors that really pop off the screen – especially the deep purple and green stages. Environmental details are impressive in the desert-esque area, and really shine in the pirate ship stage where you’ve got a lot going on in the foreground and backgrounds. The cutscenes are even more amazing, and use limited animation and a blue and black color scheme to effectively convey the storyline. It’s a shame that subtitles can’t be turned off though, as they obscure some really nice artwork.
Sacred Citadel’s audio is a bit less fulfilling than any other aspect. It’s far from bad, but just isn’t as good as other major parts of the game. The music has brief glimpses of greatness, but then becomes generic music that varies in genre, but never sticks with you. The voice work is quite good – things are largely played with a light-hearted tone, and given the kind of bizarre scenarios in the game, it works. The sound effects are fine, but like the music, rarely special. Every enemy sounds pretty much the same unless they’re a major one, and then they sound a bit more menacing. The regular work-a-day grunts all sound the same, and you’ll be hearing them a lot whether you want to or not.
It’s got some flaws, but Sacred Citadel is a very good game as a whole. It isn’t quite a must-buy at $15 given that it’s also got day-one pay DLC though. If the base game was $10, that would be an easier pill to swallow, but at $15, it costs a bit too much to get the full experience. It’s still well worth playing, though, and most will probably be satisfied by picking up the main game and waiting for a sale on the DLC down the line. Sacred Citadel offers up a lot of fun for beat-em-up fans, with a surprisingly high amount of depth in its gameplay making replaying stages with each character type something you’ll come to enjoy instead of dread like it many other beat-em-ups.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Deep Silver
This review is based on a digital copy of Sacred Citadel for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Deep Silver.
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