A tale of three swordsmen
Sword. The mere word conjures up a host of images ranging from a samurai’s katana, to a jedi’s lightsaber, to the Master Sword from Legend of Zelda. Swords have a cruel elegance that few other weapons can match and that’s probably why we love them so much. Three iOS titles (free ones, no less) recently caught my eye for all being top-down, retro-style swordplay games. None are new releases but the similarity of these games prompted me to compare them. Which of them, if any, offers the most cathartic and entertaining sword fighting experience?
This first game, Bleeding Edge, is my least favorite. A floating joystick controls movement and you swipe in the desired direction to slash. This sounds simple but it quickly became frustrating. The joystick frequently covers up enemies and combat is so panicked that swiping is too slow. On top of that, the background of this bizarre ninja slaughter is colorful to the point of distraction. Something more subdued would’ve been better. Bleeding Edge is a pure arcade game and it doesn’t have any roguelike or RPG elements to liven it up. You hack and slash through enemies until you die. There aren’t character upgrades or new weapons to buy. The gameplay I wasn’t enjoying wasn’t going to change, so why would I bother wasting more time on it? Bleeding Edge was too insubstantial to hold my attention.
This game is only slightly more complex but its numerous improvements over Bleeding Edge made me much more invested. In Dojo Slash, you hold down on a part of the screen and you’ll move in that direction. You tap a spot on the screen and you’ll slash in that direction. Your fingers are still liable to hide enemies, but because combat is slower it doesn’t cause as many problems. Character sprites in Dojo Slash are brightly colored, more detailed, and bordered by black. This doesn’t seem like anything other than an aesthetic difference at first but it means that enemies stand out against the background better.
Finally, because Dojo Slash is a roguelike of sorts I found it to be much more fun and engaging. After each wave of enemies you level up and can pick one of three random upgrades or skills. Because you start off with sluggish movement and only two hearts, there’s lots of motivation to keep leveling up so that you can be the best ninja eviscerater possible. Enemies also drop temporary power-ups and coins for you to pick up. Power-ups can range from faster speed to invincibility and coins can be saved up to buy bigger and better weapons. Dojo Slash combines entertaining, bloody combat with a simple upgrade system to create a fun game that I still play months after downloading.
Dark Slash: Hero
I've saved the best for last. Dark Slash: Hero's controls are exactly the same as Dojo Slash’s but your movement is much faster. DS:H emphasizes hacking through enemies quickly instead of carefully positioning yourself to take out as many enemies as possible with a single attack. Speaking of enemies, Dark Slash: Hero features a large roster of colorful enemies ranging from zombies, swordsmen, archers, and sorceresses. You aren’t fighting the same recolored assailants like in Dojo Slash and Bleeding Edge and the lively combat keeps the game from being frustrating.
Dark Slash: Hero is my favorite game in this review because it’s just plain fun. You gather souls by killing enemies and you spend your accumulated souls on upgrades that usually help you survive a little longer each playthrough. It’s a simple but effective cycle that keeps you playing. Slashing through four enemies with one attack makes you feel like a badass and the game’s music creates an epic atmosphere. Dark Slash: Hero has more aggressive advertisement and in-app purchases but I had an excellent experience without spending a cent. If you’re looking for an enjoyable, fast-paced action game, you could do much worse than downloading Dark Slash: Hero.
If you’re looking for something more than a ephemeral arcade game, I’d definitely recommend Dojo Slash or Dark Slash: Hero. The former, if you prefer a simpler, more strategic experience that focuses on timing and precision. The latter, if you prefer slashing enemies as fast as your fingers can move and grinding currency to buy an upgrade. Both games are well worth the time it took for me to find them and wait for them to download.