domstercool's Sacred Citadel (Steam) (PC) review

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Sacred Citadel isn’t a bad game, but it’s not particularly worthy either, it's confined to the roots of modest fun

I have a soft spot for the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre. It started way back on the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive with my love for – in my eyes, two of the best entries in the genre – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and Streets of Rage 2. Modern day gaming hasn’t been kind to the genre, with most attempts to capture the nostalgia ending up being shallow and boring. The occasional quality title pops up, such as Castle Crashers, but as a whole, the genre has never flourished as it once used to do back in the 16bit era of gaming. Sadly, Sacred Citadel doesn’t do anything to change that.

Scared is more known for its action RPG entries (we reviewed the last major game in the franchise, Sacred 2), which are similar to titles like Diablo, so it’s a little strange to see Sacredbranch into a new genre, especially one such as the side-scrolling beat-em-up, not that I have anything against games doing that when it makes it worthwhile. Sacred Citadel’s story is acting as a prequel for the upcoming Sacred 3, but to be honest, you need zero knowledge of any entry in the franchise because you can get by through this typical fantasy story of an ancient evil scheming to overrule a kingdom and, as you would expect, you play the guys who are tasked in defeating it.

Four characters are available, which represent an entry for each class – Warrior, Ranger, Mage and Shaman. Every characters’ focus is a little different, such as the Mage being able to cast ice and fire magic to launch at enemies, while the Warrior has moves that offer more devastating damage attacks. The skills are the main attributes that separate each class, because every character can dual-wield two different weapons at a time and isn’t limited to a weapon type, so a Mage can use an axe and a Warrior can use a wand – yeah, a Warrior with a wand, just take time to imagine that for a second. The basic combos are the same, with characters having a light and heavy attack that can be mixed, but at the start this lacks depth because you can only perform a basic three hit combo without being able to alter into any other attack move.

This is where the series’ RPG elements make a crossover into Sacred Citadel, as defeating the game’s mob of enemies offers experience points. Hitting a new level gives the chance to put skill points into one of four self-explanatory stats – defence, attack, power and dexterity, and also allows for the character to learn a new attack combo or skill depending on the level your hero has reached. This adds much needed depth to the lacklustre low level characters and makes it enjoyable in the process. Additional damage can be dealt once a metre is charged from killing enemies. This will unleash a devastating attack, which is very handy in escaping when overwhelmed with enemies.

Loot will randomly drop from enemies, which consists of weapons and armour. Stats are basic, in that a weapon has strength or defence value and occasionally an elemental bounding along with it. It’s kept simplistic so that people can keep focus on battling. It wouldn’t be very good if you had to keep pausing to study a weapons attributes and figure out if it was better. Weapons lay around on the battlefield and players simply stand over it to see if it is an improvement. A simple button press allows for a seamless exchange, keeping the action flowing without interruption.

Levels are of decent length for a game like this, as they last an average of 10 minutes and are based on different aesthetic themes for each of the four acts. Most levels play out the same way; you jump in to the stage, walk right and beat people up till it’s the end. Not every level has a boss; instead, bosses are saved for the last level of the act. Mounts make a feature, such as the Golden Axe (another classic beat-em-up) inspired beast to a more mechanical device of the mobile cannon. Outside of stages, you have the opportunity to visit a town to purchase new gear or crystals that offer buffs for a limited duration. Challenges are also available in town and are accepted by placing a bet to beat the following stage under these new rule sets. The life challenge requires players to beat the game without dying, Time is a time attack, giving players a target time to finish within, and lastly, Score, is finishing a level with a higher score. Failing to beat these tasks will only lose the money placed on the bet; the level itself is still counted as being finished, which is very nice of the developers to implement them this way.

Bizarrely, there is only the option for up to three player cooperative, which is both offline or online. Why three? It makes no sense to do this, since the game offers four characters to use. Those characters don’t switch stats either, so if you get the Warrior up to level 12 and then fancy playing the Mage, then she will begin at level 1. I played the game locally in cooperative for the most part, as online takes a while to find a game, mainly because there doesn’t seem to be many people playing it. When I did get a game, Sacred Citadel‘s netcode seem to handle the action well.

Sacred Citadel has a gorgeous art style that stood out a lot for me. It lacks exhaustive details, but it manages to be stylish by mixing it with an appealing, unique, 3D cel-shaded, water-colour aesthetic. It’s annoying that this pretty art can’t be fully displayed on a good monitor, as I had to play the game in window mode due to its limited resolution options. The maximum resolution is 1600×900, which just seems ridiculously to do in the year 2013. I have read that there is a way to mod an options file to offer high resolutions, but this stretches the image, giving less than ideal quality for the game’s art to shine.

I was really hoping that Sacred Citadel would be a great beat-em-up game. I adored its look from pre-release trailers, but I feel it offers too much of a basic approach to the genre. It appears no one can blend the awesomeness of Streets of Rage 2 with the brilliant design of Guardian Heroes without understanding the aspects that made them great. Sacred Citadel isn’t a bad game, but it’s not particularly worthy either. Confined to the roots of modest fun, Sacred Citadel’s cool art can’t help cover up its repetitive mechanics and reasonable approach to the genre. Fine for an hour at a time, but shouldn’t be treated as anything other than a lower alternative to better games doing the same thing.

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