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Golden Force

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: No Gravity Games
Developer: Storybird Studio
Release Date: Jan. 28, 2021

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Switch Review - 'Golden Force'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 18, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Golden Force is a retro-style run ‘n gun platformer set on undiscovered fantasy islands of Muscle Archipelago and deep waters full of deadly creatures.

There is no shortage of retro or retro-inspired games on the Nintendo Switch. Given the system's friendliness toward indie titles, it's difficult to not stumble across a side-scrolling adventure title inspired by the 8- and 16-bit eras. At first glance, Golden Force seems like it would be another title to bring back some retro nostalgia while also avoiding what made most of those titles forgettable. Unfortunately, it ends up making some mistakes that bring down the game to mediocrity.

Like a good number of games of this type, the story in Golden Force is little more than set dressing. You play the role of the Golden Force, a band of mercenaries who fear nothing. However, as their vacation has left their coffers depleted, the group of Elder, Spina, Drago, and Gutz take on a contract to venture to the Muscle Islands and defeat the King of Demons. That's all the story you're going to get, as the game doesn't bother with any more narrative cut scenes until you reach the very end.


While each mercenary looks vastly different from one another and sports completely different weapons, they all play the same; no one character has any better abilities than the other. You can perform a multi-slash both on the ground and in the air, and you can launch ground-based enemies into the air. You can perform a charge attack and a sliding kick on the ground. Dashing on the ground is also possible, as is dashing straight into the air, which acts as a pseudo-double-jump. Enemy projectiles can be reflected with either the dash or a slash attack, making the combat reminiscent of something from Devil May Cry.

The combat sounds fun on paper, and that's certainly the case in practice. Being able to dole out tons of hits creates some non-stop side-scrolling action that feels awesome — at least initially. However, the game doesn't want you to stop slashing, so enemies appear almost all the time. Sometimes, they'll appear in inopportune places and cause you to lose out on precious health. It would be fine if you could dispatch the foes with a single hit, but even the lowliest enemy requires some damage to defeat. Compare that to the fact that you only need five hits to die and respawn (to the beginning of the stage or a checkpoint), and you'll hate how the enemies are such damage sponges. The exception is boss fights. Even though it takes some time to chip away at their health bar, bosses still follow the old-school rules of having readable patterns and requiring you to earn your way to those open hits. They're enjoyable and usually a good reward for slogging through the levels.

Speaking of levels, the layouts feature some nice platforming and different pathways that can be used to gather coins, treasure and seashells. It works well enough, and some levels feature nice tricks, such as one that rotates a good section of it. The problem is that the camera never gives you enough space to see any hazards. Much of the time, you'll perform some leaps of faith only to discover that you're landing in a bed of instant-kill spikes. Other times, you'll climb up platforms and meet projectiles coming from enemies who are completely out of view. Since players don't have a way to scroll the camera to see the hazards, Golden Force ultimately falls on trial and error to complete the levels, which can lead to frustration because the aforementioned low health leads to warping back to checkpoints that often repeat large swaths of a level.


The game tries to mitigate this by having players spend items on various power-ups and upgrades, but this feels rather stingy. Health upgrades can only be purchased with the large gold coins that take some real cunning to collect, especially since only three exist per level. The same goes for the seashells, which are limited to one per level but extend your slashing combo when used for upgrades. Coins can purchase other power-ups, but the prices are so high that you'll have to complete at least two levels to buy the cheapest power-up. What's worse is that the power-ups only last for a very short while, often less than a minute, which can be paltry when compared to the average trek time of a level. The most valuable power-up is the full health recharge that applies once you lose all of your hearts, but at such a high price point, you'll only be able to buy one if you spend time grinding out old levels.

Golden Force features the ability to play the game in local co-op, but there's not much incentive to try it more than once. For starters, the game is focused on the first player, so there's a high tendency for the second player to find themselves off-screen. Going off-screen produces an indicator, but it isn't noticeable amidst the action, resulting in plenty of avoidable hits and deaths. The action becomes too chaotic with the second person in tow, and with some of the puzzles not accommodating that second player, it feels like co-op is for masochists rather than a fun timewaster.

The game gets the overall presentation right. The sprite work is excellent for both allies and enemies, and the animation fluidity is top-notch. Environments show off that same attention to detail with a vibrant color palette, while the music is highly reminiscent of some 16-bit era greats. The only flaw is in the game's performance, which remains dodgy even after a few patches were applied to smooth things over. Considering the game's other issues, this is the least of one's worries, but it doesn't help, either.

Taken on its own, Golden Force is decent. It looks wonderful, with some solid combat mechanics and very engaging boss fights. Start to compare it to other pixel platformers on the system, and you'll come to lament the forced trial-and-error gameplay, tedious combat, and unnecessarily broken upgrade economy. Patient players may stick it out, but for everyone else, the Switch has plenty of other well-crafted platformers.

Score: 5.5/10



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