Cast of the Seven Godsends Review
Aiming a spear squarely at the breakable urn marked “nostalgia”, Cast of the Seven Godsends is a throwback to the days of Ghosts ‘n Goblins where run and gun platformers were notoriously difficult, prompting kids to convert the entirety of their dinner money into 10p pieces before feeding a cabinet in a musty arcade and then retiring hungry and defeated. Raven Travel Studios’ offering isn’t quite as hardcore as that, thanks in part to an appropriate selection of difficulty levels, but it still presents a challenge which will test the muscle memory of those yearning for a kick from yesteryear.
You play as Kandar, a prince who dies trying to prevent his newborn son from being kidnapped by the demonic emperor Zaraaima. Resurrected by the eponymous gods, you set off on a quest to recover your baby and bring down the evil overlord. As plots go, it’s clunky, overwrought, and is clearly trying to emulate its arcade lineage with numerous friends and foes spouting dialogue in between action sequences. It also has the annoying habit of forcing you to repeatedly plough through excessive dialogue just before certain boss fights, when a skip button would have certainly been welcome. Fortunately, the generic storyline isn’t the focus here.
The kingdom is split into various colourful realms, and you’ll fend off numerous enemies as you traverse them. Initially this will be through the use of a simple dagger hurled in the right direction, but fortunately Kandar has access to a selection of other weapons which are acquired over the course of the game from breakable jars, as well as different suits of armour (or “godsends”, if you will) bestowed upon him by his divine friends. Combining the suits and weapons in various combinations will grant Kandar different abilities, from a Bionic Commando-style grappling hook to boomerangs and deadly snowballs. Similarly, each set of armour allows you to charge up an attack and unleash it, normally in an area of effect attack. These are also varied, and include summoning showers of ice to freeze all on-screen, blasting everyone with lightning bolts, and hurling spirit yetis at foes in your direct path. Yes, spirit yetis.
There are thirty-five possible combinations of weapons and armour, but these aren’t the only items you’ll find in jars. There are also health and armour boosts, items which increase your point-scoring, and some which allow you to inflict more damage. For all of the shiny extras though, at heart Cast of the Seven Godsends is a simple affair. Two buttons are all you need for jump and attack, and you can only aim in the four cardinal directions. “Simple” shouldn’t be confused with “easy”, however, as the game is anything but. Even on the lowest difficulty level, it will present a fairly significant challenge to anyone who is rusty or unfamiliar with the genre. Unfortunately, this is often down to some poor design choices, rather than a lack of skill on the player’s part. Like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Kandar is able to take two hits before dying (three, if he has armour on). On his penultimate hit, he is accompanied by a reaper who adds a second wave of firepower to Kandar’s arsenal. Even then though, this often isn’t enough and the game has a nasty habit of dumping you right before the start of a boss fight where your puny two-hit form is simply not going to cut it. It doesn’t help that the collision detection is variable, and woeful in some encounters. One fight with a huge dragon was memorable for all the wrong reasons, as his bellowing flame was able to kill us despite not actually touching us. Given that this particular fight involves you hopping between platforms to get enough height to make your weapon effective, and also manoeuvring to face the right way, poor sprite collision is simply frustrating. Add to this a number of blind platform leaps where you’re essentially banking on the goodwill of the creator as you hurl Kandar off a roof and hope a ledge is available for you to land on, and the sum is an unevenly balanced affair. Nice touches such as regular checkpoints help ease the difficulty level, but this is very much a “play through once” sort of game, with little to bring you back - a fact which is enforced by a short running time and no option of level selection either before or after you beat it, forcing you to start from the very beginning each time you want to play.
It’s a shame, as this is obviously a labour of love for Raven Travel Studios, who have worked hard to recreate the colourful backdrops and tangy synth one would associate with old-school platformers. If a little more care had been spent making the levels more interesting, or clearing up the abundance of typos littered through the sparse dialogue - Dragon Altair, anyone? - then it may have a resulted in a more engaging experience. The problem is that they haven’t brought anything more to the table, resulting in a game which looks like a homage and feels like a homage, but which is missing the vital spark that makes the games it is emulating so enjoyable to play. Despite the game running at a crisp sixty frames per second, the animations and the enemies look and feel flat. Boss fights with huge creatures which should inspire a sense of awe come across as rote and familiar (one exception being the excellent underground cave demon), and the environments themselves are only superficially different. Multiple endings may exist, but no manner of platform variations - fire, slippery ice, clouds, and so on - can cover up what is essentially a trawl through every trope you’d expect to find in the genre. Nostalgic gamers may find a couple of hours of amusement in Cast of the Seven Godsends, but everyone else should consider it the oddest sort of simulacrum - a trip down memory lane where the memories don’t actually invoke any strong feelings at all.