Joylancer is a retro-styled action-platformer game, taking after the Super Nintendo era of gaming. It is an indie game currently available on Steam Early Access, and it offers several gameplay modes. Only a few levels have currently been created so far, as it is an early alpha; new content will be added as it’s developed. There are multiple control options, though I found the controller option to be better suited for platforming and combat. The menus are typical, allowing you to edit display settings, game settings, etc, although there are a few nice alternate visual options under the display settings. The game supports rumble mode if you have a controller, though I did not keep that function turned on.
Joylancer offers several different visual styles, allowing the player to change at will how the game looks. There is the standard “DX” mode, which is a mode where everything is colored based on object, as well as various presets for non-DX modes. These allow the player to choose how they wish the visuals to appear, from grey scale, to various colored themes. I found the 16-bit style aesthetic pleasing, with the sprites standing out well against the tiled backgrounds. Some customized color schemes led to a bit of difficulty in discerning on-screen objects, but overall, the graphics are crisp and well animated. Additionally, the player can zoom in and out slightly from the center of the screen; I didn’t find much difference in playability from zoom levels, however.
The audio effects in Joylancer are alright and somewhat typical, however, I found the one set of the music tracks to be overly harsh, and hard to listen to. After a short time, I found myself forced to turn the music way down. Even though it’s chip-tune based, the beats and loudness of it were distracting, and I didn’t particularly enjoy the compositions. The second set of tracks is much more subdued, and I kept that set going for the majority of my play.
At this point in development, there isn’t much of a story to go on. The protagonist is a knight of sorts, equipped with a weapon called a drill-lance, and she goes off to fight various other knights and monsters in the world. There are hints of back-story present, however, at this point it is rather limited. Storyboards and NPC’s respond with text boxes when the player interacts with them (which is how the tutorial is handled), and this will likely be the primary storytelling for the game, as opposed to active cut-scenes and conversations. Hopefully with Joylancer’s full release, the story and lore will be much more substantial.
Current modes for the title include a tutorial mode, the beginning portion of story mode, a survival challenge mode, and multiplayer combat. The tutorial is short, but helpful, giving you one new thing to do at a time in order to help facilitate learning the movement and combat system, which is fairly standard. I liked that it didn’t allow you to try out different moves until you progressed to the point where they were introduced, which helps the player to focus on what they need to know per section.
It’s clear that the story mode is intended to be the main focus of Joylancer, with multiple levels and stages available through exploration of an overworld map. There are random enemy spawns you can run into on the map, which take you into a battle screen, much like an RPG. This battle screen is set up as a mini-level, with multiple enemies to fight. There is only one real section to play available now, with a few level’s and a boss battle in that section. You are ranked for your play on each level based on a few factors, time, points, difficulty, and deaths, with S+ being the highest rank. I could see this factoring into competitive leaderboards, with speed being balanced by item collecting and kills.
Each level consists of a few areas, which you must fight through in order to find the entryway to the next, and I found it a bit tough to navigate parts of the worlds. Little direction is given regarding some of the in-game objects, but much like retro-games of years past, they’re easily figured out and interacted with. Currently Joylancer requires exploration from the player in order to find where to go, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out the levels, and where I could get to in each. There are secret areas riddled throughout the levels to discover as well, which adds to player discovery.
The “Dark Palace” challenge mode is still rough as well, but it’s clear to see where it’s going. There will be 50 levels of enemies to fight through, in order to make it to the bottom of the castle. The player is given a limited number of lifebars, and expected to fight through these multitudes of enemies without dying. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be quite complete, but it’s fun to try to get as far as you can. The final mode is titled Motor Combat, and it is a 1-4 player fighting mode. There are to be multiple knight-type characters to choose from, as well as multiple stages. At the moment, it works, though I experienced some crashes while trying to fight the AI knights.
Where Joylancer shines is it’s combat, which is fast-paced and engaging. There are a number of special moves already available, which require charge from the character’s drill-lance. It gets used up rapidly, but collecting gems or doing the charge move quickly bring it back up to full. Combat becomes a balancing act of managing the multiple enemies on screen while continuing to charge up and attack with the special moves. Personally I enjoyed hitting enemies into the air, and smashing down on them with a pair of moves. Combos also seem to be present, though I had trouble really chaining many moves together, due to the need to constantly charge up the drill-lance during battles. The more I played the easier this started to become, however.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the combat was how Joylancer locks the player in certain areas during levels with multiple enemies, instead of letting players speed past if they chose. There are ways to juggle enemies in the air, as well as counter enemies, and throw back any weapons which are tossed at the player. The system has depth, and requires practice to master, although it is perfectly playable (on the easier difficulties at least) with less practice. There is only one boss fight at the moment, but I found it to be challenging until I learned the boss’ patterns. The AI of average enemies is fairly good, some are dumber and less able to hurt the player, some are much more intelligent. Axe Knights in particular are quite vicious and powerful foes.
What I feel about Joylancer at this point, is that it’s hard, but about player discovery and skill. While certain aspects are difficult, Joylancer is fair in how it throws enemies and challenges at the player, and it’s more than forgiving, with multiple life bars and numerous (at this point, seemingly unlimited) lives, which respawn the player where they died without reloading the level. The combat is fluid and fun, as engaging as the player wishes it be. While the platforming can be tough to get past, I never felt like I was stuck and unable to advance; a simple charge of the drill, and then doing the special drill jump got me to pass most obstacles without difficulty. There isn’t much content in the game yet, which is unfortunate. The game will shine once there further enemies to battle and combos to learn. Joylancer is playable, however, there just isn’t much to play yet. As more levels get designed, and as the overworld map increases, there is no doubt the game will get more and more enjoyable to run, jump, and drill your way through. You can watch the alpha release trailer below, and grab the demo or buy the early access version on Steam. Joylancer is currently scheduled for it’s full release in January.