Developer: Southend Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade (Reviewed), Playstation Network
Release Date: April 17, 2013
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($14.99 PSN) Jungle Hunt DLC – 400 Microsoft Points ($4.99 PSN) BUY NOW!
Side scrolling brawlers seemed to be a rarity five years ago. Today however, the genre has came back fighting, so much so that there now is a bit of a problem with over-saturation. Sacred Citadel fits into this realm, as it is indeed of the same genre, but attempts to do many things to provide us with a different experience. Can a familiar franchise with a rich world capture a new audience’s attention, or is this yet another case of “almost, but not quite”? Let’s find out.
If I could compare Sacred Citadel to any other game, it would be Golden Axe. The story is very minimalistic, but present. The world and cast are interesting, but shallow – and there isn’t a lot to the experience other than taking out one squad of enemies at a time as you scroll forward. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with not going head over heels in the plot department, especially in a beat-em up. That is not Sacred Citadel’s issue. The issue I had with the game is that it seemed to try hard to create an illusion of something deep, when it was actually a more simple and sub-par experience.
There is voice acting, beautiful visuals, and well animated models, but it’s as if the writer for the game tried to create a plot built around every level, rather than painting one big picture as a whole. Think back to Golden Axe for a minute. There was a quite interesting story if you take a harder look, but the game puts such little emphasis on the tale being told that it’s easy to write it off and not even care. The same can be said about Sacred Citadel, as even though these characters seem to show signs of something more, they are honestly just avatars that have their own personal traits. This is a beat-em up through and through, and not an incredible journey as one may believe by watching the trailers and promotional adverts alone.
When it comes to the core gameplay for Sacred Citadel, everything is pretty much standard fare. Players take control of a hero, scroll along, and beat up any enemy that comes into sight. Waves of foes are a common thing, so you must utilize your techniques in order to not get overwhelmed, and try to avoid these same groups while dealing with a bigger threat such as a boss. There is also a light amount of platforming involved, as these characters can jump and there are platforms to go to for safety, but that element is not the focus so there really isn’t a lot to speak of in that area. The controls themselves are semi-solid, and feel a bit like Castle Crashers. Attacks feel a little looser than they should be, and defeating an enemy with melee or projectiles never comes off as satisfying as a result.
For the heroes themselves, the player has the choice of a Mage for projectiles, Ranger for ranged attacks via a bow, a health conscious Shaman, and your standard Warrior type that comes equipped with extra strength. Added on to each character’s movepool is a charge attack, which has the power to deliver harder blows for the more chaotic situations. Yes, it sounds like a familiar formula because it is a familiar formula. Sacred Citadel borrows a lot of elements from brawlers new and old alike, but thankfully keeps it all cohesive. That said, the combat itself never does anything extraordinary, and I felt like the game suffered because of it. I love beat-em ups of all sorts. It’s a great genre that deserves credit for paving the way for the industry. Sacred Citadel however is about as plain as it gets when it comes to combat however, as it never strives to be anything other than ordinary. Sure, the attacks and combat look pretty, but after doing the same thing throughout each act to what feel like re-skinned enemies, it quickly becomes tiresome and repetitive.
As an attempt to break the monotony, each character has their own special attacks that can earned as they level up. You see, your weapon is the main tool of combat, no matter who you are playing as. Combos and juggling can also come into play as time moves on, and a special charged attack (as mentioned earlier) can be learned to even the odds. While these attacks definitely look different, every class still plays the same. No matter who you are, the same environments and enemies show up, and all that is really required is to dodge, block, and button mash to pull off a victory. Much like Golden Axe, players can save their acquired energy up for one powerful attack that comes from three power blocks located underneath your hero’s HP bar. The power of this technique comes from how many blocks are filled, so it is always at the users preference to unleash. It works, sure – but to myself, the dodges were the most enjoyable part of the combat process. Unlike most games that just give you a sub-par roll to move out of the way, Sacred Citadel has turned the simplistic maneuver into something more, animating each character’s own roll to feel rewarding as it’s executed. For instance, the Mage will spin halfway across the screen and avoid an entire group of enemies if performed correctly. This sounds small – and it is, but these dodges do a lot to make the game feel at least a little unique as it’s own product.
Much like any beat-em up, multiplayer is where the true fun is at. Sacred Citadel’s world, beastly foes such as Grimmocs, and design as a whole feels as if it were made for more than one person as it is a much more interactive experience during co-op. Now, the AI still could use a boost, (as even with the sturdy servers afloat, they still can be quite braindead) but if you are looking for a solid co-op experience for up to three to join in on, you might find what you’re looking for here. The game itself feels fairly long, but I almost want to say it’s too long for the type of game it’s trying to present itself as. If you have played those brawlers on the iOS, you are probably familiar with each stage being broken down to a set number of levels that are locked away before you can move on. Since Sacred Citadel has no true flow of a narrative, that is how it comes off as. There are four acts to complete with plenty of encounters and brawling to be had, and one extra act that is added through the day one DLC pack known as “Jungle Hunt”. To speak of this DLC for a moment, I will first say that it’s a bit of a turn-off to see a digital title get an add-on on the first day. That being said, I found the hunt for big Grimmoc to be the most enjoyable of all the chapters I played, and well worth the extra investment.
Visuals and Audio
Make no mistake about it, no matter how basic the gameplay is, Sacred Citadel is a gorgeous game to look at. Every environment and model is bursting with color and detail, making it exciting to see what is coming next. In fact, that may be why I was a bit bored with the gameplay, as the visuals make the experience seem to be so much more than it truly is. The game, as also mentioned earlier is beautifully animated as well, giving each character their own distinct movements and allowing the world to come alive through the background and pureness of the art style.
As far as the soundtrack goes, expect the usual modern fantasy set of tunes to be heard. Sure, they fit with the environment and do well to blend with the impressive visuals, but could have been better used to make this world feel more interactive and atmospheric. The sound effects are decent enough for combat, but don’t deliver that crushing sound at the appropriate time to give the player a sense of gratification. I know, that sounds nit-picky, but a beat-em up needs to make you feel as if you are destroying your opponents, and Sacred Citadel is just a little off when it comes to minor effects to accomplish that.
Sacred Citadel is a “good” that has it’s flaws, but should easily find an audience due to it’s fantasy setting and stunning visuals. I personally can’t think of a game in the Sacred series that has ever been too stand-out, and that is really the same kind of mind-set that Citadel has about itself. With basic beat-em up gameplay, leveling systems, and a decent co-op, there really isn’t any room to complain about the delivery here, but for an experience found on consoles, Sacred Citadel feels as if it would have performed better on a smaller platform such as the iOS. Sacred Citadel and it’s DLC together are the definition of a “on sale” purchase, as the product is not quite worth it’s intended price-tag but is still worth checking out eventually due to the quality of the game as a whole. Woes aside, Deep Silver have put out a solid digital release here – it’s just a shame that it never tries to be anything more than average.
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