Golden Force Switch Review
Golden Force is a great looking game. It really nails that retro style, then builds on it with excellent colour palettes and overly cartoon-ish animations. The rest of the game, however, is pretty much a bust. Ignoring the consistent bugs and lag-spikes for now (which I have been informed the developers are working on), it’s clearly a lack of game design understanding that hurts this one. I mean, it’s easy to see the games that inspired it but then it seems to go against every good decision from those titles. Starting with probably my biggest gripe – the fact that it’s a basic 2D platformer with a good amount of verticality to its level design but a totally uncooperative camera. The player can never see what’s below them; whether it’s a hole or spike pits (including insta-death super-spikes), underwater spinning traps, or enemies (mostly fish) that jump from directly underneath and are completely unavoidable.
To be clear, this isn’t a ‘git gud’ situation – there is often no chance to evade as there’s no way to know what’s coming. It reminds me of one of my favourite videos on the subject – the Mega Man Sequelitis one from EgoRaptor. It’s a classic that teaches the basic concepts around introducing a new game to players entirely through design, and how to make something challenging instead of seemingly random. Basically, by laying out levels, hazards, and enemies in a way that allows the player to see what’s going on ahead of time, or at least for them to be able to make general assumptions through consistency of mechanics, even the most difficult hurdles can feel fair. The player knows it’s their fault they failed. This is what makes the likes of Shovel Knight and Celeste feel so perfect. On the other hand, when a game like Golden Force wears its complete lack of empathy around user experience on its sleeve, punishing players by having enemies constantly spawn directly on top of them, for example, it comes off as nothing more than irritating. I never felt challenged outside of the better boss fight sections, which can, admittedly, be awesome at times. Instead I felt bored, and exhausted at having to continue grinding forward.
The combat does absolutely nothing to help that feeling either. It’s incredibly simple (just mash the attack button for a basic ‘combo’) but because even starting enemies have huge health bars, they take forever to go down. Once again, outside of the boss battles that are absolutely the one shining accomplishment of Golden Force, the brawls are entirely unengaging. It’s not fun. It feels more like the game is deliberately wasting your time watching you hit, hit, hit, slide through or jump over the enemy (as sliding through doesn’t always work on every enemy type?), and continue to hit, hit, hit. Lots of enemies in a row? Jump-dash over them all and hit,hit,hit to stun-lock the whole group. Enemies with shields? Charge attack to break them or keep jumping over and taking pot-shots. It’s monotonous and I started to simply avoid any fight I could and would often just tank hits to bypass certain areas, until the forced battle-wave sections, of course…
And, I assume as a joke, there’s a ranking system. Basically, all four of a world’s levels (and perhaps each unlockable fifth level, although I never managed to get to the end of one due to all sorts of bugs) score the player based on their performance. Adding all of these together forms the ‘World State’. By increasing this the player can receive all sorts of rewards such as one-use items to increase damage temporarily or money, I assume. See, I never actually managed to hit even the first benchmark on any one ‘World State’ status bar. Why not? Well, to receive even a good score the player has to basically speedrun the level whilst building and maintaining a massive timer-based combo (that breaks on taking a hit), and collect pretty much every coin and collectible available and, honestly, I just wasn’t willing to put myself through that. At that point it’s trial and error around finding the best path and then perfecting execution but there isn’t enough of an interesting core to make me want to do that. There’s not even an easy way to restart if you mess up, you have to jump back out to the world map!
I did force myself to go back and pick up every optional collectible (three big coins and a seashell) for each of the main-path levels, which unlocks each world’s fifth, and most challenging, stage. At first, however, I simply couldn’t figure out how to reach several of them. I tried finding alternate routes, blasting enemies at them, and simply jump-attacking but to no avail, until I discovered a weird hidden slide-jump-cancel that allows for the characters to get some extra height. It seems so random. Why is it a secret and why is it so awkward to pull off? I had accepted that it was likely to be some sort of upgrade from later in the game, but no. There’s even a shop with upgrades (paid for in collectibles) and other items (paid for in normal gold), although there’s nothing particularly exciting about any of them. There’s also a selection of four different characters to choose from, but as far as I could tell it’s nothing more than an aesthetic choice.
In all, Golden Force was unfortunately pretty disappointing. It would already be hard for this one to stand out, even if it was heavily polished, because there’s no hook besides the strange humour of murdering cats in a bloody shower of guts and naming all of the bosses after Mexican foods. But with all the bugs and design issues piled on top it probably has very little chance. One can only hope that the team will be able to iterate and improve if there’s ever a sequel, spiritual or otherwise, much like how the Shantae series (which gives off similar vibes) has progressed.