Like Dark Quest 2 before it, Story of a Gladiator by Brain Seal is a single screen action beat’em up that is super simple yet highly addictive. Playing as a gladiator that lost everything and basically has nothing left to lose, the player is forced to fight horde-mode style until all opponents are dead. Upon successfully completing each wave of enemies, the player returns to the small hub world to level up, earn new perks, unlock better gear, buy items, and even befriend a wild beast that helps in battle. The only thing more straight forward than this loop is the gameplay.
There are a total of three campaigns to complete, each composed of numerous levels and one boss. Each stage takes less than one minute to complete and constantly throws new unlocks at the player, providing a massive sense of accomplishment and “just one more” style of gameplay. Combat is also straight forward but provides just enough depth to not become too repetitive before the quest ends. Using a single button to attack, combat is little more than button mashing against the same types of enemies but allows instant gratification and anyone can immediately jump in without the need for any tutorials. A modifier button creates some necessary strategy, like finishing a combo with a decapitation or lunging strike, or a dodge roll that quickly becomes your best friend. Enemies repeat throughout the entire campaign but the difficulty grows at a near perfect pacing. There are times when the player will benefit from grinding to earn stronger armor but most of the time the player will die because they get overwhelmed and didn’t crowd control well enough. The player still earns rewards upon death which respects the player’s time.
Each type of enemy requires a certain approach to fell efficiently. For example, it is usually a good idea to dodge roll shielded enemies, kill lions and tigers as quickly as possible by stabbing them in the face, and cautiously hit-and-running druids that cause the player to lose control of themselves which often results in cheap one-hit deaths by uncontrollably walking into a pit, the game’s most annoying flaw. Taking a note from the movie 300, players can even “THIS IS SPARTA” kick an enemy down these holes for instant kills with some cautious timing. There is also an option to select a God to worship which yields different perks in battle, there are tons of weapons to unlock (although they all function exactly the same), and entertaining the crowd earns additional rewards. In fact, doing well in combat means fans will throw healing items onto the battlefield, stun enemies by throwing stones, and even chuck additional cash into the arena like a hat trick during a pro hockey game. As a downside, there are times the arena will be filled with bloody corpses which makes finding the bonuses contributed by the crowd difficult to find within the layering. However, the gladiator theme is apparent in all aspects of gameplay and presentation.
The hub world is also easy to navigate and understand. Even though it is filled with NPCs, this space provides a thoughtful presentation and ties all gameplay together. It could have all been handled through a boring menu but this interface is much more entertaining and charming. The player can even walk back into the main opening menu which serves no purpose other than being pretty cool.
Story of a Gladiator is a short but sweet action brawler that is more entertaining than you think. The addictive gameplay loop is the star of the show despite having mindless combat and lack of multiplayer. Achievement hunters will also be pleased as most gamerscore (or Trophies for PS4 players) are unlocked through natural play and doesn’t take long to unlock most of them. The music in the hub world is also outstanding, the game loads quickly, and the constant upgrading makes will make you scream “are you not entertained” as you defeat the final combatant.
Also available on PC, Switch, and PS4.
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