A retro-style run-and-gun platformer, Golden Force thickly layers an old school vibe. The eye-catching pixel art is vividly colored and well animated while the steep challenge will have you screaming obscenities at your screen. Be warned, this downloadable title isn’t for those that give up easily.
Playing as one of four characters, the player is tasked with defeating a demon lord and his numerous generals that have taken over an island world. Along the way, players will be exposed to an army of monsters, traps, and hazards, each with the ability to defeat the player with a single mistake. The gimmick behind each encounter is the combo system. The player can take a few hits before death but so does each enemy, even the most common ones. In fact, each enemy takes several hits to defeat and stopping a combo once started isn’t frame perfect. The button mashing combo system feels satisfyingly chunky but it is also what makes this game so challenging. Since all enemies take numerous hits to destroy, juggling multiple enemies at once, let alone dodging attacks from a boss, is exceedingly difficult.
The challenge cannot be understated. In fact, it took me at least a half dozen attempts to complete the opening intro stage against the giant octopus boss. Golden Force is one of those games where you have to get good, experiment with trial and error, and hone your memorization skills. This isn’t a roguelike so the stages remain the same every time, having the player learn from previous mistakes. What makes this pill difficult to swallow is the length of each stage and the distant checkpoints. Most stages take at least ten minutes to complete and will need to be replayed multiple times to acquire everything. There are a few optional collectables to find in every stage and the player is forced to collect them all to unlock every stage. These collectables can annoyingly be missed thanks to branching paths. It is very possible for the player to take one route and lose the ability to backtrack to grab a missed item, forcing a replay of a brutally long and difficult stage.
As challenging as this game is, there is no denying the charming pixel art and soundtrack. At times, I thought I was playing a Shantae game, especially since the optional female protagonist looks exactly like her. It is a bit of a disappointment that each of the four playable characters play, move, and fight exactly the same. You would think the dragon character could float or fly whereas the old man android might move a little slower thanks to his bigger size. I guess incorporating different play styles would drastically alter level design, especially since 2-player local co-op is an option. Bosses can also be as large as the screen and the soundtrack fulfills the exotic island theme. Coins can be collected to unlock additional features like increasing overall health but there are no unlockable skills available.
Golden Force isn’t a bad game, it is just a super difficult one. Personally, I highly enjoy the satisfying combo system, retro presentation, and overall ambition but found my patience wearing thin when I need to restart from a checkpoint five minutes ago due to a cheap enemy attack or placement. If you enjoy a NES style challenge with your platforming hack-n slashers, there is a gold mine right here. But if you prefer a Kirby or Yoshi experience over Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels, you might want to look elsewhere.
Also available on Nintendo Switch.