Swords and Sandals: Spartacus (Switch) Review

Swords and Sandals: Spartacus is easily one of the best Ultimate Games published titles in their large library of console and PC releases. It is simple and straightforward but that is what makes this Nintendo Switch eShop digital download so great.

It seems like every smaller, indie title released today is either a Metroidvania, a Roguelike, or a Metroidvania Roguelike. Sword and Sandals: Spartacus is not as complex and is a linear experience, mostly involving running to the right and sword swiping anything in your way. With just a jump and attack button, this 2D pixel action platformer is almost like a Contra but with a sword.

Each stage is usually a large, slightly vertical environment but can be finished in just a few minutes. There are moments of high difficulty, sometimes including blind jumps or unfair enemy placement, but the pacing still feels right even with some blemishes. Controlling Spartacus also feels cool as he jumps really high, can wall jump, and can even use the occasional sub weapon pulled straight from Castlevania.  In time, abilities can be upgraded by spending loot found in treasure chests, from killing enemies, and saving hostages Metal Slug-style.  The reason the gameplay loop is so addicting comes from its simplicity and straightforwardness. There is even a Mario-like reference as the player becomes invincible, complete with soundtrack fanfare and glowing sprite animation, when 10 embers are collected.

Along the way, players learn actual facts about Spartacus by reading hidden scripts found in most stages. Better yet, the game loosely recreates his historical footsteps by not just plainly telling a story but visually through the environment and stage objectives. For example, after breaking free and recruiting a bunch of soldiers to his cause, his army climbed down trees to swarm the unexpected enemy. Although it is not retold step-by-step, the player will venture through a few tree stages, climbing and descending to take out foes, and eventually a large boss. Again, it is very simple and straightforward but done in a way that feels spot-on and with its own level of personality.

There are some unfortunately hiccups that damper the experience. On occasion, the player can be exposed to blind jumps that usually result in a negative experience. The checkpoint system is also taken from Shovel Knight, where the player can choose to destroy the checkpoint to gain currency at the potential risk of restarting further back upon death.  However, one time I died and reverted back to the checkpoint but enemies respawn when this happens and was unable to complete my respawn animation without getting instantly picked off by this well placed foe.  Enemies will sometimes wait for you on the top of ladders or ropes that results in must-take damage too.  As annoying as these issues are, they are mildly inconvenient and excusable since the rest of the gameplay is entertaining.

Sword and Sandals: Spartacus is basically Castlevania 1 (NES) gameplay only with gameplay that is smoother, longer, and much more playable due to the better pacing of the difficulty.  Konami’s first entry in its popular series had a story but it was mostly told through the enemies you faced and the environmental stage design instead of wordy in-game text.  Although this downloadable title isn’t as demonic, it still is gory and playable from beginning to end with similar story telling. It is not perfect. It is not complex.  It is not anything you have not played before. It is, however, a merging of classic 8-bit action platformers that is highly approachable, enjoyable, and addicting.

Also available on PC.

SCORE: 8/10

Not As Good As: The Messenger
Also Try: Tiny Barbarian DX (Switch)
Wait For It: Shovel Knight 2

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