3000th Duel delivers on fun while making you die a million times.

Developer NeoPopcorn’s new game, 3000th Duel, is here to force me to remember my childhood, a time in my life that was defined by ignoring what I was already, ironically, aware of while running around with a cardboard tube in one hand and a trash can lid in the other: I suck at sword fighting, and I’m probably going to die.

I’ve since retired my persona of a derelict knight-errant, and I’ve come to view actual swordplay as a token hobby for weeaboos and Star Wars fans. I still play video games with swords though, and recently, I’ve noted these adventure RPGs have embraced extreme levels of difficulty. 3000th Duel is no exception. 

To call the game a blend of different genres is lazy but accurate. In 3000th Duel, you play a malevolent looking, masked sword fighter— someone who wakes up with (surprise) no memory of who they are or how they got there. Try not to groan aloud from the cliché – how else can you justify your character running around a 2D world with more than a hundred levels and types of enemies?

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You can defeat opponents with different weapons using one of three fighting styles, collect items that boost your health and defense, and pick up special moves called Occults that you can use to spice up your particular play style.

As you defeat enemies and encounter large bosses you’ll unlock more moves like double jumps and dashes, allowing you to access parts of the map you were unable to previously. Just make sure that you save and level up to unlock other moves from your skill tree at the occasional visit to the scarcely distributed shrines. If you don’t, you’ll die and end up at your last save point.

And you’ll die… A LOT. It isn’t too difficult to figure out the attack patterns of the enemies and bosses you encounter, but they all have plenty of health and hit hard. Each death sees the game end with the words “YOU BURNT” displayed across the screen. It isn’t difficult to explain how burnt “YOU BURNT” makes you feel, especially when that boss fight just needed one more teensy slash to put him down, and you just couldn’t hack it.

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All the while you’re fighting, saving at a shrine, and “YOU BURNT”ing yourself for countless hours, you’ll uncover paper-thin pieces of exposition to present you with an equally thin structure of plot and storytelling. Sounds familiar? That’s because it is hard to ignore what this game clearly is — an obvious mishmash of unlocking platformers like Mega Man X, Castlevania, and Super Metroid, vibing in a dark and painfully punishing world reminiscent of Dark Souls.

That’s not to say this game isn’t fun; if you enjoy a repetitive game that actually rewards patience and skill, you’ll love 3000th Duel for what it makes you accomplish. It doesn’t spoon-feed you a simple game experience — it hands you a pike with your own spit-roasted head on it and forces you to chew carefully. It took countless, well spent hours to work my way through the game and unlock every level and boss fight, as well as the hundreds of weapons, armor, and Occults given as rewards.

As I played 3000th Duel, it was still in early release, so some rough corners still needed to be smoothed out. The biggest issue with games that use a progression system made of gated abilities to open the map is that often you start the game underpowered, to the point where it feels that your game needs more mechanics. It happens here. The lacklustre start could have used a riposte mechanic or a way to dodge and block, but that doesn’t exist. As such, the enjoyable gameplay doesn’t feel varied until later.

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It’s hard sometimes to tell where exactly you need to hit a character, since “directly in the face” isn’t enough at times. Fixing the hitbox and adding one additional move mechanic would really polish what is already an approachable gameplay experience.

The world looks and sounds pretty. I think the audio and aesthetic matches the tone of a dark sword game well, but the presentation still needs polishing. Some of the dialogue lines in-game had typos, and many of them do little to move the story along or feel like a reward. “Do not be bewildered by a thing of a different kind” was an actual line presented to me in the game. There is a plot and there is fortune cookie nonsense – 3000th Duel needs to learn the difference between the two.

Overall, 3000th Duel is a minimalist experience, one that creates its reward and replayability by embracing difficulty. If you’re looking to enjoy something that poses a challenge, keeps you busy with gameplay, and isn’t tampered by story and setting, you can find it here.

You can find 3000th Duel on Steam.

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