What is there to say about Thy Sword? Quite a bit, actually. Developed by GamePhase, Thy Sword was initially released on Steam on November 14, 2017. On the surface, it looks like your run of the mill indie platform game. Underneath, however, it holds a bit more to it than that. With beautiful pixel art and excellent sound effects and music, Thy Sword stands out amongst the horde of retro-like indie titles popping up every day.
Thy Sword is set up to play like an old Commodore-64 (C-64) or arcade game. As such, the player is faced with a few challenges they’ll have to overcome first. The first, for beginners, will be the “credits” system. These credits work much like “lives” do in other retro games, however they are made to represent the player inserting a coin into an arcade machine. Nostalgia, anyone? One solution is to play the games tutorial and learn the games mechanics. Practice makes perfect. If you still find it too difficult, the game presents the player with an “Apprentice” mode, that allows for infinite credits. Die till your heart is content… or stops. Whatever.
The second challenge presented to the player is in the game-play itself. Thy Sword‘s combat is some of the best I’ve experienced in a 2D, retro-like game in a long time. It’s also some of the most difficult and demanding. That’s not to say it’s complicated, as it’s actually fairly simplistic in it’s approach. However, it does require the player to acclimate and master it’s finer points and come up creative ways to dispatch your foes on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the difficulty did not change this at all. At least for my part, it didn’t seem any easier. I guess you’ll just have to, as they say, get good!
One of the greatest strengths of Thy Sword, and you’ll immediately see it, is it’s excellent animation. Frame for frame, Thy Sword has some of the best animations I’ve seen in a game of it’s size and style. The pixel art was an excellent style choice and it compliments the game-play, which is a topic all on it’s own. The background design for each level and setting sucks you into the game world. You feel like you’re a part of the game; not just playing it, and that is exactly what it’s meant to do. That’s one of the key things I look for in games like this.
As I stated before, Thy Sword is designed in the same vein as C-64 and arcade classics. Which means it’s level designs follow suit with that theme. Each level is composed of five stages, each consisting of single screens. No sprawling labyrinths and confusing corridors. Just one screen, with all of the puzzles, challenges, and rewards right there for the player to see. This makes the game even more approachable, in my opinion. It leaves some room for the imagination to work and make the player think, and I personally love when games do that. I think that’s something that is missing in modern games and it makes me happy to see I am not alone in that thought. To see other developers bring this design philosophy into their games is awesome!
Controlling your character is fluid and feels very tight and consistent, which is good, given the combat style of the game. Jumping and moving around each level feels intuitive and responsive, and being able to attack and block quickly during battle is immersive. Each swing of your sword feels weighted and purposeful. Even when fighting the bosses, the fighting feels meaningful and delivers an experience most retro-gamers are looking for. Your moves and actions all feel impactful, and when you see that door open at the end of each level you feel accomplished.
I also need to touch on the excellent local co-op mode. Having a second player to help with the slaying is a major plus. However, that assistance doesn’t come without it’s own risks. The players can kill one another. In fact, I had my 6-year old daughter help me with this aspect of the game. I then unlocked an achievement for cutting her head off with a special attack after she accidentally missed a jump and landed in front of me. We had a great time playing Thy Sword together, and she asks to play it all the time.
Now, let’s talk about the character selection. Unfortunately, this is where I find Thy Sword to be lacking. When it is all said and done, you have your choice of five characters to choose from: The Barbarian, The Valkyrie, The Rogue, The Viking, and The Paladin. However, when you start the game, you only have access to The Barbarian and The Valkyrie. You’ll have to unlock the other three by completing certain tasks. This is one of my nit-picks that I have always complained about. While some people may enjoy it, I think it just takes away from the player and annoyingly forces them to play your game in order to get a character they want. What if they aren’t having fun with that character? What if they think something is wrong with your game, when it’s simply they aren’t playing comfortably with a character? If the game was free, I would be more understanding and lenient toward this type of design. (See free MOBA titles like League of Legends and Paladins as examples). However, when unless there is something uniquely separate about the character, such as offering different experiences other than play styles, this is unnecessary and only serves to annoy players. This is a problem that has plagued many retro games, and also indie titles that have followed suit. Leaving Thy Sword to feel the sting of it’s repercussions.
When it comes to Thy Sword’s future, I hope to see a change to the character selection, maybe in place of unlocking classes, add special items the player could find and help them advance through the game. They could even be replaced with surprise or special enemy types that bare large rewards for the player if they are able to defeat them. These kinds of things add to the game and don’t limit the players ability to immerse themselves into your game world. It also prevents the slog of a grind-fest for gold, items, and characters.
I also hope to see more development on the game. The recent update to the game added a couple new items, a new achievement, and new features that allow changes to the game pad vibration and in-game sounds. These are good, but it’s my hope to see more playable content. New levels and stages, enemies, bosses, weapons and items, and even new characters; these would make the game even more expansive and feel alive. This isn’t to say there isn’t plenty to do or see in the game. I’m just simply being greedy and wanting more!
Thy Sword is an excellent game overall and deserves a much better place in the gaming community. I think with a few minor tweaks to the games approach would serve it well and help it to begin building a solid following. If you haven’t played it, I highly recommend you do, as it is a very well developed nod to class action-adventure platform games.
You can buy Thy Sword, right now, for Windows PC via Steam.