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  • John Bush

Game Review #532: Swords and Sandals: Spartacus (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B Developer: Whiskeybarrel Studios

Publisher: Ultimate Games

Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer

Release Date: 6.22.2020

Price: $12.99

Watch the Trailer

Buy Swords and Sandals: Spartacus from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

Kirk Douglas Ain’t Here

The story of Spartacus is well-known to history or film buffs, though his actual history is somewhat more up in the air. Regardless, the story of a slave freeing himself and leading his freed brethren in a fight against their enslavers is a powerful one. Even if he never actually made any attempt to end slavery, Spartacus’s story has been adopted by folks looking for a good, true-ish story of freedom fighters and their struggles. Swords and Sandals takes a more moderate approach to revising Spartacus’s story than some creative endeavors – the Kirk Douglas movie springs to mind – instead preferring to tell its tale largely in the form of hidden/not-so-hidden tomes scattered about its levels that summarize the barebones facts about Spartacus, with very little creative elaboration – but don’t worry, the gameplay doesn’t stick to strictly historically accurate mechanics. That’d be kinda boring.

Swords and Sandals, Platforms and Projectiles

The 2D action platforming mechanics in Swords and Sandals: Spartacus are pretty familiar to fans of the genre. I’ve always felt that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel as long as everything works smoothly, which the game does like 90% of the time. You’ll encounter plenty of platforming standbys like spikes, swinging scythes/maces, and crumbling platforms, just to name a few. You can wall jump a few times to begin with, but between missions you can spend your collected treasure to upgrade the number of wall jumps you get, as well as things like the strength of your sword and your health points. So, in theory, everything looks good so far. And, again, in theory, the combat mechanics look good on the surface, too.

Close combat consists of hitting the button to swing your sword, but there are weapon racks scattered around each level where you can collect projectiles like knives, axes, spears, and Greek fire. You have a limited stock of projectiles, so you need to be a little careful about how you use them, but they don’t carry over between levels so don’t be too afraid to make use of them. The game’s more unique mechanic is the shield, which absorbs a certain number of hits from the front before breaking. You can upgrade the shield between levels, too. Finally, when you touch a torch it will drop an ember. When you collect ten embers you start to sparkle and turn invincible for a limited time. I don’t think I need to explain why invincibility is awesome. So, yeah – the theory of the game is completely sound, and mostly well-implemented… mostly.

Glitches and Gladiators

The combat mostly works, but there were some consistent glitches and/or issues that kept it from being fully enjoyable. For one, the hit boxes are kind of funky; my sword seemed to go right through enemies at certain times without any indication that damage had been done. Usually the enemy will flash white for a second when hit and/or get knocked back, but that frequently didn’t happen, leaving me unsure if I had landed a hit or not. Furthermore, I encountered a number of glitches with climbing ropes and getting hit by projectile weapons. Sometimes, when I climbed a rope, I would just fall through the platform at the top rather than stand on it; I had to restart a couple levels because I just couldn’t stand on a platform I needed to proceed. Less aggravating but still annoying, I twice encountered a glitch where when I was hit in the shield by a projectile, the game would register me as being hit whenever I walked over that space again, even if there was no projectile there. These aren’t game-breaking – well, I guess the one kinda is – but they’re certainly unpleasant.

Spartacus Has Nine Lives – Or Three, Or One, Or Infinite

Swords and Sandals: Spartacus offers four different difficulty levels for gamers looking for different levels of challenge. The easiest gives you an infinite number of lives, so you can proceed through the game at your own pace. Each subsequent difficulty limits the number of lives you get, down to the hardest difficulty that asks you to beat the game with just one life. Total. You can’t even buy extra lives in the intermission shop, like you can in the other modes. It’s, um… challenging. Especially if you hit one of the glitches. But maybe some people like banging their head against a wall.

When In Rome, Pixel As The Romans Pixel

I continue to be a huge sucker for any and all games that employ a 16-bit art style. That is unlikely to ever change, and games like Swords and Sandals: Spartacus don’t do anything to discourage that opinion. Despite the deceptive simplicity of the pixel, the game is vibrant, detailed, and well-realized from a graphical standpoint. It actually looked slightly better undocked than docked, but it looked pretty darn good either way. The music is epic and intrepid, befitting the legendary mythos surrounding a figure like Spartacus. There’s even a little voice acting – very little, like just the same three lines over and over again between missions and when you collect enough embers, but still. It’s a nice touch.

I Am (Not) Spartacus

Swords and Sandals: Spartacus does a lot right – it looks great, it focuses on good fundamental platforming and combat, and it has a good selection of difficulty levels that will appeal to a broad range of gamers. When everything is working like it’s supposed to, this is a good game that maybe doesn’t innovate much, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint, either. But those darn glitches, man. They don’t pop up very often; I only encountered the projectile one twice, and while the rope thing was more common, I only had to restart one level (a couple times, though) because of it. When they do show themselves, however, they’re kind of a drag on the experience. If you like platformers, however, I think you’ll have a pretty easy time looking past the warts to see the solid game underneath.

Score: 6.5/10

Buy Swords and Sandals: Spartacus from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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