You are a bard. You are exploring a castle trying to get your gold back. There’s a bit more detail to it, but really, that’s all the story you need in an old school style platformer like this. Bard’s Gold is a mostly simple old school side-scrolling adventure, with more in common to 90s platformers like Hocus Pocus or Titus the Fox, rather than containing devious puzzles like La Mulana or RPG elements like UnEpic. Bard’s Gold simply drops you into a mysterious castle going from one room to the next, built upon the timeless art of jumping across precarious platforms, collecting colorful gems, and viciously knifing rabid animals to death.
Bard’s Gold has a few modern innovations, it has higher resolution graphics than so-called ‘8-bit’ new retro games, and it has a persistent upgrades system. After your inevitable death, you can cash in the gems collected so-far towards a variety of upgrades such as weapon speed or range. This definitely adds a welcome layer of progression to the game, but it also its weakness. There are also two difficulty modes, ‘Normal’ and ‘Retro’. The only difference seems to be that enemies in Retro mode have more health, but you get 2-3x the gems, meaning there is pretty much no reason not to play Retro (especially given the shop prices).
Perhaps honouring old school games a bit too much, the movement is incredibly sluggish, and the main character’s jumps only reach about knee-height. There is a double-jump, but the small jump height means that basically every single platform requires a double-jump. It makes the game more difficult, perhaps, but in a way that feels more tedious rather than challenging. Another niggle is the character’s offensive power is about par with that old office stapler kept together with sticky tape. The store upgrades do make a difference, but prices are quite steep. The cheapest upgrade (weapon range) costs about 1800 gems per level (the upgrade price never increases per level), but you’ll probably only earn 200 or so per run in your first few attempts. Once you’ve got a few upgrades (speed and range) things become easier and I managed to earn up to 1000 in one run. However, there are no upgrades to increase movement speed or jump height. I think these, and making the lower level upgrades cheaper, with the price increasing progressively for each rank, would do wonders to improve the flow of gameplay and speed up the early game.
The game is still in active development, with the developers regularly posting on Twitter so there is plenty of scope for tightening the nuts and bolts – and letting the game grow into something great. Well, if they at least speed up the movement and jumping, I’ll certainly be playing it a bit more. We will update this space if any major developments occur.
Reviewed: 10 June 2015, version: Alpha 1.0.4
Update: the full game has been released! unfortunately, the demo was also been taken down as a result. You can now buy the full game on Steam. Reviews are looking positive so far!