Never before has a games title more accurately described its content then A Bastard’s Tale. No Pest Productions retro brawler is one challenging game that is constantly frustrating even to the point where you’re going to want to rip out your own hair. Despite its simple appearance the combat is rather complex as you are given 3 angles in which to attack and defend. Knowing when to do which means reading the slightest changes in opponent’s stances which in this game is damn tough. Although this is coming from someone who refuses to defend or parry in fighting games.
A Bastard’s Tale is made up of two modes ‘Story’ and ‘Endless Fighter Mode’. So let’s start by looking at the story setup. There are a total of 5 levels each with a set number of enemies that must be defeated as you progress to the end of the area to the far right. Reaching the end of these levels then culminates in a boss fight with another knight character. As for the actual story it’s practically non-existent beside the pixel portrait scenes after each level. Are you a brave knight on your way to save a kingdom or are you just a mercenary just looking to beat the snot out of anyone who gets in your way? Endless fighter mode does exactly what it says, it’s really just to test how long you can stay alive with enemies constantly coming after you. It does switch up the pattern a bit by not limiting enemies to the environment you would normally encounter them in during the story mode.
In terms of length the main story scenario is only 5 levels long and each consists of no more than 10 enemies. However because each level requires you to use a lot of trial and error strategies to progress, levels can effectively last hours. The second level personally took me 50 attempts before I was rewarded with a well-deserved change of scenery. A Bastard’s Tale requires a great deal of skill from the player, there’s no getting around it either as there are no upgrades. Health is constant, it cannot be upgraded – five hits and it’s all over! As for replenishing that health, each scenario has only one potion usually close by to the boss, so you’ve got to be on your toes and make every action count.
Surprisingly the gameplay is rather complex despite the game’s appearance. You have three attack techniques, left and right swings and an overhead strike. Likewise there are three defensive blocks to counter each of these with an additional backwards dodge roll for emergencies. The trick to this game is successfully reading your opponents attacks to defend against them and strike when there’s an opening. However because of the pixelated style of the game at times it’s not always clear what stance the opponent is taking when releasing a flurry of strikes. Being strategic is key in A Bastard’s Tale as combat is slow paced so there’s no cancelling out of actions once you’ve committed. Attempting to brute force levels is not a viable option either as some enemies will require you to deflect their attacks before revealing an opening for you to strike.
Be prepared to die a lot! This is a game that tracks how many times you’ve failed and happily taunts you with this fact every time you die. Initially when you enter a new level your death count will rise quicker than at any other time and this is down to the fact that there are new enemies (15 in total). For example Farmer types utilise a hit and run tactic where you’ll have to successfully block their attack. Then there’s the more advanced Crowman enemy who throws different swords at you so you have to block correctly against each sword type. Memorising each of their fighting styles and weaknesses can take time but it’s essential if you want to get through levels with minimum amount of damage. Even the smallest victories can give players a huge sense of satisfaction.
The control scheme can be very tricky to get the hang of at first. The game allows players to use either a keyboard setup or a gamepad controller, personally I opted for the controller. Unlike the keyboard the controls cannot be reconfigured on the controller but the default is a lot easier to learn and is more comfortable to use. The pixilated art work is very well done and is very reminiscent of Mega Drive era games. The only issue with its appearance is that the environments seem rather empty only presenting the occasional tree or signpost to draw the eye. More could have been added to help keep players interest in the levels design.
A Bastard’s Tale is a great game if you’re looking for a tough challenge. The combat mechanics take a little getting used to but they’re really top notch and there’s a great gameplay setting to go along with it. True it’s a little on the short side and it could have done with an actual story to give an extra push through those difficult times. However the addictive gameplay and need to get just a little further will keep pulling you in every time. This is a game that’s great for killing time in short bursts and one to recommend.
This review is based off a review code of A Bastard’s Tale provided by No Pest Productions.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.