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ACA NeoGeo: Crossed Swords (PlayStation 4) artwork

The third-person viewpoint is not something often associated with 2D gaming, especially since it was used sparingly back in the day. Even more uncommon was a third-person 2D game where the protagonist is represented as a transparent outline; the early Punch-Out!! releases likely come to mind for some, though other games have used the concept, usually reserved for shooty-bang titles or other boxing releases. That puts Crossed Swords in an interesting position. Neither a shooter or boxer, this game instead opted for a hack 'n slash approach, taking place in a medieval fantasy setting as an armored knight. Tasked with freeing the land under siege by a demonic lord and his minions, you must traverse treacherous surroundings across a combination of static and side-scrolling backdrops.

If you're thinking this to be a straightforward button mash-a-thon, then you'd be surprised what's attempted here. As the opening tutorial states, defense is encouraged; if you successfully block an attack, the enemy will be temporarily stunned, paving way for a counter strike. Basically, the game has a parry system. Not concluding there, a few more elements were tossed into the fray, incorporating RPG-like aspects into gameplay. You have typical traits such as leveling up through experience points, limited use of magic, and obtaining gold from defeated foes, which can then be used with traveling merchants for healing and weapons.

A third-person, 2D, hack 'n slash game where the protagonist is a transparent outline, whom you must control using a parry system and RPG features; there's definitely a lot of interesting stuff going on, but the implementation of said aspects is underwhelming. Crossed Swords reels you in with its hook, which is neat for the first few minutes of actual play, but if you go for more than five, you notice something very glaring. Breaking it down, each stage is separated into segments, and each segment makes you fight a set number of enemies, one by one. Enemies can be anything from anthropomorphic rats, to armored knights and orcs, which you fight on trails, through forests, and at an occasional castle.

With that in mind, the glaring issue comes from a gameplay standpoint: the structure pretty much gives up around the second stage. This actually doesn't become apparent until you reach the third stage; you'll encounter... armored knights and orcs... which you fight in front of the exact same trails and forests. Every so often, the game will introduce a new opponent, but they quickly get recycled as well. Yes, repeated palette swap foes are definitely a common thing in video games, but you need to understand that Crossed Swords literally forces you to fight one enemy at a time; even in two-player co-op, each player is given one enemy to fight at a time. It's incredibly redundant, so it doesn't help that the devs are already rehashing enemies and backdrops after the first stage. Don't forget that these one-on-one battles are within segments in each stage, with subsequent stages adding a lot more "content" as you progress.

The parry system could have salvaged the repetitive design, turning this into a tolerable time waster. But the thing is... you're really only parrying in two ways: up and down. You could make an argument that this isn't as easy as it sounds, as you have a second, maybe less, to parry correctly based on the enemy's attack animation. The wrong choice can be quite punishing as your opponent lets loose a flurry of swings. However, there's a mechanic that unintentionally sabotages this, cheapening combat and undermining the parry system.

Similar to certain beat 'em up titles, you can use special attacks that cause major damage, but at the expense of some health being drained from your meter. Crossed Swords has three, with one in particular causing your character to swing his sword wildly within a brief time span; this single move breaks the game's structure. Pretty much the entire rogues gallery is susceptible to this attack, allowing you to plow through crowds of tough enemies without batting an eye. Essentially, instead of being heavily wounded by one enemy while bashing them with a normal slash, you can take the same amount of damage as you're hammering through several foes with the special. And if you time it correctly, you can make it to a merchant or food location where health can be restored.

Some enemies can tank this attack, normally boss types in the latter half. No problem: either use the repel special attack that knocks them back or the magic spell that freezes opponents in place while you whale on them... How wonderful... But say the overpowered attacks are removed. What's really left? You have a game that creatively brings mechanics and concepts together, yet ironically, quickly gives up creatively and structurally mere minutes into gameplay. The repetition in the beginning is bad enough, but if you actually attempt to play through to completion, the latter half is needlessly insufferable. It's literally more of the same, just doubled and tripled. Crossed Swords is married to the idea that "quantity over quality" is a good idea; if you like being bored and frustrated, sure.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 10, 2021)

Slime Rancher feels like its concept and ideas are more interesting than the game's execution itself. Like, Slime Rancher has a lot of neat looking merchandise I would contemplate getting.

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