One of the strangest trends in indie gaming over the past couple years has been NES-styled platformers. Half banking on nostalgia and half banking on difficulty, most NES-inspired indies are lackluster, lazy games. However, there’s always that rare diamond in the rough. Games like La-Mulana, Hotline Miami, and Shovel Knight take full advantage of a retro aesthetic to make games that succeed on more than just nostalgia. For the most part, Insanity’s Blade sits comfortably next to these greats as a wonderful retro throwback.
Insanity’s Blade follows Thurstan, a man who looks like the lovechild of Berserk’s Nosferatu Zodd and Street Fighter’s Akuma, and his much less interesting dwarven companion. After Thurstan’s wife and child are slaughtered, Thurstan descends to Hell to save their souls. While the plot is simple, walls of texts during level transitions are written surprisingly well, much more than what you would expect from a beat em’ up.
The levels were quite varied, taking you from dusty temples to cursed churches to a cliffside castle and more. Each level is pretty straightforward, tasking Thurstan to fight his way to the end before the time is up. What changes the game up is the hub, which houses mandatory and side quests. Each quest will take you back to a level with a new route unlocked, usually giving you gear, progressing the story, or having you face off against a miniboss. This was a very welcome way to change the pace, although it was annoying you could only revisit levels when quests prompted you to.
The overall aesthetic is very nice, and keeps within the 16-bit theme without looking like a cash in on the trend of retro throwbacks. Sprites are lovingly created for enemies and bosses, each of which look extremely different between stages up until late in the 3rd world, where enemies are sadly recycled from earlier stages. Regardless, each enemy and level looks very nice, with particularly satisfying gore after tearing an enemy in half. The music isn’t half bad either, with some very catchy tracks in the soundtrack. The game even lets you switch between music styled after the NES or the Genesis, which is quite the welcome touch.
Of course, the real meat and bones is the gameplay, which is surprisingly solid. Thurstan uses a mixture of grappling and knives to fight his way through levels, whittling down at enemy health with the occasional shift in gameplay. However, it’s not long before you get your hands on a weapon, which changes up the game completely. Weapons will deal extra damage to enemies, but will vanish when you cling to walls in the frequent platforming segments. However, sidequest obtained weapons stick with you until death, where you can simply re-equip them to mow through enemies.
I easily powered my way through the game after picking up a decent mace, with game overs few and far between. Even bosses weren’t that much of a threat, as you can purchase upgrades for your knives to make them shoot three at a time, six at a time, on fire, or six at a time on fire. By the time you achieve that last one, the enemies might as well pack up their bags. Near the end of a game, the titular Insanity’s Blade is bound to Thurstan by blood, thus making weapons a mandatory part of your moveset. Insanity’s Blade is honestly a rather weak weapon, at least compared to some of the other weapons you can pick up on your quest.
Technically, the game is quite sloppy. While it might not be filled with glitches, I found myself falling through walls on occasion, and the game had frequent trouble launching properly. While this didn’t detract much from the experience, it certainly didn’t make the game any better.
Insanity’s Blade may not be the most ambitious indie title of all time, but it does brawling and platforming really well. It looks good, it plays good, it sounds good, and for the most part, it runs good. While I did find myself running into a handful of annoyances, overall the time I spent with Insanity’s Blade was well worth the entry fee.
Insanity’s Blade was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform.
A nice throwback to the classics of old, with gameplay good enough to keep a player engaged the entire way through.