Insanity’s Blade is a 2D Action game centered around Thurstan in his quest for revenge against a demon that slaughtered his entire village and his family. It has quite a strong opening and you are thrust into a village up in flames and citizens are desperately running for their lives before you even start to play. You can save a few villagers that are tied up or have something that you need to progress but most are on their own as Thurstan continues onwards with only vengeance on his mind. Throughout most of your adventure you will be accompanied by a dwarf that fights by throwing axes but will only show up in cutscenes if you are not playing local coop making him seem like a rather unimportant character if you are playing solo. Thurstan himself fights by throwing daggers but can also pick up a multitude of weapons like shovels, torches and swords to name a few. He can also grab enemies to throw them out of the way, but the range of grabbing is way too short, ensuring you will nearly always take damage so I only used it when I was standing under a trap and needed to get the enemy out of the way immediately. Your enemies will mostly be composed of the undead and a few demons, most are just cannon fodder and go down without posing much of a threat. Most of my deaths were by being knocked back after taking some damage and being pushed back, it is a very real threat that you should be careful of since enemies love waiting at the corner of a cliff to do you in. You have a health bar and can take multiple hits but a misplaced jump or not seeing a trap will instantly kill you and set you back to the checkpoint, assuming you have any lives left.
Before you start your quest you will be able to pick either Story mode which has side quests and the story is told before and after levels or Arcade mode that gets rid of side quests, saving the game and most of the story. The side quests are my biggest issue with the game. The story is not the most interesting one around but it is serviceable but the side quests break up the flow of the narrative badly. First off most are not optional and you will have to replay some levels over a few times before being able to move on to the next level. It may not sound like a big deal but imagine this scenario. You have traveled a vast frozen wasteland in the middle of a snow storm with no clothes, no way back and very dangerous terrain, and you now stand at the gates of hell, all to save your loyal comrade who was dragged into it’s depths to aid you in your quest. And then you have go all the way back to the Swamp stage to collect some useless item, dwarf be damned. It’s stuff like this that made me care little for the story which is unfortunate since Insanity’s Blade is the first part of the planned series. Arcade mode has very little story, no saving and best of all no side quests. I vastly preferred this mode even though it does have a bit too much useless dialogue such as in the second level where a random man stands and says that “you are now entering the dungeon of …..” and that doesn’t really mean anything without the context of the story mode. Would be way less annoying is you could skip text instead of waiting for it to go away.
There are four difficulties which are Casual and Normal, both have unlimited continues and then we have Manly and Hell which have no continues and is suggested for those that like the threat of actually being able to lose the game and want to fully experience Arcade mode. A rather neat feature is the ability to play either the 8 bit or 16 bit soundtrack. You may want to switch soundtracks over time because while the music is awesome at first, it has very little variation from song to song and the constant need to replay levels in Story mode makes it much more annoying though not unbearable. Overall there are 16 levels including the opening and most feel very unique as the environments are constantly changing, like the first level being set in the after mentioned burning town while the second is in a swamp stage with giant fighting trees. One level even turns the game into a shoot em up where you ride a dragon and breathe fire onto your enemies. That was fun though the dragon does move too slow to confidently dodge projectiles and some enemies were very damage spongy. In fact a lot of the enemies can feel bullet spongy throughout the game since they added an experience system where you level up after killing enough enemies and become more powerful, though progressing to another level without killing much and the enemies will feel like they soak up too much damage until you level up. On the other hand it can make the game an absolute breeze if you kill enough enemies, though the timer in levels discourages this. Even arcade mode has this leveling up system which is unfortunate.
Another RPG aspect of this game is that enemies drop money that you can use in a weapon shop that allows you to buy more lives or allows you to throw more daggers each attack. Gathering enough money to finally be able to throw 6 flaming daggers at once was a pleasant experience. Money feels perfectly balanced and actually valuable making each purchase decision a potentially fatal if you don’t want to buy any lives to save up for a more powerful attack. You will have to be quick on your feet to pick up loot since it does disappear rather quickly. There is also an inventory system in which you can carry six weapons and swap them out at will. You do lose the ability to switch weapons once you pick up the Insanity Blade pretty late in the game though it is far more powerful than anything you had before it and necessary to defeat the forces of hell. Most of the challenge lies with the enormous screen filling bosses that you must defeat. To give an example of a boss, at one point you fight an immobile and imprisoned titan whose only source of attack is to swing his eyeball at you and occasionally blast energy out of it. It is much more of a challenge then you might imagine (until you learn pattern) and craziest of all he swings his eyeball in a room filled with spikes. It’s that absurdity that leaves me excited to face the next boss awaiting me though toward the end you do face the same boss in a few stages with no differences to his attack pattern. Unfortunately that blighted leveling up system does make some boss fights far easier than they should be. While it is pretty cool to see Thurstan become a killing machine by the end it would be nice to be able to turn it off.
Another issue I would like to bring up is with the artstyle. There are too many foreground objects blocking your view. They do become transparent when you stand behind it but that’s not so with the enemies causing you to attack blindly just in case there is something behind them. When all is said and done this is still a very good game. While the RPG aspects of it like side quests in story mode and leveling up subjectively harms the game, it more than makes up for it in the sheer fun of it all. As long as you set it to “hell” difficultly and play in Arcade mode it will surely challenge you till the end despite the leveling up system. It is a dark, no nonsense game that really feels like someone mixed together both Conan the Barbarian and Berserk. When you beat the game you can turn off the thrown daggers in every attack and slay your enemies with pure melee giving the game a whole new feel. Insanity’s Blade has it’s flaws but I truly believe it to be a hidden gem and worthy of any fan of the Action genre. If you are terrible at Action games this would be a great one to get you into them. At it’s low price it is an easy recommendation to anyone that is even slightly interested in Insanity’s Blade. It will be very interesting indeed to see the direction of this new series.