Developer: Southend Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver
We adore sidescrolling beat 'em ups here at Dealspwn.com. They're frequently not big nor particularly clever, but when enjoyed with a couple of mates on the same sofa, a lukewarm pizza and a few cold drinks (perhaps of the alcoholic variety if you're over 18), the local shenanigans they provide are one of life's simple pleasures. There's something wholesome about getting together around a single screen for an epic night of punching goons in the face, an increasingly rustic joy that's fast becoming a distant memory in this digital age.
Sacred Citadel follows in the grand tradition of Streets Of Rage, TMNT and Guardian Heroes, offering plenty of brutal action while infusing RPG elements and gorgeous rotoscoped fantasy trappings into the formula. It's not the finest example of the genre available on downloadable platforms, but if you're looking for some local cooperative fun, you can't go far wrong here.
As one of four fantasy heroes, players delve through a selection of twenty stages in the search of a magical artefact and some nefarious villains. Set in Ascaron's Sacred RPG universe, it's an appropriately lighthearted affair that's heavy on goblins, dwarves and silly humour, but more importantly it's just an excuse for a bit of a romp. Advancing from left to right through 2.5D stages, you'll face off against hordes of colourful adversaries and enormous bosses, with the sole objective of beating them all into hilarious submission.
Four classes are up for grabs, each of which draws on a shared selection of light melee attacks, dodge rolls, blocks, launches and unlockable combos. Pleasingly responsive if somewhat familiar, the core mechanics will be second nature to anyone who's played the likes of Guardian Heroes or modern beat'em ups like The Dishwasher or Shank. However, heavy attacks draw upon each class' unique skillset, such as an arrow storm for the Ranger or magical staff blast for the Shaman, resulting in unique ways to mix up combos or control more dangerous foes around the screen. Factor in a charging special attack, which deals ruinous damage or game-changing team heals, and you've got a potent recipe for brawling excellence.
A recipe that's cooked remarkably well, considering that Southend lack the expertise of more dedicated outfits like WayForward Technologies or Klei Entertainment. Whether you're duelling against hordes of axe-wielding melee fighters, an enormous multi-stage boss or keeping diminuative swamp beasts from gnawing on your ankles, Sacred Citadel offers a diverse range of arenas and challenges to overcome, along with a roster of foes that expand after the first handful of stages. Since many levels also feature unique traps and hazards, not limited to a swinging log, swirling firestorms, beastly mounts, deep water and runaway mine carts, Sacred Citadel manages to stave off repetition more effectively than countless other brawlers we could mention.
Sacred Citadel predictably comes into its own when enjoyed with friends. All great brawlers do. Though only three players can get involved in contrast to the usual quartet, the classes compliment each other nicely (especially the group-healing Shaman) and help to make what could have been a repetitive solo experience feel vital and fresh. Bosses and enemies also scale depending on how many players are involved. Despite solid netcode, we'd absolutely recommend that you play Sacred Citadel locally, since it evokes the grand old days of single-screen gaming. It's just plain better. So there.
A single playthrough will take about four hours all-told, but that's not really a fair assessment. Sacred Citadel is underpinned by a simple yet robust levelling system that lets you boost a small selection of stats as you defeat enemies, and loot to find or buy with persistent gold. Towns, available between each mission, offer you a selection of attribute-boosting crystals, consumable potions, weapons and more, along with optional challenges to beat such as completing a level without dying or besting a score threshold. You're therefore encouraged to replay completed levels several times over to round out your character and save up for some of the more powerful armaments, which is an addictive proposition both on and offline.
Ancaria, the Sacred RPG setting, provides a colourful canvas for Southend Interactive to go to work on. As the developers behind gorgeous puzzler Ilomilo, their experience with delivering colourful visual flair is evident for all to see thanks to eyecatching cel-shaded art engorged with vibrant hues, smooth animations and irrepressible personality. Sacred's trademark humour compliments the lighthearted tone nicely, giving us a welcome respite from the torrent of brown and grey posturing that tends to dominate the more popular military releases.
Unfortunately, Southend's relative inexperience with sidescrollers manifests in a couple of disappointing ways. Chief amongst them is odd AI behaviour and pathfinding that sometimes leads to standard enemies and midbosses stopping in their tracks, standing still without attacking or bizarrely retreating around the screen for no apparent reason. Most of the mid-boss attack patterns are also incredibly predictable and telegraphed to an almost insulting degree, making them all too easy to exploit.
Indeed, Sacred Citadel is perhaps a mite too easy, at least for genre fans. An inconsistent challenge curve presents a few welcome spikes in some boss encounters or pitched battles in unpredictable arenas, but on the whole, exploiting launches and heavy attacks allow you to control groups of enemies far too efficiently. You'll quickly find yourself above the level curve if you decide to delve back into previous stages, and coupled with the quirky AI and telegraphing, you might end up blowing through much of the campaign without incident.
Crucially none of this stops Sacred Citadel from being enormously wholesome fun. Though some may balk at the £11.99/1200 MSP price tag (bizarrely £12.99 on Steam), especially considering that Guardian Heroes and Castle Crashers are readily available for less, it's a small price to pay for nostalgic cameraderie and local cooperative bliss.
- Responsive and satisfying combo-driven combat, neat classes
- Eyecatching and colourful art style
- Robust RPG systems add content and meaningful value
- Enemy AI and pathfinding frequently embarrasses itself
- A tad easy in parts
- Repetitious if played solo, £11.99-£12.99 might seem like a big ask
The Short Version: Sacred Citadel is an superbly enjoyable arcade beat 'em up that makes the most of the colourful setting, characters and addictive RPG systems. Though Southend's inexperience with brawlers leads to a couple of combat gripes, be sure to get involved if you're a fan of local co-op.
Definitely a hot contender for your next 'pizza and screens' sofa session.