We seem to be in the midst of a mini hack and slash revival as Bayonetta found its way to Xbox One and PS4 last week and Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition landed on Switch. Here's our favourite games in the, often overlooked, genre.
It looks rather dated now, much as it did upon release.
Liam | Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtles in Time
It turns out hack and slash is an overlooked genre (in my house, at least) as I drew an absolute blank when it came to picking one for this week’s topic.
The only title I could think of was Darksiders II, which I bought on a whim after reading Sam’s review of the Deathinitive Edition back in 2016, but gave up on it less than halfway through after finding the in-game camera more of a challenge than the Corruption-ridden creatures roaming the Forge Lands.
The game I did want to pick, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtles in Time, is, according to the internet, a side scrolling beat ‘em up, but it’s got sharp weapons in it that players use to hack and slash at enemies, so I’m counting it.
It also had a great campaign in which Leonardo and the gang fought their way through all the choice eras of time– the wild west, pirate, prehistoric, neon future – on their quest to beat u… I mean, hack and slash, the Statue of Liberty stealing Shredder into submission.
But wait! It turns out there is a Turtles hack and slash game; the much-maligned Mutants in Manhattan, made by none other than genre specialists, PlatinumGames. Probably one they hope remains overlooked.
Mutants in Manhattan was not their best work.
Sam | Devil May Cry V
There are just a couple of viable options when it comes to crowning the greatest hack and slash game for me. I wouldn’t generally count myself as a fan of the genre, rather someone that very occasionally dabbles, but on two specific occasions I’ve been forced to sit up and take notice.
Playing the original God of War back in the day was something special; I’d never found any game to be more brutal or empowering. From there on out I tried several other games that fit the somewhat loose parameters of the hack and slash genre, only to find that a majority of it was mere mindless dreck.
I ignored pretty much any and everything that didn’t have God of War in the title thereafter - until I decided to give Devil May Cry V a shot last year, that is. It blew me away. The three protagonists all play distinctly and in terms of their mechanics could easily have carried individual games. In fact, Dante alone has so much going on that his massive skill set could’ve been introduced piecemeal over several different titles comprising a new series.
Throughout the entire DMCV campaign you never stop learning and developing as a player. It’s one of the few examples of true mechanical skill progression in gaming, feeling more akin to gaining proficiency at Guitar Hero than just memorising combos like in most other hack and slash games.
This is hack and slash done properly.
James | No More Heroes
If I hadn't brought it up before I might talk about DmC: Devil May Cry (which is excellent, for the record), but instead I'll go back further to the Wii era with No More Heroes.
While not dark and visceral like a Devil May Cry or a Dark Souls, this arcadey, cel-shaded take on doing people in with a beam katana – not a lightsaber, technically – brought me hours of fun in between fraught attempts to complete Resident Evil 4, so it served as quite the palette cleanser.
Series protagonist Travis Touchdown had an irreverent nature and plenty of Deadpool-esque, fourth wall-breaking commentary which lifted the fairly straightforward hack and slash element with the presentation and tone of the entire world.
Combat being a simple series of button presses, rather than the sort of complexity bordering on a fighting game, was definitely the right call for No More Heroes at the time, though it might have been nice to see a bit more variety. When you look as good as Travis did in his red leather jacket though, spawning a raft of dressing up in the process, it's hard to be too critical.
Throw in some… interesting… use of motion controls, which saw you vigorously shake the wiimote back and forth to keep your katana charged, and you've got yourself a unique experience which hasn't been touched since, even in its misguided sequel. Hopefully when he returns (again), Travis will bring us something new and keep this more "casual" take on the genre alive.
Be sure to let us know your favourite hack and slash game.
THQ's ARPG, Darksiders Genesis, launches on consoles this week, ditching the classic hack and slash gameplay for the first time in the series. This got us thinking about other franchises we'd like to get a genre-swapping spin-off.
A match made in heaven.
Sam | Cuphead
Cuphead is absolutely superb, don’t get me wrong, but its three comprising elements are all too disparate.
Side-scrolling levels are underbaked, having been shoehorned in based on player feedback instead of being planned from the start. Boss battles are incredible, but could be even more so with a preceding level to set the scene both thematically and mechanically. The world map connecting these stages is packed with interesting characters and hidden secrets, whereas in most other games it’d just be an elaborate menu.
Imagine instead that this hodgepodge was married into a more cohesive metroidvania. No longer a mixed bag of elements, Cuphead’s gameplay would flow just as beautifully as its hand-drawn animations. Ori and the Blind Forest, alongside upcoming sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps, would be given a run for their money as champions of the artisan 2D metroidvania.
The true beauty of it is that not much would need to change, in theory. All of the structural building blocks are there, as too are the suite of acquirable weapons and abilities. In addition to serving their existing combat benefits, they’d now simply need to be utilised in solving puzzles and opening up new areas as well.
Has Sam correctly predicted a change of pace for Cuphead 2?
Liam | Halo: Reach
Halo: Reach is pretty much a perfect game, but I can’t help but think that Bungie’s best would also work ridiculously well as side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up.
The Covenant, made up of Grunts, Jackals, Elites and Brutes, are perfect cannon fodder for the genre, and you’ve got a great selection of ready-made characters in the form of Noble team, with enough numbers and skill-sets (Emile for close quarters, Kat as engineer, Jorge as a heavy, Jun ranged etc.) to cater for six-player co-op sessions.
Most of the campaign’s levels would also translate rather well to the 2.5D setting, whether it’s battling through space in a Longsword interceptor, hopping between skyscrapers with a jetpack and some AI ODST’s for company, or tearing through the desert on a Mongoose.
You could even throw in some decent boss battles in the form of Covenant cruisers (for the space parts) Hunter pairs, or maybe even some of those weird giant troll things that briefly make an appearance in the mission Nightfall.
Basically, it’s perfect, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been made before. Halo: Spartan Assault comes close, but it doesn’t really count because it’s a twin-stick at heart and all the action takes place in a slightly different perspective.
There's precedent for an all-together different Halo.
James | Pokémon
While Pokémon is one of the best known entertainment franchises around the world, it's clear a change is needed. While many, myself included, enjoy the lighter-touch approach Pokémon Go presents, there's a lot more that could be done with the franchise.
There have been various spin-offs already, but what I don't think we've had so far is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, something similar to the likes of Streets of Rage or even something more 3D like Sonic Adventure, but with more battling and less platforming.
We've come close before with the fisticuffs of Pokkén Tournament and Super Smash Bros. or the roaming antics of the free-to-play Pokémon Quest, but with a world so ripe for exploration, there's a lot of potential here.
Imagine a few RPG elements to levelling up your character to provide a more active take on the EV character attributes system, letting you double-down on speed and see the benefit in combat.
Tag-teaming a couple of characters would be good, or perhaps something more like Dragon Age Inquisition's party-based combat system, switching up skills and types for the best match-ups for enemies.
Getting the balance right would be tricky, not to mention narrowing down which 'mon to make playable, but inspiration from the anime alone is enough to give some sense of the spectacle and excitement to going more hands (or paws) on.
Take note, Nintendo.
Which franchises would you change for the better?
Zombie Army 4 released on Tuesday, making it the second game in the series following Zombie Army Trilogy. Whilst this is certainly odd, Rebellion aren't the only offenders who could use a little help when it comes to naming sequels. We've come up with a few of the worst offenders.
This is currently the most modern of the warfares.
When you think about it, Halo Infinite is an odd name to give to the sixth mainline entry in an ongoing series of games. I mean, where do you go from there? Infinite 2? Infinity and beyond? But, looking back on the series, it’s not entirely out of place.
The very first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, had a seemingly unnecessary subtitle that was ditched for the numbered sequels that followed, but the practice was brought back, somewhat confusingly, for the fifth entry, Halo 5: Guardians.
Then there’s spin-off titles such a Halo 3: ODST, which isn’t Halo 3 DLC, as you might expect, but an entirely self-contained game set before the events of Halo 3 and during/just after the culmination of Halo 2.
Halo Reach, my personal pick of the decade, I’ll allow, because the prequel is indeed a Halo game set on a planet called Reach, and it makes more sense than calling it Halo -1.
Halo veterans (that’s people who have played a lot of Halo games, not another numberless sequel) might be fine with all this, but if you’re approaching the series for the first time, you’d be forgiven for not knowing where to start. But then again, it is the flagship franchise of Microsoft, who know a thing or two about confusingly titled products.
Halo Veterans does have a nice ring to it.
I’m flipping the topic on its head by singling out a bizarre title with a more sensibly-named sequel on the way.
When I saw that a plucky little game called Remothered: Tormented Fathers was getting rave reviews, as a lifelong fan of survival horror, I had to give it a try. Stepping into the protagonistic stilettos of a blatant Jodie Foster bootleg, I anticipated uncovering the origin of such a mysterious title. Instead, I spent a frustrating few hours being left almost none the wiser.
Made up mystery verb “remothered” is altogether too perplexing to stick at the beginning of your title and then not address. I thought about its potential meaning a lot. Is a child without parents remothered upon adoption, having initially been orphaned? Are you remothered when you marry and gain a mother-in-law? I thought about how these kinds of things could apply to the game and came up with some solid headcanon, which would, unfortunately, spoil the game’s main twist twist if shared here.
Later I learned from the developers’ own “What does ‘Remothered’ mean?” article that it’s a combination of thematically relevant words. It’s disappointing that there’s no more concrete definition, but still, I can appreciate the ballsy (if also slightly baffling) inclusion.
There’s a sequel on the way called Remothered: Broken Porcelain, which allegedly just pipped Remothered: Titillated Grandfathers to the post.
That is an uncanny likeness.
The Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy series fought long and hard for my entry and ultimately I've decided they are both as egregious as each other.
On the one hand Final Fantasy has a legacy of 15 main titles, with only XIII spawning direct sequels, while Kingdom Hearts reached the rather paltry third installment last year – of course that neglects to mention the multiple games that released between two and three.
In fact, there are 13 Kingdom Hearts games before you even think about remakes or remasters, as well as collections on top of that, leading to titles like the daunting Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue.
For Final Fantasy, you first have to get over that the first game isn't going to live up to its name and be "final" at all, as this series has been going strong since 1987.
Then you've got XIV, which was released, then shut down and re-released as a different game, with a different subtitle (A Realm Reborn) a year later. Even ignoring VR fun times for XV, there's X-2, VII: Snowboarding and Final Fantasy Tactics, which gave way to a series of its own.
In all, both franchises make their games less accessible to some players as a result of this sea of names, which is one reason why I've never been able to bring myself to jump in.
Will there ever be a "final" fantasy?
Which confusingly titled sequels would you like to see renamed?