Generally, when a game promises to be “NES Hard”, it’s not a good sign. The action-platformers of the NES era were hard not so much because of good design or genuine challenge, but more due to cheap kills and frustrating platforming, mostly encouraging trial-and-error and memorization rather than developing actual skill. There’s a reason they don’t make them like Ninja Gaiden anymore. We’ve already left ya, and you’re better off left behind.
But despite its obvious and stated inspirations, Lament manages to rise above its predecessors’ flaws. While a tad too short and lacking in various respects, it delivers the sort of tight, fast-paced action that only through nostalgia is associated with those old NES games.
Lament is a 2D retro platformer, where you play a wolf armed with a sword upon whom, for the sake of brevity, I have bestowed the title of Sword Wolf. Plopped unceremoniously into a cloudy, arcane hub, Sword Wolf must clear four levels in any order he desires before unlocking a final level, where the final boss awaits.
The first few moments with Lament (which I almost accidentally called Sword Wolf) can be quite challenging. Although the four levels can be completed in any order, it is likely that players will start with the nearest one – the first from the left – which also has the hardest platforming by far. Enemies are relentless and bottomless pits are everywhere, making patience and precision essential.
Like in many NES platformers, getting hit by enemy projectiles knocks Sword Wolf back, but not only that – it actually causes him to bounce back all the way to the nearest wall, which, depending on your situation, can be either deadly or hilarious. Since the first level contains disappearing floating platforms, timing can make the difference between falling to your death or landing safely back where you started from. It can be really funny and nerve-wracking to watch Sword Wolf bunny hop backwards all the way across a pit back to safety, and it’s so well-timed that I have to believe it’s intentional.
Each level is divided into two halves, with the first leading to a room where you gain a power-up and the second ending with a boss encounter. Lament is brilliant in that each level presents you with a problem, and in most cases, the power-up you receive in the level is a way of making that problem much easier to deal with – which means the second level can take things up a notch and see how you adjust. It’s really, really damn good design, and it makes replaying levels just to appreciate this dynamic a lot of fun. The only unfortunate thing is that the game is inconsistent about this, and a power-up or two feel more like filler than anything else.
There is, however, another problem with Lament, and although it’s a bit superficial, it’s much more serious than anything mentioned above. My first run with Lament took about an hour; my second, about 40 minutes, and this with doing some levels more than once. Experienced retro-platformer players could probably get to Lament’s ending credits in about half an hour.
That, in itself, is not a problem – I feel like Lament does very well as a short, fluid, to-the-point game, and I’ve had a lot of fun with my short time playing it. However, even at its modest price point, this might be too little. We live at a time when both slightly older AAA games as well as brand-new, full-length indie games sell for anywhere between $5 and $10 on Steam. Many games not much shorter than Lament can be found for free on Steam or itch.io.
“Sword Wolf – uh, I mean – Lament is a really fun time.”
And so, I’m torn. On the one hand, I really like Lament. I think its developer has the potential to make truly amazing things. However, as much as I appreciate the artistic and development endeavor here, I find it absolutely necessary to warn players that Lament may not have the best time-to-money ratio. And while I have no problem with short games, and have had much more fun with many 10 hour games than most 50 hour open-world games I’ve played, this might be taking it a bit too far.
This is a very well-made game, minus some technical issues, and it’s a damn good time. I, for one, am certainly going to keep an eye on developer Radcroc. Either way, if its short duration doesn’t deter you, or if you see it on sale, I would highly recommend picking up Sword Wolf.
I mean Lament.