Hello everyone. My name is Eli, and...I can't say no to the retro aesthetic. Wow! It feels good to get that one off my chest. In all seriousness, though, the resurgence of 8 and 16-bit era visuals on iOS has done a number on my wallet over the past few years, and that's been somewhat of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, I've discovered some fantastic experiences steeped in nostalgia: everything from Velocispider [$2.99 / Free] to Mikey Shorts [$1.99 / Free]. Yet for every gem that's still on my device, there's at least three lame ducks that have suckered me in with the power of childhood fan service.

So when I discovered Pixel Licker Games' Slayin [$0.99] as the result of a friend's tweet - complete with an icon that looked like a cartridge and an in-game controller skin - I knew I was powerless. The only question that remained was: would it be a wonderful walk down memory lane, or end up collecting virtual dust with all the other deleted duds?

Fellow old-school addicts, rest easy: this is one game that'll see so much play on your device that you'll be blowing the dust out of its metaphorical cartridge slot. (Note: blowing on your iPhone or iPad won't make this or any other game play any better.)

Far from trading in on beloved gaming tropes to make up for poor design, Slayin wraps a classic visual style and theme around a truly original concept that plays to the strengths of mobile. Styled as an "endless action RPG," the game puts you in control of one of three characters - the knight, the mage, or the knave - on a quest to rid the land of innumerable baddies, and take down a series of progressively more epic bosses. The catch? It all happens on one screen, with three buttons.

In Slayin, there's no need to travel far and wide: the action comes to you. From the moment you start a round, enemies begin filling the screen, piling in from all sides; it's your job to navigate the chaos with your trusty directional buttons and deftly press the action button to make quick work of the growing hoards.

In the case of the knight and knave, this means jumping out of the way and into enemies to let your outstretched sword do its work; the mage is somewhat more nuanced with a tornado attack that grants momentary invincibility and sends all things evil to their graves in one fell swoop. Speaking of which, the more you do some titular slayin', the more your character levels up, increasing the power and sometimes range of their attacks. Since a hero's job is never done, either, Slayin functions like a roguelike: as far as you may get and as powerful as you may become in one round, death means choosing a new character and questing all over again.

Beyond just its retro sensibilities, Slayin has something else in common with Mikey Shorts: absolutely top-notch virtual controls. It might seem hard to mess up two directions and one action, but we've all seen and experienced the horror stories. Here, each button serves as a great stylistic addition to the game's aesthetic, but isn't so fickle or demanding as to result in any missed presses. Moreover, the hit box on each proves wide and forgiving while also mindful of the buttons next to it, allowing you to quickly get into a groove and completely ignore what your hands are doing in favor of tracking and surviving the madness.

Speaking of which, Pixel Licker Games does a stellar job at filtering RPG trappings through the frenetic lens of arcade gameplay. The core principle that drives Slayin is the fact that - wholly unlike an RPG - there's virtually nothing you'll have to "learn". Instead of focusing on combat flow, and enemy type, or any sort of macro-level strategy, all the nuance comes from mastering the game's twitchy challenge.

As a byproduct, the game's genre influence is used to tickle your nostalgia bone and create a gorgeous micro-world you want to spend time in. And by shifting the focus to judging space, perfecting timing, and balancing patience, the game becomes a kinaesthetic joy: something you'll find yourself itching to play as soon as you've put it down.

That isn't to say there isn't plenty of RPG goodness packed into Slayin. In fact, what makes it so special is the way it distills each feature of the genre down into something bite-sized, while still maintaining that perfect feeling. Each unique character, for example, has a play style and set of upgrades all their own. Personally, I prefer the Knave's money and point-hungry focus on "luck", with dual blades that you can upgrade to force your enemies to drop better loot more frequently.

Speaking of which, huge points to Pixel Licker for integrating these upgrades right into the flow of play with a shop-keeper that pops up sporadically to let you use your coins in exchange for better gear. With that said, each pixelated hero is worth playing, and the game makes repetition super enticing by borrowing from Jetpack Joyride [Free] to give you a varied set of meta-goals that add purpose to each round.

Part of me hates even having the discussion about in-app payments, because so many reviews are colored by the fact that they even exist at all, without considering whether they're done well. With Slayin, though, I'm happy to report that the great balance is the only thing worth noting about them. The premium "Fame Points" are earned through play or bought as IAP, and mostly go for unlocking more superfluous things like additional controller overlays and fancy decorations for the tombstone that displays your high score.

Perhaps you could argue that the game's bigger rewards - a crazy-hard "Advanced Mode" that starts you at level 50 and an epic "boss rush" mode - take too many Fame Points to unlock, and pressure you to dole out. And that would be a fair argument...if you didn't enjoy fun. This game is completely tailor-made for "grinding," with its fast-paced play and short round length keeping things satisfying, and every new character and round costs just enough that I always found myself just within reach of affording the next unlock as things started to get a little repetitious. And if you find yourself impatient? You could do worse than toss this team some money.

Also worth noting is that the actual in-game items like armor and better weapons can only be bought with the coins earned during play, so there's no pay-to-win stuff going on here. Always a good thing for a high-score game.

Slayin may not have done much to quell my hopeless addiction to retro visuals, but it may have done me one better: it's raised the bar for all games like it.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • Bones00

    Nice! Among all of Thursday's releases, my impulse buy was the right one!

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      Absolutely 100%! The Other Brothers was super super disappointing for me, and this one is still scratching my iOS itch whenever I get a spare moment. :D

  • garret44

    Hmm wasn't sure about iaps, might give it a try

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      You definitely should. As you'll notice, I tend to stick around in the comments after my reviews hit (when I can), so feel free to ask me anything you might want to know.

      • garret44

        Thanks 4 the reply and great article! Is there a big variety in enemies like say punch quest?

      • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

        Definitely! To be totally fair, there are a lot of "grunt" enemies that may look different but which ultimately serve the same purpose. That said, you soon start to see enemies with huge attack variety and which require a different sense of timing and patience. Meanwhile, the bosses are wonderful! Each one felt unique and like it needed a different strategy.

      • garret44

        Thanks Eli!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Hopper/1238691947 Paul Hopper

    Agree, this is a awesome retro game :)

  • NOEN

    Definitely GOTW for me. I can't even sit on the toilet without opening this app up and playing a round or three.

  • orangeposer

    4.5 stars.... The soundtrack is fantastic! BUT I'd like to listen to the TouchArcade podcast while playing...

  • http://twitter.com/Socalledsin Eric

    I can't stop playing this game. Love it.

  • m44

    The advanced mode actually starts you at level 80. I easily unlocked all the characters, modes, and skins without purchasing IAP. The only items I need are cosmetic (tombstone scoreboard stuff).

    Very fun game! Nice write up Eli. :)

    • Greyskull

      Buh Buh...it just came out!

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      Haha, I have a comment awaiting moderation because I included a screenshot link in it, but I just checked the tavern again and mine is saying 50!

      • m44

        I believe the tavern says 50, but when you start it up it's actually 80. It's really not a big deal tho :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      I could be crazy and we may have different versions (perhaps it was updated and I'm out of the loop?) but mine actually says 50!

  • jakemat94

    Seems a tiny bit biased towards those who like retro games lol.

  • themostunclean

    I would have paid .99¢ just to have that awesome icon on my homescreen. Bonus that a great game came with it too.

    Also, I believe the review neglected to mention how great the music is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      You caught me! With any review, I tend to take an angle and develop a discussion about some key points that get across the crux of what makes a game playable/not playable. The music - though awesome and by someone who worked on the killer Retro City Rampage - felt for me like a stylistic addition that works wonderfully, but doesn't define the game as much as its novel concept/solid fundamentals.

      But! Consider this my repentance: this music is kickass.

    • shelbypanayotou

      my classmate's step-sister makes $76/hr on the internet. She has been without a job for ten months but last month her paycheck was $13699 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on  Fab99.c­om

  • reweblind

    Love this game so much, very addicting "lazy" rpg arcade game hehehe!

  • xx99

    Picked up halfway through the review. Slightly disappointed in The Other Brothers and fallen in love with Badland, I didn't think I needed another purchase this week. Oh well :).

    • xx99

      Oh man, haven't even had a single play yet but the intro animation, music, and menu sound effects are so delightfully retro.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

        Thanks for the compliment! At least...I take it as a compliment that you picked it up so soon into the review :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/kaduvrp Carlos Eduardo Viana

    This game's real name should be: "Everything Final Fantasy: All The Bravest should have been". I'm loving it so badly I'm going to review it!

    • Benegesserit

      FF:ATB could have definitely worked with some deeper gameplay but keeping with the simple swipe/touch mechanic. This would have been a dramatic change. By your logic any fun simple RPG gameplay with FF fan service is how ATB should have been.

  • diaskeaus

    Ok - so what's the difference between this game and Punch Quest? They seem very similar.

    • http://www.tap-start.com/ Mirkwood

      They are very different. Just spend the buck and see for yourself

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      I'd say with Punch Quest you're decidedly looking at an endless runner, with strong fantasy elements, but more focused on distance and goals around that. Here, you're focused on clearing the screen of enemies and beating progressively harder bosses. One is survival across a long, fast, linear path, the other is survival against an incoming hoard in a condensed space :)

  • Reignmaker

    This strikes me as more of an iPhone friendly game than iPad.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      Happy to say I played the entire thing on my iPad! :D It's definitely going to be sharper and almost more "tonally" suited to iPhone play, but I honestly felt thankful for the expanded screen real estate to see the tiny gaps between enemies here and there.

  • Th3R3n3gad3

    Hey Eli, are you new to TouchArcade?

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      Relatively new :) Been around for a couple of months now, w/ 6 reviews published.

  • Mj1ggy

    Is this similar to one screen games like Spellsword or Super Crate Box? If not how is it different? Because that's what I'm picturing.

    • MUTILATOR

      Well, Spellsword is completely awful, so no it's not anything like that. It is similar in some ways to Super Crate Box but definitely different.

      • http://profiles.google.com/fleshman1992 Laszlo Tuss

        Awful? This games looks extremely boring compared to Spell Sword and i still not blaming.

      • Mj1ggy

        Yeah I didn't like either of those games to be honest, still on the fence about this one but for now I have enough to play without adding this game. Love the icon though.

  • babeve

    Another "Tiny ARPG"?

    • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

      Yeah it baffles me how Tiny ARPG isn't mentioned in the review or until now in the comments. Looking at core gameplay/game design, this is a shameless ripoff. It does have a lot of extra flair and IS for all intents and purposes a better game, what with extra characters, mini-missions etc. Gotta go back and play them side by side...

      • http://twitter.com/dezign999 François

        You've clearly never played this as a flash game, in it's original release...

      • Ryan Bach

        Slayin' came out on PC in March 2012. Tiny ARPG was an iOS knock-off released in May 2012.

      • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

        My bad, I don't really monitor other platforms than IOS. And yeah I didn't see any mentions of that other game being the cheap rip-off when it was released. Anyway, playing and enjoying Slayin now.

    • m44

      From the developer in the forum thread "Slayin was there first, but it was initially released on PC. The game you mentioned actually cloned (or tried to clone) Slayin."

  • http://twitter.com/CharronKJ Chris Trejo

    No iCade support?!?! Thankfully there's Blutrol. Fun game for sure!

  • Allen Arcelo

    Wow, love the music. So retro, techno, and 80's synth-pop. I was in the fence about this one but I'm seriously considering downloading just for the music. And it's only .99 cents! Man, what a temptation.

  • MidianGTX

    So you like retro, huh? Hurry up and mention Brogue already.

  • PureRumble

    Ok ill ask the most important question about this review...

    There's two eli at AT?!?

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      There are! The *really* important question is: am I the good Eli, or the evil one!?

      • Boobi

        Wait wait... So there are 2 Eli's?? One with a beard one without... Hmmmm .... I smell a transporter malfunction.

  • http://www.bilgispot.net/ BilgiSpot.Net

    It looks like a fun game.

  • Vanamonde

    Doesn't play nice with the podcast app on the iPhone - even with sound turned off on the app it keeps interrupting playback from the podcast app.

    • Zeldaniac

      Correction: podcast app is crap.

  • Stichz

    iCade with this game would have been so awesome :<

  • s2cissor9s

    Does anyone else think this game is extremely difficult?

  • araczynski

    So die and start all over again? That sounds about as fun as endless runners :(

  • tognesimo

    Good game but....stop with this retrographic, iPhone is almost powerful like a psvita! There are hundred titles using 8 bit graphics

  • DranDran

    Tough game, for sure.

  • theundertow

    Digging this nostalgia-fest.

  • Wolf

    I think the meta-goals were first seen in Tiny Wings! Jetpack Joyride borrowed them from Tiny Wings and expanded them a bit. Btw. awesome game, can't stop playing.

  • lindobomba

    Great Game, Love it!

  • philadendron

    Can anyone comment on the quantity and/or quality of the GameCenter achievements? I'm kind of an achievement whore and I love when there are copious challenging/entertaining achievements. Wimp HD is a good example of achievements done right.

    • echo_pdx

      Eh, they're all right. It's standard fare, point-wise and challenge-wise, which is more than you can say for most games, I suppose. Get _______ points. Now get _________ points. Kill this. Now kill that. Play as this. Play as that. And so on.

      • philadendron

        Sure beats the achievements in all of Mountain Sheep's games. I'll take it. Thanks for the feedback.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.bromery Michael Bromery

    Pretty cool, so far. Definitely done with a nice awareness of the platform. I already anticipate the name of the sequel.
    Slayin 2 - Acoustic Boogaloo.

  • http://twitter.com/Hawk_Ky Kyle Sus

    Can anyone confirm if there are GC Achievements or iCloud support?

  • anoon

    Feeling kinda burned on this one. I did not care for Tiny RPG at all. If the Slayin reviews would have mentioned that the basic gameplay was the same, and not "totally original" I would not have bought it, despite the rave reviews.

    Even mentioning that action takes place entirely on a single screen would have helped. I suppose I only have myself to blame. Should have watched a video.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eli.cymet Eli Cymet

      So...you mean...the part where I said..."The catch? It all happens on one screen, with three buttons."

      I guess when it comes to *reading*, you do only have yourself to blame.

      • anoon

        Whoa. Did I seriously miss that? My apologies; I stand corrected.

        I'm not bummed about having spent the dollar. It's a fine game and I'm happy to support an indie dev when I can. I just don't see myself returning to Slayin'.

        Having somehow missed that crucial line of text, I suppose my disappointment stems largely from what I was hoping the games was, rather than what it actually is.

        Looking at the screens took me back to fond memories of Wonderboy in Super Monster Land. I guess something similar to that is what I was expecting.

        Again, my apologies. I'll chalk it up to my own misguided expectations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nadav.barkama Nadav Bar Kama

    have been slayin during breakfast ... a bit of slash action to wake up. it kind of reminds me for some reason of vlambeer SCB and spell sword ... anyway, nice casual play ... i like it! now you know my genre.

  • korkidog

    Looks like they ripped off Tiny ARPG to me. Same exact concept, but Tiny ARPG was out a year ago.

    • Zam Zar

      but Slayin was out on the web before that.

  • elijahca

    This game is fantastic!

Slayin Reviewed by Eli Cymet on . Rating: 5