On-screen controls haters, take notice. If you play Sword of Xolan ($0.99), you’ll have to rethink many of your arguments, and we all know how people love to hold on to their opinions. Sword of Xolan is a retro platformer that’s just come out and is an entertaining action game with lovely art and strong level design whose only downside is a difficulty curve that often doesn’t offer the right kind of challenge at the right moment. While this issue doesn’t make the game repetitive, it does detract from the challenge and keeps the game from platforming perfection.
As with most platformers that immitate their 80s and 90s forefathers, Sword of Xolan has a semblance of a story that adds the bare minimum cohesion to the game. Still, no one plays these kind of games for the story, so Xolan’s unclear goals and lack of depth as a character matter to absolutely no one, including this reviewer. The part of Sword of Xolan the players will care about is the part right after the quick intro when the jumping and slashing begins. The game has all the familiar tropes of platformers – insects that move up and down on a web, patrolling monsters that occasionally spit stuff at you, rock-throwing monsters, an abundance of spikes (the budget for spikes in these kinds of games must really be endless), plenty of boxes and bottles to break, and the occasional flying monster. Even though the ideas behind Sword of Xolan will feel familiar, this platformer is by no means a cookie-cutter one; the developers have worked hard to provide the players with interesting monsters that do more than just patrol back and forth. Some enemies will come straight at you, some will fly as if they are simply sightseeing, and other will fly towards you, pause, and shoot from afar.
With all this variety in enemy behavior, then, it’s a pity that the developers have made spell-casting such a central and, to be honest, easy to abuse system that takes away some of the strategy that the game would’ve demanded if you had to use your sword more often. You get your spells by collecting blue potions, which give you three shots. However, you get those potions too often which gives you an easy way out if an enemy is tricky because you can just stand across the screen and shoot away. As the game gets more difficult, the spells get less useful, but they are too often a bit of a crutch, which is a pity. The game’s difficulty also doesn’t promote too much experimentation because Sword of Xolan has pretty much the same level of difficulty for all ten levels of each act. I would’ve preferred if the developers pushed the player’s skill more on each level, especially because the levels do take some time to complete, and if you lose, it’s back to the starting line. I’m not saying this game is easy, because it’s not; I just wish each level challenged me more than the previous one.
Fortunately, the challenge that Sword of Xolan does provide isn’t the result of the controls being challenging, because they are by far the best part of the game. First of all, the five on-screen buttons (Left, Right, Jump, Swing, Cast Spell) can be moved around the screen to suit your fat or thin fingers. They are also incredibly responsive and accurate – every double jump registers as such, every rapid sword swings registers too. I could easily perform any kind of move I wanted, incuding changing directions while swinging my sword mid-air. When I would lose a heart, it was never because of a tap not registering properly.
While the controls are the best part of the game, the visuals are a close second, with some good-looking pixel art and vibrant colors making this journey a visually pleasant one. The enemies could have some more color variety within the same act (same sprites with different colors), and maybe the ability to change your hero’s armor occasionally would have helped with visual variety, but I’m nitpicking here. The sound is also excellent, with a great score and some funny one-liners that certainly entertain. Overall, even if platforming wasn’t really your thing, you’d still enjoy playing Sword of Xolan for the sights and sounds alone.
The game offers 30 “Story" levels, 3 Bosses, and 9 time-based challenges, all for the low price of $0.99. Now, if you think that the game is too short for the price you pay, well, we will definitely agree to disagree here. The game also has a very light Collectible Card part where you can buy random cards (which offer various powerups), but this mode could have been much better integrated within the game as it now feels like kind of a throwaway. Despite some of my complaints though (and they’re all quite small), Sword of Xolan is a fun platformer with great controls and a good variety of enemies. While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely a great choice for anyone who loves platforming on mobile.