One of the things I do love about digital services is how they will give you suggestions for new games to try out. Despite how insanely long my backlog is, I am always up for checking out gems I might have missed out on. This led me to discover Beholgar; a gothic platformer that appeared to be right up my alley! With its retro look and clear inspirations from a certain vampire franchise from the 80s, how could it not be worth checking out?
When Neil Breen starts sounding natural
As the barbarian Beholgar, you have just returned to your homeland after being gone for 20 years. However, as soon as you reach the shores, you are told that the evil sorcerer Hagma is back, and it is up to you to climb his recently risen tower and confront him. This is quite a straightforward plot and one I would have not minded if it continued being so, but this adventure tries forcefully to make it seem as grand as possible and fails at it completely.
You are essentially sent on various fetch quests in order to find a dragon, who also needs help in exchange for you to meet with the final boss. It is all monotonous, as none of the events is memorable. You merely infiltrate dungeons or palaces to gain the necessary tools for progression, and that is it. Sure, there are side stories to take on, but they are unimaginative like the one about locating a thief who stole from a lady in distress. It actually makes me wonder if they were placeholders for something better.
This could have been mitigated by the traditional cast to give it all a more minimalistic tone, such as the wise old man, strange wanderer, fat sultan, etc. Unfortunately, they are barely present and when they spew out anything, their dialogues are downright terrible. Plenty of punctuations, three sentences in a row beginning with “I”, and none of them serving to the plot. All are simply miserable attempts at adding personalities to this journey since they lack any themselves.
I cannot say that the lore strengthens the experience either. Despite that you will come across odd inscriptions for showcasing this world’s terrors, these do nothing to elaborate on this land you are returning to. Truthfully; Beholgar is such a bizarre attempt at adding something with basically nothing. It is like pouring kilos of sugar on a lump of burnt meat; it just leaves a bad taste that you cannot mask. This is storytelling at its worst.
Story Score: 1/10
Not grasping retro
Metroidvania might be the best description for this side-scrolling action title due to its focus on gaining abilities for exploration and combat, as well as having campfires that work as fast travels and save points. However, I am going to jump the gun here and say that this is a textbook example of a developer not understanding its genre. For starters, there is no detailed map in this game. Instead, you get a vague setup of where each region is located and are not even allowed to choose which camp to warp to within each zone, causing a ton of unnecessary backtracking.
Lacking any good insight on where you have been and not, is horrible for a product all about uncovering every nook and cranny. Sadly, it does not become much better when battling fiends, despite a decent setup. There is equipment to upgrade your character with, including expanding your ammo count for the ranged arsenal, four other weapons than your first sword for melee attacks, and extensions to your health bar. Because there is no XP to gather, these tools are quite helpful, making it beneficial to look around for them.
Alongside this, I do like how spares money is, which you can find in chests and from defeated foes. With this, you can buy recovery items that will be automatically used like antidotes or trinkets for specific functions such as a ring that lets you destroy projectiles by hitting them. You also lose your coins upon biting the dust, which makes the treasures you pick up severely valuable. Regrettably, death can come from plenty of cheap elements.
Controlling the barbarian might seem easy enough from the start, with you being able to swing your main weapon in a horizontal manner and throwable knickknacks being also possible to launch upwards. Furthermore, he can also hop, roll, and duck, with complete control over his midair movements and no fall damage. However, I only found his dodging useful for getting under small gaps, since you are left standing defenceless after each use. Additionally, it also travels too far and can effortlessly cause you to fall into pits of demise.
Speaking of, you will be traversing over multiple instadeath scenarios, including bottomless holes. This infuriates me, as the non-linear style was made to avoid such nuisances and could trick you into looking there for secrets. Instead, you just perish. While you will gain powers like a ledge grab and double jump, the latter makes level design monotonous due to the adventure only providing wider gaps and the former action barely works. In fact, there are certain platforms that are impossible to hold onto. When some can also crumble if you merely touch them from any side accidentally, it can be agonising and require pinpoint accuracy.
What is a great tragedy though, is that are glimmers of good ideas throughout this journey, like one ability letting you make an ice cube to land on. Unfortunately, with all the dreadful and unfair setups, I found myself only going for the essential segments for finishing the story. Strangely enough, even with the abundance of branching pathways, finding the main one for seeing the ending is never a problem.
This is not because of the areas being memorable, but rather how linear this world’s layout can be. Despite this, the difficulty is incredibly uneven! Parts will bombard you with enemies that either throw themselves at you or spit poison that can quickly kill you, before presenting you locations with nothing to worry about. Glitches can also make opponents stuck inside you, causing you to lose health fast and be unable to defend yourself.
As for your offensive tools, they are also bland. While you can acquire neat ones like a fire sword, they are mere upgrades to your strength stat. Since there are just five in the whole adventure too, I wonder why you do not simply throw away the weaker ones. It could have even fixed a bug that makes it so you can use two weapons at once in a swift motion. When it comes to the projectile arsenal, you pick up new ones from broken objects or fiends and they are terribly unbalanced. There is a slow spear, an axe flying an arc, a boomerang, and an overpowered flame attack. With the last one being the single one worthwhile, it becomes a chore having to run back if you accidentally grabbed one of the others.
You also get a rage metre that fills up as you slay enemies, but the payoff is laughable. Being capable of shooting a big blazing ball or stabbing the ground might sound intriguing, though both are used to destroy specific barriers. This creates a bizarre form of padding, due to how you need to fight more monsters just to get further. Neither of the moves even works in combat, as they barely harm foes, making them completely wasteful. In fact, your abilities do not really have a second function and are only for distinct uses, making them basically context-sensitive. Despite that your acrobatic actions can be combined for finding secrets, they are too poorly programmed in to be reliable.
Regrettably, the opponents are more bothersome than challenging because of how they can annoyingly stun you. None are hard to take down with persistent hits, but since you have to backtrack constantly, it can be tiresome having to face them multiple times. This holds especially true with how uninteresting they are, be they stationary flinging stuff or charging at you. Even the bosses are underwhelming, with exploitable and superficial patterns that make sure you will win with ease, including the mundane final encounter.
Lastly, this project simply is unfinished. I glitched countless times in my jumps by going the wrong way, button presses can be unresponsive, you only heal if you save and not by just interacting with a camp, progression is lousily explained, and bought rings and amulets are not shown in your inventory. This is honestly unforgiving, as these are obvious details that should have been implemented from the very start.
Every single issue within this title irritates me and I always wonder what happened when I stumble upon some of the promising ideas here. Be it a chase sequence where quick ledge grabs are important or subtle hints for where secrets are hidden, these are at least commendable. Yet, even if it would have gotten plenty of patches, Beholgar is far from being even an average instalment to the genre. Rather, it is an abysmal one.
Gameplay Score: 2.5/10
Products failing to replicate a retro style usually rely on their presentation to carry the rest of it, and this one is no exception. Utilising DOS aesthetics, everything here seems authentic and the colours are strong and vibrant, with impressive shading techniques to give the illusion of lighting. This island is quite diverse too, with a cold mountain to climb upwards on, a snake cavern to search through, bodies of fallen heroes within a forest, and even a Persian palace to explore. With multilayered backgrounds adding to the atmosphere, the visuals here are legitimately nice.
Unfortunately, the burrows and insides of establishments can be dull, with few decorations breaking up the repetition. The foes are also lacklustre, as while they can be grotesque and explode into lovely pieces of meat, they are rather forgettable. Skeleton knights, wraths, wizards, and lizard warriors offer variety and come with breathing animations to appear alive! Sadly though, they are not made to be distinct to this game and are at best mediocre. Even Beholgar is a generic take on a barbarian and it bugs me that he never uses his shield. The comic sans also hurts a project that otherwise looks decent.
Onwards, the music is good with a lot of notes to make them work for each area you are in. Whether they are high tunes for snowy terrains or echoed darker chimes in the graveyard, all are solid. Although, they do contain similar rhythms that make them more of background noises than anything memorable. The audio is made better with the crushed effects of you beating opponents or hearing their screams as they perish, even if the odd addition of xylophones and organs makes me question the retro tone.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Your problem, not mine!
Because there are no maps or even a task log for what you can do and where to explore, the thought of going around blind with minimal reward is awful. Anything you get only helps you move through the campaign faster and by the time you have gotten them, you have already wasted your time. Bland fetch quests and barely anything worth looking for are definitely not my ideas of fun. Even if there are some neatly hidden walls, there are also those that make me realise how silly this concept can be due to no hints.
Extra Score: 1.5/10
This reminds me of those incompetently made games for the NES that were only difficult to make them close to unbeatable, as despite that Beholgar is not nearly as challenging, it is undoubtedly frustrating in every aspect. Even if the presentation is above average, that is probably the only nice thing I can say, as this metroidvania has no polish, enjoyable combat, intriguing level design, fascinating world or any form of entertainment. I would like to think that no one sets out to make a bad product, but the efforts here are next to nonexisting.