Fast-paced, brutal, and fun side-scrolling brawler Sacred Citadel is hardly the sort of game you'd expect from the developer of the adorable Ilomilo. The art style is immediately identifiable as Southend Interactive's -- it's bright, detailed, and unlike most other games. The design, meanwhile, is decidedly Sacred -- publisher Deep Silver promises an extensive customization and loot system. The game itself, though, brings rapid violence to a dwindling genre struggling to regain relevance.
Castle Crashers aside, beat-'em-ups tend to fall into the same trap, whether they're remade or re-released classics, or original action games looking to spark arcade interest. Repetition, a consequence of limited player capabilities and simple gameplay ideas, almost invariably leads to boredom. Sacred Citadel combats this with an extensive, evolving combat system.
Heavy and light attacks change based on your directional input as well as which weapons your character wields. Serrated blades are faster and more precise than an axe's devastating area-of-effect damage, for instance, but lack the range and power. At any given moment, you're switching between two types of melee or ranged weaponry. Depending on your class, you may bring a bow, magic, or big sticks to slaughter legions of monsters -- and as they build up the energy to unleash it, players can let loose class-specific special powers.
Suck it, log boss.
Beyond the moment-to-moment satisfaction of creating blunt-force trauma as a warrior, complete with visualized, comic book-like impact, Sacred Citadel drives you through its world with plentiful loot drops. New weapons, pieces of armor, and unlockable abilities empower your brutish warrior, rogue-like ranger, or shaman healer.
All of this comes together in a meaningful way. Your team's abilities play off each other, so while an archer distracts a gigantic fist-fighting tree boss, others can attack and heal as necessary. These classes do a great job of keeping each other safe because of their unique skills. It's a genuinely cooperative co-op game,and that makes it something far more special than others like it.
If your Golden Axe alarm is going off, you've got the right idea.
What makes Sacred Citadel interesting -- aside from simply existing as a surprising spinoff of its dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash action-RPG predecessor -- is the various itches it aims to scratch. Fundamentally, it's a by-the-books Golden Axe lookalike that hits an old-school note. The vibrant art appeals to those who love looking at pretty things. The depth and variety exists for hardcore RPG nerds, and action game vets will get something out of the combat.