By: Jeff Cater
Bard’s Gold is an infuriating side-scroller where you play as a bard wandering around a castle in an attempt to keep an evil spirit locked away. Developed by Pixel Lantern, Bard’s Gold looks and feels just like a classic ’90s platformer, which works both for and against the game. While the nostalgia it brings is charming, the gameplay feels utterly dated and archaic.
First of all, even though you can upgrade the speed of your character, he just moves too slowly, and it often results in frustrating deaths. On numerous occasions you’ll receive a piece of treasure that pauses the game around you, but at the same time it also stops rendering enemies and projectiles…
…except in the background, so you might think you have a second to snap back into the run of things after you pick up an item but are immediately worked over by an enemy that didn’t lose any momentum during the pause.
So as you wander through the castle waiting for arrows to be shot by nonexistent enemies off-screen (nineties, woo!), you will also have to contend with spikes on walls that don’t move, spikes on the ceiling that fall down when you least expect it, spikes that pop out of the ground, books that come to life, enemies that blaze directly across the screen… and each thing kills you in one hit.
I did buy an item from the shop called a Sphere Barrier, which has a descriptor that reads “Glass may shatter… in return, you survive.” I was promptly killed by one hit yet again after purchasing it, and unless it was a glitch, it made me pretty upset and discouraged.
Shops can be found every so often throughout the castle, and it does indeed house some very useful items like a spell that enhances your basic attack to throw three daggers rather than just one, extra lives, new weapons, and many more.
In order to stay well equipped you’ll use your Magic Glasses (generously given to you in the first level) that produce a small twinkle effect where hidden gems and treasures may be. Sometimes you will get a bonus treasure for finding it all, and sometimes you’ll summon an angry spirit that quickly needs to be dealt with.
In terms of presentation, the visuals are a spot on callback to the heyday of early platformers, and I really did enjoy the chill soundtrack even though it tended to get a bit repetitive with all of the dying.
Bard’s Gold could have retained the retro feel while also pushing the genre forward, but it tries too hard to be difficult, and as it stands right now the game is something I may have rented on my NES and then quickly pushed aside for more hours with The Legend of Zelda.