Deep Dive: Deathbat
For how unusual the history behind Hail to the King: Deathbat is, the game itself is surprisingly cozy in its adherence to video game traditions. This is a top-down, hack-and-slash action game with some light RPG elements. In practice, it looks a lot like something in the vein of Diablo or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. You guide the Deathbat through lengthy stages, slashing away at any enemies you find along the way, dodging anything you can’t stab to death, and smashing objects to get the goodies held within.
In terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, there isn’t a whole lot more than that. Deathbat can do a slash with his sword or make use of magic. At the beginning of the game, said magic consists of long-range bolts and a charged attack that hits everything in the immediate area of the player. Magic draws on mana to use, and once that mana is tapped out you have to refill it somehow to use your spells again. Mana pots and mana refill pick-ups are scattered around the stages, along with the occasional health refill pick-up. Apart from that, you’ll also find coins and collectible art pages.
There are some non-essential paths in each stage that lead to extra treasures and such, but for the most part Hail to the King is a linear romp. You may occasionally run into locked gates that require you to retrieve a key or hit a switch, but the way forward is generally clear. You just have to survive it, that’s all.
It’s harder than you may think. The enemies are quite aggressive, the bosses are very strong, and your tactical options are few. With its focus on basic action, Hail to the King limits you to a single type of slash and no dodge rolls or blocking capabilities. Stick and move is the key to success here, so you have to be very attentive of enemy patterns to give you clues about when to get away.
While the stages are long, there are checkpoints. Should you run out of health, you’ll be returned to the last one you touched. There’s a catch, however. You have but five lives to make it through a stage in its entirety. If you lose them all, you’ll be kicked out and have to start the whole thing over again. You do get to keep any coins you found, but you’re out any items you used. Unless you’re very skilled at the game, you’ll probably face this consequence fairly often.
Fortunately, those coins can be put to good use. The game’s opening hub area has a shopkeeper who will sell you all kinds of useful items. These include single-use items like health and mana potions, permanent upgrades to your health and mana bars, new weapons, and so on. It’s up to you whether you want to rely on the cheap band-aid potions to get you through a tough stage or save up for a more long-term solution, but in the end you’re going to need a lot of coins with either option. Not the most elegant of set-ups, but certainly one that most game fans will be used to.
While the game is rather typical in terms of its mechanics, it elevates itself with its presentation. Fans of Avenged Sevenfold will be particularly thrilled with this regard, as the game is positively dripping with references to the band. Each stage is themed after one of the band’s songs, and various characters and pieces of art refer back to the band. Then there’s the soundtrack, which is frankly incredible. It uses some familiar pieces from the band’s catalog, but there are also quite a few original tunes. There’s a lot of range present here, with much of the stage music sounding like a mix between classical music and modern rock. When a boss is encountered, those atmospheric tunes give away to pure rock, lending a bit of extra weight to the battles.
Should you manage to clear the game, a new mode called Nightmare will unlock, and there are no lies in that name. The game is tough enough the first time through, but Nightmare mode makes everything hit harder, faster, and more often. Clearing the game at that difficulty is a truly monumental task. Aside from that challenge, the other main optional thing to accomplish is to gather all the extra artwork pages hidden around the stages. You can also switch your playable character to one of the Avenged Sevenfold band members. This originally required extra purchases, but the GameClub version has all characters unlocked from the start. It’s fun to play around with the band members, even if it’s just a cosmetic change.
While it may not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best games out there, Hail to the King: Deathbat achieves its goal of being a no-nonsense action-adventure with a stiff level of challenge. It’s also an excellent example of a collaboration project, as the Avenged Sevenfold elements genuinely elevate the game without being so upfront that they overtake it. You certainly don’t need to be a fan of the band to enjoy the game, and that’s an achievement in and of itself. If you do happen to like Avenged Sevenfold, on the other hand, this is definitely a must-play.