It mightn’t be quite as hard-edged as its title suggests, but Alvion’s third-person arena brawler is bracingly unforgiving, throwing its players into a series of testing encounters with the bare minimum of instructions. Often you’ll spend as much time battling with the camera as your opponents, thanks to a capricious lock-on system whose idiosyncrasies only become apparent after repeated play. It can be tough, awkward and occasionally archaic in its systems, but it is a welcome reminder that the boss battle is far from a lost art.
Your avatar is a nimble and flexible combatant, possessed of a transformative cape that can fire projectiles or mould into a pair of enormous ethereal fists. These weapons are used to defeat five bosses and their minions, the latter releasing aura points which can be spent to augment attacks or to replenish any limbs lost in battle. Aura can also be charged up for a significant power increase, though it rapidly depletes while activated. Defensive players may prefer to recuperate more regularly, though the offensive boost is substantial enough to favour an aggressive approach. And with a ranking system based on clear times and kill chains, those who remain on the front foot, even while their avatar is missing theirs, will gain the greater rewards.
The five guardians can be tackled in any sequence, with each unlocking a new ability: a chained rhinoceros leaves a powerful lance while defeating a minigun-toting knight allows you to fly. With no prescribed route, players must experiment to find the optimal order, evaluating enemy weaknesses and adjusting play strategies accordingly. It’s here that the long-term challenge lies, though simply surviving all five encounters and the final battle with a mere three lives may prove taxing enough for some, even on the lowest difficulty setting.
It’s an attractive game, too, its painterly art style and creative enemy design sullied only by the occasional drop in performance and that persistently unhelpful camera. If wrestling with the right analogue stick is no one’s idea of a good time, such frustrations are worth enduring for a daring and sometimes exhilarating boss rush.