I’ve got to admit, I’m not a person who regularly plays games pre-release. I don’t play Early Access titles, and I generally don’t have the time to bother trying out demos either. Having just raided the Steam Christmas sale, I currently have a long list of games waiting for me, comprising all the games I really should have already played, but never quite got round to, which promises to take up a large chunk of my time this year.

My will was strong and it was going to take something remarkably interesting to distract me from this list. And that something came in the form of the Golden Hour, which caught my eye after I saw this short video clip hidden in the recesses of the internet.

It’s a simple enough clip – a little cartoon man with a sword, dashing around a small room, tearing apart a small horde of enemies at lightning speed. To be totally honest I’m not sure what it was that grabbed me about this clip – maybe it was the frenetic speed of the gameplay. Maybe it was the versatility of the combat, incorporating both ranged and melee weapons, as well as explosives. Either way, I was convinced to download the demo, putting aside the long list of critically acclaimed titles waiting for me, in favour of blindly delving into something completely unproven.

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Golden Hour is the video game equivalent of a fat child surrounded by many different flavours of pie, greedily taking a slice of everything and leaving none for the other children. In its most basic sense, it’s a metroidvania, which relies heavily on its RPG mechanics. There’s a levelling system, allowing you to upgrade your four primary skills and many secondary skills. These allow you to improve your combat abilities, platforming skills and even your prowess in crafting new items (because in 2016, of course there’s a crafting system.)

With gameplay incorporating so many different components, you’d be forgiven for expecting this game to fall short in at least one of these areas. We see it in so many early access or demo titles, and even a few finished games – crafting systems which glitch horrendously, half-baked combat which leaves the player flailing wildly, and level design that doesn’t lead to any sense of satisfactory or meaningful exploration. Fortunately, Golden Hour manages to avoid these issues nicely. The melee combat will be familiar to you if who’ve played the masked wrestler sidescroller, Guacamelee. You hammer the attack key, and try to hit the enemies as many times as possible, without getting hit yourself. Simple, classic combat. To add variation, you can also use ranged weapons, and magic, allowing you to inflict a range of elemental attacks on your enemies.

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If you like games that include a gentle tutorial that holds your hand and slowly introduces new concepts to you, don’t bother playing Golden Hour. It’s not an easy game.  The opening dungeon is a damn tough slog, which features lots of fast, frenetic skirmishes, often requiring an oddly tactical approach to get through. You can use the environment to help thin out the herds of enemies, by dropping burning chandeliers on their heads, or blasting them with nearby cannons. It’s a nice balance between wild button mashing, and thoughtful gameplay. And it’s damn satisfying when you find a way to take down a large group of enemies in one simple move.

The narrative is a fairly simple RPG plotline. You play as Arion, one of four warriors destined to stop a war that’s fated to destroy the kingdom of Heratos. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all heard a million times before. In some ways, it’s a timeless story. In other ways, it’s just plain lazy. At this stage, it’s difficult to say how much impact the narrative will have on the game as a whole, so I’ll refrain from judging it too critically for now. However, I will say, as plotlines go, this certainly isn’t Shakespeare.

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Visually, the game looks pretty complete with a unique, cohesive art style. Unfortunately, at this point in development, the main character’s design is still a little dry. He has little in the way of characterising, distinctive features – Arion’s just a dude with black hair. I would say having a main character with tons of personality is essential for these kinds of games to be a success. Shovel Knight’s armed with a shovel. Samus Aran wears a massive golden suit of armour with an arm cannon. OK, Simon Belmont was just a man, but at least he had a whip. And whips are definitely cool. Indiana Jones used a whip.

Of course, Golden Hour is by no means a perfect game, and there are plenty of areas that need improving before release. There are parkour elements to the gameplay that allow your character to stick to, and run short distances up the walls. Currently, I’ve found it incredibly easy to stick and catch on ledges. This is often a source of frustration, as it gives me a sense that the character isn’t quite responding to my commands as fluidly as I’d hope. The platforming controls are also uncomfortable to say the least, often requiring you to perform insane feats of keyboard gymnastics, hands wildly springing across the keyboard with unnatural precision. Worst of all, pressing the C key takes you back to the start of the dungeon, allowing you to replay the entire level if you so desire. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue, if it wasn’t for the fact that the C key is located right next to the space bar, a key you will press very frequently playing this game. I accidentally forced myself to replay an entire dungeon, when, just as I was approaching the end, I accidentally hit C rather than space. Moving the “replay dungeon,” command to the menu, rather than attaching to a key, would be a pretty major improvement.

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All in all, Golden Hour is shaping up to be a fun title, which could be well worth a go if you’re looking for a metroidvania that’ll frustrate just as much as it delights. It’s one of the most interesting metroidvania games I’ve seen in a long time, balancing both the mindless and the thoughtful into a formula with a surprising amount of depth. If you haven’t got too many other games to play in the wake of the Christmas sale, I strongly recommend giving this demo a shot.

There’s a childish part of me that really wishes Golden Hour had been terrible. Then I could have given this article the headline “Golden Hour: Golden Shower More Like.”

Yeah… That would’ve been funny…

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

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