Swords, style, and breakneck pacing – the hack and slash term describes games that have adopted a more straight-forward, ultra-cool style of gameplay over the years. From the humble beginnings of Devil May Cry that pioneered the hack and slash sub-genre to more recent examples like God of War and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, it has grown to accommodate a specific kind of gamer; usually one that prefers pulling off unbelievable acrobatic skills with all the grace of the Tasmanian Devil. So what makes hack and slash titles so incredibly entertaining in the first place?
Hack and slash games are a dime a dozen these days simply because it caters to a small margin of players. While some games have reaped the benefits of exploding into mainstream popularity like God of War and Devil May Cry, the rest have unfortunately been pushed to the sidelines unless they receive high accolades. However, these are among the most undeniably fun types of video games to play, largely due to the fact that they are very easy to pick up and play. Unlike any exclusive Nintendo title that caters to families, hack and slash games are driven by excessive violence and sometimes, disturbing gore, so it presents a level of maturity and accessibility that targets older audiences.
If we look back at one Nintendo exclusive that reigned supreme over more mature hack and slash games, Bayonetta 2 provided that entry point for older players who wanted something more daring on their Nintendo home console. The Bayonetta series, conceived by the creative forces behind Devil May Cry, is the most audacious hack and slash franchise in the gaming world. It’s central titular character not only constantly teases players with her intentionally over-sexualized design, but also features a ridiculously fast-paced combat system that encourages us to frantically mash combos together like we’re playing Tekken for the first time. Furthermore, there’s not much skill involved in pulling off these deceptively simple but fluid moves; it’s all a matter of knowing which button does what, and stringing them in a cohesive combination.
That’s the main reason why hack and slash titles are so accessible and addictive; they’re simple but rewards players who prefer a more aggressive form of gameplay. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening still stands as one of the greatest video games of all time, and even though the game was no easy affair, it still felt satisfying to play because the hack and slash combat system was eye-popping and stylish. Not many games these days can be sold on style alone, either resorting to impressive graphics or some groundbreaking gameplay to market it. Hack and slash games, on the other hand, know exactly what they are and they’re marketed by the familiarity of its counterparts. For example, Bayonetta would probably not reach the height of its success now if it hadn’t been for the groundwork laid by Devil May Cry that introduced new gamers to this new breakneck style of gameplay.
Hack and slash titles don’t have the luxury of a massive following, unfortunately. As successful as franchises like God of War have been, I feel like this style of gameplay is largely overshadowed by the action-adventure or RPG experience. These experiences manage to strike a fine balance between enjoyable gameplay (that doesn’t require lightning fast reflexes most of the time) and a compelling story. The hack and slash game, however, prides itself on fast combat, often requiring the undivided attention and strained thumbs of some casual players who might find the speedy button prompts a bit too overwhelming. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, for example, takes this quick combat system the extra mile by implementing several quick-time events in between the gameplay that needs perfect timing to pull off. Thankfully, when quick-time events are fused into the hack and slash, it feels natural given the already fast gameplay.
There’s no doubt that hack and slash games are endlessly fun to play. I still find myself dusting off Dante’s Inferno and Dynasty Warriors once in a while to experience the joys of relieving some pent up aggression, and enjoy the ride that these superbly addictive games take me on. It’s a bit contradictory of me to call it accessible yet not for everyone, depending on their preferred taste. Sure, anyone can eat a Hawaiian pizza, but it also doesn’t mean that everyone will enjoy it. I guess you can call hack and slash games the Hawaiian pizza of video games.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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