Alastair John Jack clearly loves the 8-bit era. His earlier titles -- including the Castlevania/Final Fantasy munge Final Vision -- are heavily indebted to the late 80s model of arcade-ish game design. Arvoesine is also unapologetically old school: you're granted a single, solitary life sans extra credit or continue for the duration of the game. Pattern recognition rules with a pixelated iron fist; you either adapt to the game's system or perish trying. If minimalistic masochism is your fetish of choice Al Jack has you covered.
You play as a roman legionnaire pitted against a slew of anachronistic enemies; you're bopping ancient Egyptians in the second level and impaling vikings in the next. The aesthetics ooze nostalgia -- the chunky pixels are downright cute and the soundtrack by Pgil is oustanding (OST, pretty please?). The mono-black background totally fits too.
The game's all about combat, and combat's all about positioning. Imagine the offspring of a Ghost & Goblins, Castlevania**, and Ninja Gaiden three-way and you'd hit the mark. Platforming, except for a scant few sections, is secondary to smashing dudes in the face. Arvoesine's definitely hard, but it's a lot fairer than its forefathers. Instead of the dreaded bottomless pit you have the more forgiving spiked variety, and while the enemy patterns are fiendish they aren't exploitative or annoying. The item economy is whittled down to a solitary carrot per level, and if you're crazy enough you can toggle that off as well. Mastering your infinite supply of javelins is crucial; your spears' low parabolic trajectory requires you to take advantage of both your enemies' height and your own. These javelins are also the key to the boss battles, which are pretty cool.
The game lasts a concise five levels, a buck per stage, if you want to leverage a complaint against it you could off-handedly call it "too short." For an hour or two minimum of tight gameplay, though, this isn't a bad deal. If you want to obtain a high score you'll have to be a polyrhythmic math-rock savant to pull off the timing necessary for the score multiplier. If perfectionist masochism is your thing you'll squeeze even more out of it.
While I was en route to the sole convenience store in this arctic wasteland I realized this: the game's cheaper than a pack of smokes, and unlike cigarettes it leaves you satisfied when you finish it. Take that for what you will.
**Those vikings totally throw axes like a Belmont.