With a name like Sword with Sauce: Alpha, I never expected the shield to feel like the main star of this excellent indie action game. But it does, and using it often makes me feel that the game should have been called Captain America Simulator instead. It's that good.
Funnily enough, the mechanics that make the shield shine aren't even unique to it. All weapons, from bows to swords to guns, can be thrown with a press of the "R' key, and the sword's secondary fire also lets it deflect bullets, albeit with more finger workout required. But throw a shield and you can expect it to return to you - most of the time - and it requires less accurate aim than a sword. And it being a shield, it's naturally better at protecting you from bullets. You can even kill enemies with the deflected bullets, which is pretty fun.
But most of the fun comes from the throwing, which is wonderfully satisfying. Perhaps the minimalisiic visual style, which is a teeny bit remniscent of Superhot - helped in creating lower expectations, but the sense and sound of impact when a thrown shield strikes an enemy is perceptible and leaves me wanting more, while the unexaggerated ragdoll effects add further to the enjoyment. In true Captain America fashion, the shield can also bounce off enemies and surfaces for even cooler takedowns. The ragdolling is more fun when you're smacking people with it however, which makes up for the weaker-feeling primary attack.
Another big part of the supersoldier sensation is the game's liberating sense of speed. Your sprinting and jumping capabilities here are more potent than in other games, allowing you to move pretty quickly and leap good distances. You can also clamber up surfaces and - more importantly - wall run. I'm not sure if Captain America can wall run, but throwing a shield while wall running or simple evading enemies with it feels incredible. Oh, and there's no fall damage in the game, so failing to reach your intended destination with a wall run isn't a big deal... unless you fall off the map entirely.
My favourite moments of the game tend to involve lots of continous sprinting - like the opening sequence of Winter Soldier - and shield-throwing, with almost no moment for pause. Losing the shield does nothing to break the momentum, thanks to the mobility and non-linear level design letting me avoid the swarming numbers of foes and bullets with style while searching for my round friend. Making do with my fists and the weapons picked from enemies during my shieldless moments provided frantic action moments too.
If being like Captain America doesn't sound enticing you you, fret not, for Sword with Sauce has plenty more weapons and tools to offer. There's the previously mentioned sword (which is also pretty cool), a bow and a few guns. And then there are the gadgets, ranging from a blade that let's you stealth kill and a grappling hook to a black hole grenade and a nasty trap that impales enemies by the head.
The game is all about killing enemies and painting blood on the surfaces, and the planned inclusion of a campaign is unlikely to change that, but there's still a good amount of variety and replayability thanks to the gadgets and unscripted gameplay. Which is important, since with only four (thankfully distinct) levels and three modes at the moment you'll probably be replaying quite a bit. Luckily, it's currently priced at only RM8, which makes it a wonderful steal.
I'm not sure if Sword with Sauce counts as a sandbox game, but the open levels and variety of tools to choose from do result in a simple yet effective combat playground, where you can play like a ninja, guerilla fighter, hunter or Captain America. And playing as Captain America is simply awesome.
Check out the Steam trailer below to see how it's like in action. Not much shield stuff going on, unfortunately, but it's still a great trailer.