Ludum Dare samurai entry Bladeless absolutely nails minimalist dueling
Like a randomised, streamlined Karateka.
Indie developer Kid Evils entry for Ludum Dare 26 is a simple, addictive fencing delight entitled Bladeless.
Based around the theme of "minimalism," Bladeless is like a randomised riff off Jordan Mechner's Karateka. You walk forward and take on one foe at a time in a samurai duel. Being a master in the defensive arts, you can't attack first and must wait for the enemy to telegraph a strike. From there you have to select one of three areas to block, then follow it up with a high, medium or low counterattack. Careful though. Once you decide which kind of block you're going to do, you can't change it. It may look like your foe is about to go for a mid-level strike only to psych you out and slice you across the jaw.
It sounds simple with only a few different attacks to counter, but enemies and their patterns are randomised and each subsequent foe increases their speed. It's all too easy to get cocky after the first few fiends, only to get eviscerated multiple times in a row. What makes Bladeless so appealing is that you really can't ever let your guard down, making it really capture the suspense of a duel.
It's also got a great understated visual style. Black silhouettes set against monochromatic backgrounds with spurts of red blood is pretty cliche by now, but the character designs are appealing and plentiful. Each time you play as a different character facing different demons, and their helmets, horns, and glowing eyes give each one a lot of character, even if they are all window dressings for a randomised system underneath.
Given Ludum Dare's 48 hour time limit, one can't expect that much out of Bladeless and it would be great if Kid Evil could implement a scoring mechanic and leaderboards. With a little more spit-and-polish I could see this working pretty well on mobile, too.
For now, give it a crack at Kid Evil's official site.
(Thanks, IndieGames.com for the head's up.)