Life is tough when a wizard king has cursed you and certain death awaits unless you can find and mix the Elixir of Life itself. If that wasn't bad enough, you're about to be swarmed by all manner of monsters hungry to finish you off. This is the precarious predicament in which you find yourself in Tribute Games' Curses 'N Chaos – an old school arena brawler that rocks some serious 16-bit graphics.

Just like its old school peers, this is rock hard, too – it's definitely not a game for those who like to select 'Easy' difficulty settings. The action harks back to the arcade heydays where you were only given a limited number of lives per level – and failure means starting all over again.

The set up sees you play as plucky heroic bounty hunters Leo and Lea – unsurprisingly it's best in co-op, which is available both locally and online – facing wave after wave of monsters coming to attack you. The only way to escape death is to smash them all, collect the items that they drop, and use alchemy to create the aforementioned fabled Elixir.

The gameplay all takes place on a single screen and you only have a couple of buttons to worry about so it's very easy to get to grips with. Alas, for some it will also prove a little too challenging, as the gameplay is hard as nails. As mentioned, the combat involves just two main attacks – punch and kick – and the secret to success is timing and building up decent combos.

If you've never played a single screen brawler, basically each level has a set number of enemies – goblins, ghosts, vampires – and the obligatory end of level bosses. Each type of monster follows specific movement and attack routines. The key to winning is to learn the patterns, hone your battle skill reactions, and take any lucky item drops that come your way. The action is frantic and leaves no room for error, and just to make things tougher, there's a timer constantly counting down. Yes, if you fail to kill all of your assailants before the timer hits zero, the Grim Reaper himself will come for you. Brutal.

This is a pitiless game, then – but in a weird Bloodborne-esque way, the difficulty makes it so much more satisfying when you progress. Sadly, it can get very frustrating when the difficulty spikes and you find your insides being torn out by the same wave of creatures that you just can't get the hang of killing.

In addition to the core combat, there's a rich alchemy preparation element that sees you collecting and mixing rare ingredients to keep the fight going. This is the key to unlocking healing potions, elemental summons, and eventually even the cure for the curse itself.

Moreover, there are lots of weapons to pick from in the shop, and you can even sell back ones that you don't like. However, when you're in the thick of action you can only use one at a time, and running over a dropped weapon will cause you to switch to it, which can be bothersome.

At least it's nicely designed, though. While this isn't a technical powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, the twisted minds at Tribute Games have put plenty of thought into the various enemies and arenas. There are even some fun cutscenes by Paul Robertson of Adult Swim fame.

Conclusion

You'll need the patience of a saint to break this curse, but if you've got the skills then Curses 'N Chaos can be a very rewarding game. Strong design and a surprising amount of depth offset some minor niggles, and thus with a low price tag, this is well worth bashing your gaming skills against.