What is Hack and Slash? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Hack and Slash is a genre of video game. Hacking and slashing wasn’t always about AAA titles and stunning animation; in fact, you might be surprised to know that the term originated long before video games were mainstream. It dates back to the good old days of pen-and-paper Tabletop RPGs. Have you ever played a game like Dungeons and Dragons? The actual phrase “Hack and Slash” was used to describe the intense type of campaign the participants would be playing. In time, it became associated with a certain type of video game that reflected a similar nature of extreme violence.

The three cornerstones of a typical Hack and Slash game are the Weapon-Based Melee System, the Button System, and the Fast Pacing. These are not exclusively necessary for Hack and Slash games but they certainly do appear in a majority of content in the genre. Mainly created as Open World games viewed in the third person perspective.

Weapon-Based Melee System

One of the key characteristics of a HnS game is that it uses a combat system that revolves around the player wielding some sort of handheld weapon-the tool responsible for the “hacking and slashing” in a Hack and Slash. Often, the weapons used by the main character are interchangeable. This system works well because it makes for diverse gameplay, rather than using a single sword over and over again to kill waves of bad guys. While a majority of Hack and Slash games center around a primary weapon that is some sort of blade, there are other options; weapons like whips, hammers, staffs, bows, and even guns have been used to pulverize, execute, and destroy enemies. Sometimes, Hack and Slash video games do use a type of primary weapon that is unique, or special to that particular main character; it could have sentimental value to them or maybe they just prefer to use it, but whatever the reason, it is often only upgradable, not tradable.

No More Heroes

  • System/Platform: Wii
  • Publisher: Ubisoft, Marvelous Entertainment, Rising Star Games
  • Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
  • Release Date: January 22, 2008; JPN: December 6, 2007

After meeting a beautiful, mysterious woman at a bar, Travis Touchdown becomes an assassin for The United Assassins Association, a clandestine group that acts as talent agents specializing in providing killers for hire. The femme fatale, Sylvia Christel, happens to be one of those agents with the UAA, and she convinces him to register in a ranked contest to see who the best killer is. Travis is required to slice and dice his way through eleven higher ranked assassins in order to reach the number one spot. Luckily, he had already bought a beam katana off of eBay the previous week, and he is more than just a little eager to use it. What’s the reward? Fame, fortune, status, and a chance to get freaky with the lovely Agent Sylvia, if you know what we mean (wink wink, nudge nudge). With his life (and sex life) on the line, Travis will stop at nothing to satisfy the fire burning in his pants heart.

What’s better than playing a kickass Hack and Slash that almost looks a spin-off of Kill Bill? Doing it on the Wii, where your motion sensitive Nunchuk controller actually correlates to moving Travis’ beam katana, adding a whole new dimension to the Hack and Slash game mechanic. It also senses the height of your strike, so tactical variation is not a problem. However, this mechanic can be kind of a double-edged sword (get it?) because the better you are at this game, the more worn out your arm is going to be. After slaying hundreds of bad guys, some players may feel more like wet noodles than deadly assassins. Travis Touchdown’s beam katana isn’t tradable, however, it is upgradable. From flesh to steel, this lightsaber-like weapon can cut through just about anything and makes an invaluable tool to any assassin. There are many different versions of beam katana to choose from (depending on current funds and storyline progression), each with its own unique traits-the player can buy beam katanas that have single beams, quad beams, shaped beams, fixed beams and expandable beams; you can even purchase beams that you can dual wield! It is also important to note that not all beams are created equally, with power fluctuation varying from model to model. We at Honey’s would advise you to carefully consider the stats of each weapon before making your purchase-buy the weapon because it fits your fighting style, not just because it looks cool!

Button System

One of the main attractions of Hack and Slash games is the simple game mechanic. While some video games have you learn button layouts for each different weapon, you can feel relatively confident that HnS games will have you using the same four to six buttons or keys (on average) to perform Combo, Quick, and Charged attacks no matter what weapon you pick up. The Button System is simply a phrase for an optimal system of combat consisting of attack/defense actions which are assigned to buttons on a controller. This feature allows you to maintain your game immersion without having to think about what buttons or keys work for your new weapon or weapons. Most of the weapon strikes that your character will be able to perform will consist of three forms; Quick Strike, Heavy Strike, and Combo.

As implied by its name, the Quick Strike, AKA a Light Attack, is a fast hit meant for repetitive attacks that deal little damage to the target. These can be used to keep an opponent at bay, or force them into a defensive stance, rather than an offensive one. If used correctly, this method can create a buffer between you and the enemy, which gives you a chance to recover stamina, mana, health, etc.

Next, the Heavy Strike, also called the Charged Attack, is used for dealing a slightly delayed, but more powerful hit. Even though it trades power for time, leaving you vulnerable for a brief period, it still makes an excellent addition to your arsenal when used wisely.

Lastly, you can attack using a Combo, which is sometimes called a Chained Attack. This involves linking your attacks together in certain synchronous patterns to inflict even more damage at their peak. This is especially useful when facing off against multiple opponents. The Hack and Slash button system allows the player to quickly and decisively choose what kind of attacks to initiate against the bad guys while still keeping it simple enough to memorize the button layout in a few seconds.

Dark Souls

  • System/Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
  • Developer: FromSoftware
  • Release Date: October 4, 2011; JPN: September 22, 2011

Dark Souls starts with the main character being turned into something called a Cursed Undead-it’s almost like being the equivalent of a conscious zombie. In order to remove this curse, the player must guide the main character through various zones and levels in search of Humanity, an item that can reverse their current state. It is quite advantageous to collect and retain this Humanity, as it will grant your character certain bonuses that, depending on your play style, can enhance your performance against your enemies. In truth, the minimalistic plot of this game is considered to be somewhat of a secondary notion, with gameplay taking the most importance.

In Dark Souls, knowing the Button System inside and out is essential to your character’s wellbeing and can noticeably improve your combat abilities. Regular Attacks are great for landing a couple of hits on an enemy that is either charging their heavy attack or caught unawares. These are lighter strikes, meaning that they do only the standard amount of damage per hit; if used properly, they can add up over time. Heavy Attacks are charged hits and thusly require a small amount of time to charge before they can be used to deliver larger amounts of damage. It’s important to use these attacks sparingly and only at opportune moments because, while most effective, they drain a majority of your stamina and can also leave your character vulnerable while charging. Shield Hold protects you from incoming attacks, but occasionally you can still take damage if said attacks are powerful enough. Shield Bash can parry enemy attacks but it should be noted that this is one of the hardest moves in the Button System to time correctly; it has a high risk to high reward ratio, as a successful parry can not only dispel incoming damage but it additionally leaves the parried party open to counter-attacks. Dodges are useful for getting out of the way of an incoming attack quickly, and if used wisely, can simultaneous propel you toward and past said enemy so that you can implement a backstab (which is a one hit kill).

Learning to use these moves/techniques without hesitation can improve your performance and reaction time. Wise planning and strategy may not be what conventional Hack and Slash games are about, but then again, Dark Souls isn’t your typical HnS.

Fast Pacing

The overall game style of a true Hack and Slash is the envy of today’s ADHD-riddled youth- run around, kill some bad guys, run around some more until you find a boss fight. That’s pretty much the whole cycle involved; the more deviant HnS games will throw in a physics puzzle or two, but don’t expect to strategize much. Usually, the whole point of a Hack and Slash game is to make for simplistic gameplay for people who want a near constant flow of action. In other words when it’s go time, it’s go time. Although it isn’t really a requirement, a fast-paced game style is the norm in Hack and Slash games. It is for this reason that Hack and Slash games usually have a shorter campaign time on average when compared to something like a Turn-Based Strategy video game.

Dead Rising 2

  • System/Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Blue Castle Games
  • Release Date: September 28, 2010; JPN: September 30, 2010

After war-covering photojournalist Frank West exposes a dangerous military cover-up to quarantine a biohazardous incident in Willamette, Colorado, the world becomes fully aware as to the outbreak of zombies. Humans are surprisingly adaptable creatures, though, and within a few years’ time, zombies become integrated (to some degree) into everyday life. Zombies even appear on an ultra-violent TV show called Terror is Reality, in which contestants, at the risk of their own life, slaughter as many zombies as possible inside of a sports-like arena for the entertainment of the masses. Success is met with fame and fortune, whereas failure is often met with zombification or death. Enter Chuck Greene, a former motocross champion, current TIR winner, and overall badass. Being a stand-up guy, Chuck has naturally made enemies with some of the sleazeballs and scumbags that inhabit Fortune City, an adult entertainment resort that hosts the TIR contests. When an imposter frames Chuck as a Zombie Rights terrorist and initiates a massive zombie outbreak in Fortune City, Chuck must prove his innocence before the military arrives at the resort.

Dead Rising 2’s fast pacing rarely ever lets up, ensuring that the player will always be kept on their toes. After all, when you’re neck-deep in hungry zombies, there’s not a whole lot of time to be zoning out because even a trip from one objective to the next could be fatal. On top of that, Chuck’s young daughter, Katy, needs a dose of Zombrex every 24 hours. Zombrex, the drug that inhibits zombification for those who are bitten, is an expensive and rare commodity in the world, even more so in a city that is currently besieged by hordes of the undead. This means that Chuck will have to either earn, find, or scrape together enough funds to buy the popular drug within a day’s time (equivalent to two hours in real time). Multitasking objectives becomes critical if you want to efficiently play this game. The player must pick and choose missions wisely, as all events have a time limit and will inevitably expire. You’ll find yourself wishing that you had made more time to complete certain events (especially the ones that overlap) because they unlock new parts of the story and can even alter the outcome entirely. Some gamers will initially view this as a curse, only to discover later that it’s more of a blessing; the objectives that go unattempted or uncompleted during your first gameplay can breathe new life into your second, third, or even fourth playthrough! Despite Dead Rising 2’s breakneck speed, it retains its replay value nicely.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Hack and Slash video games are a varied bunch. They come in many different forms but most are built upon a three point foundation that keeps them true to the genre. One of the best things about HnS games is that no matter what skill level you are, amateur or lifelong gamer, you can pick up the controller and jump right in, no killer quick-scoping technique required. And in the end, that’s what video games are all about, really having the chance to play something fun.

Do you have a favorite Hack and Slash? What do you like most about Hack and Slash video games? Don’t be a stranger, leave your comments down below! As always, thank you for reading!



Author: KYLE

Mid-twenties Japanese-American guy. Gamer, geeky nerd, cinephile, music snob, isekai lover, and dystopian cyberpunk enthusiast. Pretty much born and raised in Southern California, I currently live near L.A. I guess you could say that I’m an artist. I make a lot of stuff: movie props, digital effects, sound effects, motion graphics, animation, music, concept art, etc. I plan on becoming a cinematic director/screenwriter someday soon.

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