Here is a funny story; my buddy reached out to me a few days ago and stated he wanted to get home so he could play a gamed called Castle in the Darkness. I had never heard of the title so I asked him what exactly that was and the next few words out of his mouth were more than enough to peek my interest in the game. It’s a 2D Metroidvania title, he says, and it’s hard as “Balls.” I thought to myself, hard as balls he says, but I play Dark Souls like it’s nothing. Surely this Castle in the Darkness couldn’t be that hard.
As mentioned, Castle in the Darkness is another entry into the Metroidvania genre and even so it has more than enough charm and likeability to make it truly a-must-play-game. The game starts off in a typical fashion, a kingdom is under attack, all of the guards have been defeated… except you. You have been spared but now the reward for survival is that you must go forth and combat all the baddies and bring peace to the kingdom and rescue the missing princess. Yep, the princess is missing, isn’t she always?
Standard stuff here folks, but we’re not here for the story. Right?
But you’re not alone, in a sense. During your adventure, you’ll encounter areas and towns where NPCs will either talk to you and give you advice or say something completely useless or provide you with items such as keys and other goodies that will help you on your quest.
Gameplay-wise, you’re looking at standard platform / adventure stuff and if you’ve ever played a Megaman, Castlevania or Wonderboy title then you know what you’re getting into. Your character can jump, attack by swinging a weapon and even use magical based attacks by holding the button down. Eventually, you’ll be greeted by several advanced abilities such as a double jump and a few others down the road.
The creator of the title, Matt Kap, has twisted sick sense of humor at times it seems. I mean, who puts achievements in the game based on the number of times you die in a game? Sure it’s funny but geez, did you have to let me die 100+ times just to unlock an achievement and why the hell is there one in there for dying 500 times? You did? You thought it was cool to do that? Well, Matt, I agree with you but dying isn’t fun. Ok, maybe it is at times. Oh, and die you will folks! I died a whole lot, with no thanks to my children and my dog harassing me as I played. Note to self, lock the office door next time.
“Pro Tip: Die 50 times to get access to Easy Mode.”
From spikes that will instantly kill you, bosses who, despite not being able to one-shot me, have a pretty odd hitbox and some even have deceivingly longer range on their attacks than you expected. Don’t even get me on the odd level designs that have enemies sitting on the ledge that you need to get on while flying creatures knock you back if you don’t kill them first or time your jumps just right. Then there’s an ice level that will have you sliding to the point where you mistime you jump or try to move backwards but your momentum has sent you to your doom. For more evidence of this, check out the gameplay video I did which is further down in the review. Oh and don’t assume that when you take a hit that you’ll gain a split second of invulnerability because you don’t. This becomes apparent during boss fights when you get hit with multiple attacks that end your life pretty damned quick.
Thankfully, there are save points in the game that also allow heal you completely change up your equipment, since you can’t do that mid-game unless you find a new item and want to equip it right then and there. I’ve encountered my fair share of leaving a save point, getting blasted by enemies only to go back to the save point to heal. Now imagine repeating that process over and over. Yep, save points are your friends.
This game is hard as balls…. That’s all that keeps being repeating in my head.
Castle in the Darkness is one of those games that no matter how many times you die, you just keep coming back for more, all with a smile on your face. Frustration is a huge part of this game but so is reward. Scattered throughout the world are literally tons of references to other games and movies. So far on my play-through I’ve managed to see Frog (Kaeru) from Chronotrigger, Vigo the Carpathian from Ghost Busters 2, several castles from the Castlevania series, the clock tower stage from Castlevania 3, an enemy from Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Navi from The Legend of Zelda and many others that I won’t spoil for you. Just trust me when I say there’s a lot of fan service going on in this game, so much that you’ll grin from ear to ear.
Like finding secrets? You’ll find a lot of those here. From falling into pits, smashing odd looking blocks to reveal new areas and even by going off the beaten path. There’s even a section where, well… yeah I’ll just let you find that out on you own. OK?
And what would a Metroidvania-styled game be without item hunting? Thankfully, there’s a lot of stuff to be found or purchased in the game to help you through your journey. From armor, weapons, magical spells, and relics that will provide you with passive benefits and do much more to feed your treasure hunting lust. But don’t try too hard or you just might get… trolled. Yes, remember when I said Matt had a twisted sense of humor? Well folks, he even manages to troll us, in the form of a piece of armor and sword, aptly called the Troll Armor and Troll Sword. But why is it called that you ask? Well, it’s in a hidden area close to a bottom of the pit, the troll part comes in because THERE’S NO WAY OUT OF THE ROOM BUT TO DIE! So you’ll never be able to use it. Trolled indeed!
And then there’re the deaths. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll never die in this game, because you will. It’s planned that way, Matt has it planned and you will die. Over and over and over and over. Stumble off a ledge after a level translation, dead. Forget that an enemy was in that area you were jumping into, dead. Sliding on ice and mistimed a jump, dead. Smacked by several enemies at once, dead. You get the point; dying is part of this game. It even keeps track of how many times you die and the game as I mentioned previously, you’ll earn an achievement or two for dying as well as access to a bonus level. However, after playing this game for an extremely long time, I do have some words of wisdom here. Save as often as you can. If you find a new item or defeat a boss, go back and save your game ASAP! Why? Well if you finally manage to defeat a boss and start feeling like the man and then happen to die before you find a save, then guess what? You’ll have to go beat that boss all over again.
So say it with me, save often!
Option wise, this is a pretty bare-bones affair. The title is a thrown back to the “Golden Age of Gaming” and as such, there aren’t any options other than binding your keys or buttons and increasing screen size. You’ll find no AA or vSync, none of that stuff. And honestly, the game doesn’t need it. It’s a 16-bit styled game and just about any computer built in the last 10 years could run this. And that’s a good thing as everyone should be able to play this… scratch that, everyone needs to play this gem. On the other hand, this game has an amazing chip-tune soundtrack, but you don’t have to take my word for it, check it out for yourself below.
And yes folks, this does support gamepads and I would recommend NOT using the analog stick on this game. Maybe it’s just me but I found it harder (easier to die at least) when I was using the analog vs. the d-pad. It could just be me; however, everyone has their own preference.
Overall, I’m loving Castle in the Darkness. It has more than enough for me to keep coming back (oh and I will), it has that certain charm to it and more importantly, it’s a lot of fun. Despite some bugs that I encountered, though Matt is working on fixing those in updates, I haven’t had this much fun in a title that tries to kill over and over in some time. Despite playing other games in similar fashion, I really wasn’t prepared for dying over 100 times, yet I keep on playing through. I definitely recommend Castle in the Darkness to anyone looking for a challenging yet highly addictive and fun time. And the only really negative I have with the game is that it’s not available on a handheld device, as it would be completely at home on it. And while that’s just me griping, I’d love to see this on another system, perhaps the Sony PS Vita, for when I’m waiting in line or on trips.
And don’t let a number of times you die discourage you, it’s just made that way, just roll with it.
Oh, and if you see a sign that tells you not to go into the sewer pipe, do yourself a favor and heed its warning. And if you don’t, well don’t blame me or the sign.
Get outta my way, I'm a warrior on a quest
A throw back to the Golden Age of gaming, Castle in the Darkness is a fun, yet death filled adventure that should not be missed. If you loved another similar type of game, Shovel Knight, then you’re going to be right at home with Castle in the Darkness!
Hard as balls, indeed!
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