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Developer: Dopterra Publisher: Nicalis Platform: PC Release Date: October 31, 2016 ESRB: Not rated (Everyone recommended) As I make my way through a game for review, my mind can“t help but draw comparisons. It“s folly, I admit; and I“ve spent most of my years in the industry trying to suppress these initial instincts. Every once and awhile, I run into something whose contemporaries are so few, that I find myself grasping at straws... using words like â€œquirkyâ€ and â€œobtuseâ€ to describe mechanics and premises therein. When a game“s Kickstarter used buzzwords like â€œone-of-a-kindâ€ to describe itself, I figured it“d make a conscious effort to be different. I never imagined the list of contemporaries I“d come up with to describe what something â€œfeels likeâ€ overall would be... a list of just one. And what“s more, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru — known as â€œThe Frog For Whom the Bell Tollsâ€ in English — isn“t exactly familiar to the masses. But, that“s the way it goes sometimes. I suppose Creepy Castle really is â€œquirkyâ€ if the only real contemporary it has is something only found on a Japanese Game Boy. I typically layer my writing, addressing presentation-related fodder first and foremost. But I think it“s important to follow calling a game â€œquirkyâ€ with describing precisely how. So it goes: Have you ever played a side-scrolling game that doesn“t have a jump button? The fundamental level design treats gaps or spaces elevated by just a single square as obstacles that must be conquered through further exploration. You“ll see a thing that“s just out of your reach, and have to go around and try to approach it from another side or angle. Getting to the end of most scenarios involves a fairly linear progression. But there“s some degree of puzzle-solving in the environments you traverse, even before we get to battling proper. See those hearts and the different battle styles in the screenshots above? In my mind, Creepy Castle lifts the concept of â€œduelingâ€ from The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. If it were made twenty years ago, the player character would just approach his or her enemy, mash a button to swat at it and take away one of its hearts, then usually get a heart taken away on their side in retaliation. Use food to recover your health after a duel... then rinse and repeat until the game is won. The Game Boy game I“ve drawn comparison to focuses far more on its writing and level design than its combat. But Creepy Castle takes things a step further, in an effort to highlight battling just as much as its writing and levels. Indeed, you“ll have several instances where you“ll just mindlessly swat each other back and forth. But many passing turns feature reflex-based instances to spice up fighting a bit. There are numerous types of duels (and optional, readable tutorials describe each of them in detail, as you come across them). The player might gain the upper-hand in battle by pressing the action button at precisely the right time, when prompted. Some turns may have you press a specific sequence of buttons as shown. There are even duels against mechanized or robotic foes that make you solve brief, timed â€œpipe puzzlesâ€ during your turn, where you rotate bits of a path to make things connect. There“s a lot of variance to combat; that helps things feel a little less repetitive overall. As I use the word â€œquirkyâ€ for the last time: Creepy Castle“s fundamentals amount to somewhat linear, puzzle-focused side-scrolling exploration plus a myriad of reflex-dependent combat styles. Apply these two elements to a basic turn-based RPG structure where experience is found in dungeons instead of gained through fighting, and you have... a quirky thing that could keep the interest a good handful of you, but may turn away folks who prefer movement and exploration in general to feel less restricted. There are four main â€œscenariosâ€ that focus on specific characters. You'll start off with just â€œCreepy Castleâ€, the main story that teaches you — a wandering moth warrior — everything you need to know about the various types of duels and exploring you“ll be up to. Finish that, and you“ll get a sort of Part II in â€œGhostly Mysteryâ€. Apart from the main story are two side-bits that intertwine with the plot. â€œThe Depthsâ€ is a sort of Great Cave Offensive contrast to the first mode“s linear approach. It even warns that maps are so big, additional loading time may be required, and it definitely stretches your brain a whole lot more than the two scenarios before it! Lastly, there is â€œDue Exaltation,â€ where design philosophy borrows a page from Xeodrifter and has you piloting a spaceship to explore multiple planets. Each beaten scenario unlocks â€œFree Playâ€ where you can go through them as any character you like, without story or constraints — Special Guest Characters are numerous. And consistent with other Nicalis games like 1,001 Spikes, the roster borrows from their own library of published games, and well outside of it, too. On top of all that, there“s a Bestiary, a place to see every piece of gathered â€œLoreâ€ you“ve read throughout each journey, Achievements, and lots more. For its relatively simple aesthetic and execution, Creepy Castle is definitely packed full of content. Last but absolutely not least — if you lack the reflexes required for intense dueling... there is an â€œAccessibility Modeâ€ that you can toggle on and off at your leisure from the title screen. It“s not an Easy Mode or something hand-holdy, so much as it“s designed to make everything reflex-oriented about the whole package less physically demanding, for players who might lack (or not prefer) a quick reaction time. Your experience will not suffer as a result of turning this mode on or off. As refreshing as these multiple modes and additional content collectively feel, Creepy Castle is not without is flaws. I may be a dunce... but I saw no means to sort the items you collect throughout the game, so scrolling to the one I needed got kind of vexing a time or two. And while a map function exists, it felt more limiting than it should have been in my opinion — especially in â€œThe Depths.â€ A means to see where unopened chests, doors, and other relevant things on the map are would have made a decent romp even better, or less frustrating. The biggest gripe I have, though, involves â€œGhostly Mystery.â€ You play it from start to finish as one character, and then you unlock a second part of it... which forces you to retread the exact same dungeons and re-fight the exact same enemies and bosses as a different character, before ultimately seeing through to a new ending. In a game that otherwise doesn“t feel too repetitive, that was definitely jarring. My time with Creepy Castle was consistent with the overall tone it elicits: fun, humorous and adventurous, with occasional dark bits. Its cast of characters is charming, its music and sounds are excellent accents to the experience. Its environments are perplexing in (mostly) the best ways, and... there are heaps of content and customization options to make the experience feel more personalized to you, too. If its premise appeals to you, know that this is a good game made great by the level of care and attention put into it. You may have some gripes like I did, and maybe some bits of dialogue or stylistic choices might bounce right off you. But if you give it a chance, I“m confident you“ll have fun overall. Pros + You don't see this type of combat in an RPG every day. Rather than mindlessly mashing buttons, your reflexes will often be tested + Multiple modes most multiple types of level design. You can explore creepy castles at your leisure, or go to other planets, or explore wide open spaces. + There's an "Accessibility Mode" that accommodates players of all skill levels, allowing anyone to enjoy the full experience. Cons - A whole section of the game amounts to repeating entire levels, even fighting the same enemies and bosses..for additional content tacked onto the end. Definite misstep. - The map and inventory are arguably hard to manage, without minor annoyances. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Creepy Castle features combat that's more reflex-based than mundane, and level design that's more puzzle-focused than action-oriented. Collectively, it may offer something unique to traditional RPG fans. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher