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Developer: Matt Kapp Publisher: Nicalis Platform(s): PC (Steam) Release Date: February 5th, 2015 Official Website I“m a glutton for punishment. I“ve cursed aloud and thrown controllers at maddening, yet skillfully designed action-platformers since the days of Shadow of the Ninja, DuckTales or Little Nemo: Dream Master. I“ve played through most, if not all the essential games that bring â€œNintendo hardâ€ to the modern age like LA-MULANA, Shovel Knight, 1001 Spikes, and Rex Rocket. So, when I saw the trailer for Nicalis' Castle in the Darkness, I knew exactly what to expect. I“m going to get gray hairs in my thirties because of developers who dig driving you insane with a few meticulously placed spikes. These are the kinds of games I can“t help but analyze as I play through them (because I spend so long dying over and over in any given level). There are two schools of game design when it comes to evoking nostalgia. The first includes games that seem to be inspired by the past, but wish to evolve tried and true formulas with modern ideas. The second are those games that do everything short of teleporting you back to the past, because of limitations developers/designers impose upon themselves to make a game feel like it belongs in the late eighties or early nineties. Castle in the Darkness is definitely an example of the latter. There“s not much to the game“s story beyond what you see in the trailer or the first five minutes. In terms of protagonists, there“s a surviving soldier, a princess, and a frog. There“s little development to be had between them because the game“s script is purposefully confined to match any original Nintendo game you've ever played. With that in mind, the game“s writing still has its humor and charm; developer Matt Kapp definitely knows his audience. There“s more than one Legend of Zelda reference sprinkled into your adventure, and there“s even a few nods to other Nicalis-published games if you do a bit of exploring. Staying with talk of the game“s presentation: the visuals manage to successfully emulate the intended era, as well as push the envelope a bit. In fact, the word PEE is written out in stars on the night sky of an area; you can spot that subliminal humor if you“re looking hard enough. The soundtrack is definitely quality work as well, but while each tune is catchy, Castle in the Darkness lacks the musical variance you“d typically find in recent games like it. Still, I think the game“s presentation as a whole is purposefully limiting, to make you feel like you“re in 1987. I can“t fault it for being consistent with its identity. I could write a novel on the things this gameplay does to a person—both good and bad. To prevent myself from doing so, I“ll first address this—there are plenty of things to do outside of the â€œmainâ€ experience. The title menu has a whole section of secrets...from an â€œEasy Modeâ€ that mocks you if you die enough, to a â€œPrologueâ€ of sorts and other early game builds from early development. Of course, there are achievements too. There“s even a New Game+. For just under six dollars in price, there“s certainly a lot to play. Mechanically, though, you“ll start to see why the game is priced like it is. I recall looking at my game time somewhere close to the end. The game itself had my total playtime at around two hours at that point, but Steam told me I“d been playing the game for over nine hours. That“s the kind of experience this is—few hours actually registered, but many hours will pass as you attempt to conquer its plenty of torturous trials (there“s an actual part of the game called the Torture Chamber that almost frustrated me to the point of putting the game down). Your character is extremely fragile at the start of the game, but by the time you make your approach towards the final boss, you'll have collected sufficient health, armor and weapons to hold your own. The most frustrating aspect of the game isn“t the difficulty of the level design itself, but the lack of proper save points in the later portions of the game. In the beginning, the means to save and equip your items are fairly placed, giving anyone brave enough to play the game a fair chance to pace themselves without becoming frustrated. But by the time you reach a point where the game“s entire world is open to you (and trust me, it“s a big, bad world...and it includes plenty of levels, many optional and built for those who backtrack after getting key items that allow you to do so), save and warp points are placed in downright cruel spots. The cheap tricks that some of these level designs and bosses play will leave a great many who want to become more skilled by playing these kinds of games far too aggravated with Castle in the Darkness to see it through to the end, in my opinion. Without speaking volumes: At the end of most of these purposefully punishing games, I often find myself grateful for them. Despite their flaws, I kind of feel like I“ve been hardened as a veteran platformer-guy for having taken up their challenge. The thing that makes me hesitant to recommend this game to everyone is the fact that you really don“t feel hardened by the end of it. Your ability to overcome obstacles in Castle in the Darkness isn“t necessarily determined by an increase in skill—it“s more due to an increase in stats. Whether you“re getting more health by beating bosses or going way out of your way to backtrack and grab a more powerful weapon, I think it“s less about acquired skill and more about acquired stuff. At the end of the day, Matt Kapp knew what kind of game he wanted to design, and he was definitely successful at it. In the land of games that are indeed "Nintendo hard," Castle in the Darkness won“t be forgotten. The reason I can“t call this game essential, or perfection, is because most who challenge it will remember it for the frustration it made them feel versus the many things that make it a good game. Pros: + Appealing presentation overall, with just as much humorous nods as it has confidence in its identity. + Reasonably priced. There's plenty of content to enjoy outside of the main game. Cons: - Has major pacing issues overall, with some later areas feeling more unfair than challenging. - Overcoming obstacles may sometimes boil down to acquired equipment versus platforming skill. Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Some games shine a little light on the past. Castle in the Darkness hearkens back to an era so challenging, it will chip away at your soul as you attempt to conquer it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by Nicalis
It has been a while. I had to get settled into school once again, so that took priority over this. But now I“m back, and ready to talk about gaming. With that, let“s go back to the past and talk about retro games and why they are so important and impactful now. The retro gaming scene is a bit different. Why is it when games can look like this, or this, that games end up looking something like this? When tools are limited, people get creative about how those tools are used. It“s like if a child wants to play with a sword, and doesn“t have a plastic or rubber sword to play with, that child will grab a stick. If there“s no stick, then the child will form a chopping motion with their hand and pretend that the arm is the sword. Retro gaming taps into this mindset. Streets of Rage, a side scroller on the Sega Genesis, had an abundance of moves for using only 3 buttons. Looking at some games today, there is practically button overload, even though buttons are generally used for 1 or 2 functions. This limited capability (in terms of just more than hardware and buttons) is something that the indie games are capitalizing on. And indie games are creating a ton of buzz nowadays. You can also press in the sticks like they're buttons. With simplicity however, usually comes difficulty. Games today are certainly hard, but I generally don“t find them punishing with the exception of certain parts. Mega Man for example, I tend to find rather punishing while playing through the game, dying and continuing multiple times before getting to the Wily Towers. Streets of Rage is incredibly hard, especially once you put the difficulty settings higher. I“ve died a lot playing Vanquish too, but it was usually during a boss, or if I was screwing around. Have games really become easier, or have I become that much better? Another factor that retro games use is the pure imagination of these games. This generally leads to their charm. Usually this is seen in their bright or contrasting colors, or how over the top some of the games are. The games of old seem to take that imagination and run with it as far as possible. I“m not saying games today don“t have imagination, but there is some aspect of games today where they wouldn“t fit in with the games of the 8 or 16-bit era. Look at Jack Cayman. His character design is rather cartoonish, with his overly muscular build and mechanical arm, but other aspects of him are made to look realistic. Jack looks like he“s straddling the line of cartoon and realism, whereas someone like Sonic is clearly on the cartoon side. On the consumer side lies the fact that information is more widely available. Now you can watch videos and read tons of reviews before deciding to make a purchase. Before the internet starting sharing everything, you had magazines, word of mouth, and maybe the back of the case to get you enticed. I think a lot more experimenting happened on the consumer side with limited information available to them. However, a limited number of genres were also successful on certain platforms. Side scrollers were EVERYWHERE, but first person shooters were the rare commodity on home consoles for a while. The last factor I will talk about in retro gaming goes with the actual limitation of hardware, stamina. Less saving was around, and not every game used a password, so you had to bust your butt and blast through the game in one sitting. It“s not necessary to do so now, but I do find myself loving the fact that I can sit there for a few hours undisturbed and just play the game, even though I“m nowhere near done with it. Maybe this is one reason why I love gaming so much, and not the escapism and vast worlds that I explore. I'll explore other aspects of retro gaming in the next few entries. Hope you enjoyed this one, and I apologize about the long wait.