Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Castle in the Darkness

This whole neo retro thing that has been emerging from indie games has been pretty great, I think. Being someone who grew up playing stuff like the NES, Genesis, and SNES, seeing new releases that are very obvious nods to the games of that era is most welcome. We even get the benefit of tighter controls, faster gameplay, and the implementation of various newer game design ethos that have come along recent years. So, we wind up with a game that is both nostalgic and fresh at the same time.

Lately, I've been fiddling around with one such game called Castle in the Darkness (henceforth referred to as CitD). It's been out for a few years and has a light metroidvania feel to it. Players are pitted as the last surviving knight in their castle after it was attacked, and who must now fight through legions of enemies in said castle to save the kingdom.

Visually, the game looks like something that could just as well have appeared on the NES. The sprite work is very well done and true to the period all while eliminating the flicker and other graphical shortcomings that Nintendo's old console was known for. Character and enemy design goes for a cutesy approach with players controlling their adorable little knight and proceeding to fight cute little enemies, all while helping cute little townsfolk. The bosses aren't so little, but still reasonably cute in their design, with some being impressively large, taking up a fair bit of real estate on the screen.

From the aural side of things, CitD covers the bases in therms of sound effects and music. From what I've played thus far, there haven't been any particular standout tracks. The tunes just do what they need to, harking back to the 80s with catchy, bouncy bleeps and bloops. It certainly fills the nostalgia quotient, but doesn't go above and beyond that.

As I mentioned earlier, the game has a light metroidvania feel to it. There are branching paths, items to find, and obstructions that can't be passed without finding these items. This results in a degree of exploration and backtracking just like in the days of Metroid and Castlevania, or at least installments in those series that involved exploration and / or backtracking.

With that there is plenty of marching through varied albeit castle-y environments as players stab their way through hordes of undead in search of doodads and bosses. Areas I've come across thus far have some pretty noticeable nods to Castlevania, particularly one zone with bits of clockwork gears twirling around which instantly made me think of the clock tower in Castlevania III.

CitD is pretty challenging too, with the game happily keeping count of how many times players die. After dying 50 times, an easy mode is unlocked for those who want to tone things down a bit, and even then the game poo-poos people for opting to take the easier route, implying that only wimps that don't play a lot of games would want to use it.

Personally, I don't find it too terrible, but then again I'm an old geezer who cut his teeth on games of this ilk. All it really takes is learning enemies' attack patterns, figuring out platform timing, and getting a handle on controlling your character. The last part actually takes a wee bit of practice, as your little on-screen knight has some momentum behind him when he moves. This results in him moving forward a tad after running, and a bit more after a running jump, so players need to be aware of this and learn to compensate for it while platforming.

As you've probably surmised, I've not yet finished the game, but it has been tugging on just the right nostalgic heartstrings thus far, so I've been inclined to yak about it a bit. Folks that like these indie games that hark back to times of yore may want to consider tracking it down. If anything, wait until a Steam sale. The game is already cheap and when those sales happen it can go for under a buck, so you don't have much to lose.