Castle in the Darkness Review – PC

Castle in the Darkness was released on February 5th, for the PC. The game was developed by Matt Kap and published by Nicalis. A PC download code was provided for review purposes.

If you’re my age you remember what it was like booting up the NES for the first time. Grasping that boxy controller in your mitts, always checking which of your two buttons was jump before stepping a foot in game, and then you were on your way on an adventure. Castle in the Darkness brings back all those memories in full force. You can see the 8 and 16-bit era of Mario, Zelda, Megaman, Metroid, all ooze out of this game.

Even though it feels like games out of the 80’s it also reminded me of games of this generation as well. The first two hours felt just like playing Rogue Legacy over again, lots of running through a castle, dying, and slicing enemies of different types (they even got the enemy color palette swap down.) But as the game got more in depth it started to take on a Dark Souls vibe, when you died it was your fault, and you learned from it. You’d play the same section over and over and memorize the map, there’s even a section called the torture chamber that is just Sen’s Fortress as far as the cruel tricks go. Also if you go out of your way, full on explorer, you’ll find useful items and spells to help you on your journey.

The feel of the game and the gameplay mechanics might resemble some of the games we all know and love, but Castle in the Darkness goes one step further and also uses it’s source material as content in the game. ‘It’s dangerous to go alone’ is one characters dialog early on in the game. Little nods come along throughout the whole game in different ways, from weapon names to level design. You can tell the developer really wanted to make this game hit your nostalgia heart strings.

As I sit here and sing to you the praise of how memorable this game and make it sound like a wonderland of candy fun times, I sadly have to bring it back down to earth and tell you that it’s brutally hard and you will die, a lot. It keeps a death counter, out to the 10,000’s place. At first I thought that was absurd, but then I started to die more, and faster, and the real fear set in. I died on the same boss about 20 times in a row, that was a low point for me. But as I said, each death is a lesson. It’s one more enemy pattern you’ve learned, one more stage layout you are more familiar with. Fortunately there are save points along the way, so a death doesn’t mean having to start the whole castle over like in Rogue Legacy.

But sadly the upgrade path isn’t anything to shake a stick at. There are no real towns or shops. The first blacksmith you run into sells you a sword that does the same damage as the one you start with. Then you don’t see another person selling an upgrade for another few hours. Some folks may like the idea of only getting better with personal skill, but I like to see a game reward it’s players with better equipment if they just aren’t getting the skill they need. It might be grindy, but it’s nice to have options. At the very least it sticks to its old school roots, games like the original Zelda were not dropping armor upgrades around every corner either.

Castle in the Darkness is not your casual gamers paradise, it’s a cruel mistress of death and torture, but hey it’s got Zelda and Tetris references in it. If your heart yearns back for the day of NES action adventure games this game is for you. It’s a fun challenge, but not for the faint of heart. Live, die, repeat is going to be the modus operandi here. You will need to pick up great platforming skill as you strike your way through stages that take you across a vast and varied world. With a 16 bit style, it’s a fun reminder of how games used to be when the video game generation was growing up.