Title: Castle in the Darkness

Platform: Steam, PC

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Action Adventure, Metroidvania

Players: Single Player

Written by Bad Demoman 10th March 2015

Castle in the Darkness is a game I very much so wanted to love. A Metroidvania that touts itself as ''Fast-paced, challenging, and full of secrets!''. While its far from inspired in the current indie game marketplace (I swear its impossible to go a few weeks without seeing a pixely parody of Symphony of the Night), I'm always interested to see what new Metroidvanias can bring to the table.

Castle in the Darkness wears its retro inspirations on its sleeve. In fact, I think the whole jacket might be comprised of it. Everywhere you go, references to all your favourite games are abound. It's dangerous to go alone, take this Wall Chicken! While for some these references might be a selling point, Castle in the Darkness goes a bit too far with them, and for nods to inspirations, they are far from inspired. I really appreciate the occasional subtle nod to the conventions of an old game, or a particular memorable NPC or occurrence. Castle in the Darkness, on the other hand, takes it to meme-like proportions. It screams ''You are playing a video game that appeals to your nostalgia!'' and proudly displays it as a badge of honour on its already-reference comprised coat, and it just comes off as tacky. We all totally needed to see another ''Hey, Listen!'' joke. If a fairy enemy spouting the line can really be called a joke.

The retro-influence is also mind-numbingly apparent in the graphics. I've no problem with the use of pixel-art. I've even dabbled in it, and I think it certainly has a place. Perhaps a game that really wants you to notice that old games existed is the perfect place for pixel graphics, but it leaves a sour taste. For the most part the pixel art is fine, especially background work which is suitably dark and dreary. Enemy design is fairly hit and miss. It mostly adheres to cliché standard enemies and the often plundered vault of ''Castlevania Enemies''. Some of the enemies look like they had more time put in than others, particularly noticeable in the bosses. While some are awesome and genuinely interesting ideas (I particularly liked the toad-man), others just look a bit off. For example, the towering knight which serves as one of the first bosses is particularly off-putting for me. Enemy placement can be odd aswell – why is there an imitation Goomba in the castle halls? Such an enemy seems more fitting for the inevitable forest leading to the castle to me. It might seem nitpicky, but such things all contribute to the cohesiveness of a world, and Castle in the Darkness pulls me away from any belief in a cohesive world at all.

Of course, the gameplay is also blighted by this obsessive attachment to retro games. This manifests itself as the infamous ''Nintendo Hard''. Or atleast an attempt at it. It's not quite I Wanna Be The Guy, but the endless insta-death spikes leave it pretty damn close. Now I'll be honest, I thought to myself after being greeted with my hundredth death. Maybe I'm just really bad at this game. Maybe I'm being unfair to it in regards to difficulty. But I've passed it on to allow others a try, only for them to confirm my frustrations. I really hate instant death in games, but especially when it comes in ways that seem to be reliant on trial and error. Platforming because an extremely repellent idea, which means that backtracking seems too much hassle (Although this can also be attributed to the complete lack of a map!). Far too many times, I lost massive chunks of progress to falling spikes right before a checkpoint, or even right after a boss. Speaking of bosses, I will give the game credit where it's due – most the bosses are challenging in all the right ways. Their patterns aren't so obtuse that it would be impossible to work out a strategy and beat the boss in one try, but they aren't simple enough that you won't probably die anyway. Every defeat against a boss would make me raring to try again. Sometimes the fights can drag on a bit too long, to the point where I'd perfected the pattern and tired of doing the motions for as long as it took to whittle down the health bar.

As I said, I really wanted to love Castle in the Darkness. But the frustrating difficulty and the in-your-face nostalgia pandering prevent me from doing that. I can't help but compare it to other games inspired by the greats of previous console generations, like Shovel Knight. And much like how for every great retro game like Castlevania, there's terrible ones like LJN's Friday the 13th; For Every Shovel Knight, there is a Castle in the Darkness.


Some great pixel art,

Interesting bosses.


Often unfair difficulty,

Graphics are very hit-and-miss,

Way too reliant on nostalgia.

Final Verdict,

Castle in the Darkness gets a 5 out of 10.

Written by,
Bad Demoman

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