This action platformer looks promising and has some obvious Soulsborne influence. This Switch exclusive features intense difficulty, relentless combat and grim overtones. Can it live up to its inspiration, or is it just wishful thinking?
Castle of Heart is a hack and slash platformer that is too ambitious for its own good and lackluster overall. The combat is entirely mindless button mashing. Most enemy encounters involve you standing next to a generic enemy character and both of you swinging your weapon until one of you dies. There are ranged secondary weapons that can help break up the monotony, but since ammo is scarce and enemies are plentiful you have to resort to hacking to make any progress. Setting the difficulty to Easy makes this a little easier (since Normal mode is straight up painful), but it doesn’t make it fun. The boss battles are decent but can’t redeem the dreary combat.
The key gimmick of the gameplay is that the protagonist is cursed to be made of stone and simply existing drains your HP. This discourages exploration and could have been replaced by a timer, a construct gamers are familiar with and less likely to stress about. Your arm also falls off if your health falls below a certain amount which is almost certainly a death sentence. Once your arm falls off you are left with only your primary weapon, a sword that is incredibly weak. This flaw masquerading as a feature makes terrible combat even worse.
The lack of HD Rumble and touch controls is probably a blessing in disguise. A game like this would probably vibrate constantly since you’re always taking damage. Touch controls would’ve been just another opportunity for frustration.
The variety of secondary weapons at your disposal seems to be an attempt to add some depth to the combat. It doesn’t. There are some elemental weapons in the last couple levels that do add a hint of fun. Why they waited until the very end to introduce flame swords and thunder axes is beyond me. The earlier levels would have benefitted from weapons like these. The platforming aspect of the game is just as bad, unfortunately. The jump mechanic of the game is spongy and sporadic, and the platforms apparently have rounded edges which will cause your character to appear to land on the platform before sliding off into oblivion. The game also has sections that require precise movement but don’t have good enough controls to make these sections enjoyable. You’ll die over and over more due to sloppy controls than any amount of skill deficit.
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I could go on but the point is both the combat and controls of this action platformer are sub-par.
Castle of Heart is divided into four chapters, each with five levels for a total of 20 levels. I wish I had better news, but the levels are just as frustrating as the rest of this game. Each level in a given chapter looks identical and monochromatic. The levels are also filled with narrow passages and environmental hazards that you have to destroy. This doesn’t sound bad until you figure out that you have to destroy or jump over every crate, barrel and lamp that you encounter. More dangerous obstacles like hanging lanterns and icicles are also impassable without striking them if an enemy blocks your way under. In some of the game’s many narrow passages, you’re forced to choose between slashing at the enemy or attacking a lantern that hurts you and them. The hazards are an asset when you have a bow or spear to knock it off the ceiling, but since most in-game combat is strictly melee they’re more of a liability.
Enemy variety is simply not present in this game. There are three types of normal enemies: people, goat-men and birds. The Goat-men and people behave exactly the same way and so do all the birds. The only behavior that changes is how frequently they use ranged attacks. Other than that, it’s the same dull combat as before.
Little weird things like this add up fast and will keep the player frustrated.
The story is a cookie-cutter rescue-the-damsel story. It has no real substance and serves only as a frame for the sophomoric script. There is nothing worthwhile here. The script is just as bland and generic as the rest of the game. There’s no sense of character development whatsoever, and no dialogue that resembles humor or intelligence. As a writer it was truly excruciating to witness. The game would’ve been better served to not have a textual story at all.
Graphics / Art Direction
The graphics are actually the best thing about Castle of Heart, and even those are flawed. If you find a moment to stand still and admire the graphics, you’ll see they’re (mostly) crisp and pleasant to look at. The Ice Chapter (despite being the most annoying to play) looks the best. One of the effects that blew me away was the wall of ice that comes between the player and the character (See the photo below) The illusion is great and made me glad I was playing this game, if only for an instant.
Music / Sound Design
The music is also fairly pleasant. It’s subtle nature reminds me of Breath of The Wild, because if you’re not listening for it you’ll hardly notice it. It’s a shame the endless bleats and grunts of enemies drown it out almost completely.
Final Score: 37%
There’s not much good I can say about Castle of Heart. It’s frustrating in almost every regard and simply not fun. Unlike other games that are meant to frustrate the player, it’s not the difficulty of the enemies that cause the frustration. Games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne are frustrating because you die often, but they’re worth playing because the games are polished and require practice and skill to overcome obstacles. The main obstacle to Castle of Heart‘s success is the lack of refinement that makes everything the game does right feel insignificant when compared to its glaring flaws. No amount of skill makes this game any more fun to play. For the same price on the eShop you can get much better games. Castle of Heart is a $.99 game with a $20 price tag.
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