An imperfect but reasonably fun nod to classic action gaming.
The world of indie games has been flooded by 8 and 16-bit retro throwbacks. While many of these titles are enjoyable, the repetitive nature of their retro graphics can be a bit grating, as one game tends to blend into another. As such, it was very refreshing to boot up Castle of Heart, a richly detailed, 2.5D action platformer inspired by the likes of Super Ghouls’n Ghosts. It makes a decent case for games inspired by the classics that don’t necessarily look like them.
Castle of Heart is equal parts tricky platforming, and challenging combat. You play as a cursed knight who has been turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Due to this curse, as you move through levels, your health slowly drains. Killing enemies and breaking barrels, boxes, pots, and any other video game storage device you can think off, leads to health pickups. This means that no matter how complex the platforming or combat challenge, you are always rewarded for moving forward and overcoming it quickly. This adds a unique motivation to the traditional gameplay that makes for a surprisingly tense experience. Picking up dropped weapons also adds some variety and strategy to combat, without adding too much complexity to gameplay.
The formula that Castle of Heart presents is, in theory, quite good. Unfortunately it’s pulled down by less than optimal responsiveness. Any button press or movement is hampered by noticeable input latency issues. In other words, a substantial amount of lag is present between when you press a button and when the desired action is carried out by the onscreen character. This becomes a real issue during auto-scrolling segments that demand quick reaction time. While I was mostly able to adapt to the lag during the rest of the game, these fast-paced sections resulted in some very real frustration. While the frustration is mitigated somewhat by well-placed checkpoints, you’ll still have to complete the level in on sitting, or at least without exiting the game. The levels are all very long, and exiting to the menu loses all checkpoint progress. This makes the gameplay less than ideal for short handheld game sessions.
Castle of Heart is a Switch exclusive, and graphically it seems very well fit to the system. Whether docked or handheld, Castle of Heart presents a clean image and very solid frame rate. The levels feature a variety of themes, and most feature their own unique visual hook. Levels feature lots of attractive background detail, and a soft blur effect on very near and distant objects adds a nice feeling of depth. Animations can be a bit on the stiff side, which only adds to the clunky feeling brought on by the aforementioned latency issues, but otherwise visual presentation is solid. While it can’t compete with something as refined as Trine or Trine 2, Castle of Heart is one of the better looking 2.5D platformers I’ve played in a while.
Input latency and levels that are too long without the ability to save keep Castle of Heart from being as fun as it ought to be. That being said, it’s certainly not a bad experience. It is quite nice to look at no matter how you play. If you can overcome the controller lag, Castle of Heart can quench the thirst for classic action platforming among diehard genre fans. For more casual players, mileage may vary.