It’s been long years since Sir Arthur starred in one of the milestones in the history of video games, the extremely difficult Ghosts’n Goblins gives Capcom, and even after a long time his share in this industry is still recognized, having seen not only the character’s presence in games but also Marvel vs. Capcom, but also for being an important reference for new developers. It is in this line of maximum inspiration that Damn Castilla EX (or Cursed Castilla EX) finds its greatest asset.
Developed by Spanish Locomalite, the proposal of Damn Castilla EX is to remain faithful to a characteristic feature of the 2D platform action games of arcades of the 1980s and 1990s. The inspiration in the classic is evident, starting with the setting, the hero’s profile and even the level design, but it’s interesting that, at the same time, the game manages to embody the mythical and historical elements of Spain with authority. If the first few minutes may seem like a familiar game skin, the following ones prove that the game is much more than that.
a hero’s journey
In the midst of a kingdom infested by monsters, demons and other creatures, it’s up to Don Ramiro and his companions, under direct orders from the King Alfonso VI, embark on a heroic journey and restore peace in the kingdom. So, in possession of his mighty armor and his sword, he sets off for tolomer where you will have to overcome many challenges, among them many coming directly from Catalan mythology, which is nonetheless very interesting for those who are fond of knowing more about the enemies they encounter along the way.
If it’s not exactly a groundbreaking story, it’s enough to provide a background for adventure, filled with nostalgia and elements that were established in the 8 and 16 bit generations. The smallest details are reconstructed and the most inattentive will tend to believe it is a re-release, a ROM emulated on next-gen consoles. In fact, it’s almost that. It is not a game developed for a pixel art aesthetic, but using the same technologies as the classics from the old arcades, from the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo.
In this sense, the screen format can even bother. even in the PS Vita (version used for this analysis), the game appropriates the framed window (the good old letterbox format) to reinforce this perception of an old game. But as the journey progresses, you will soon get used to it, as everything fits this screen format. Enemies are surgically distributed on the screen and surprises and obstacles work well. Everything looks meticulously planned, turning out to be a great level design lesson.
More than “jump and shoot”
It is common, in productions of this type, the reductionism of the gameplay in the style Megaman, with a mix of jumping and shooting actions. The best games manage to appropriate two simple actions and transform them into something else. Happily, Damn Castilla EX is one of those cases. In addition to the traditional sword that can be thrown at enemies, it is possible to equip different weapons, such as axes, bombs or balls, each with different range of action and damage, completely changing the combat strategy.
In addition, there are other abilities that, along the journey, can be acquired after battles against bosses, ranging from a kind of auxiliary fairy to the infamous double jump. All to support the player so that he can overcome a high difficulty within a steep learning curve. In other words, in a few stages the enemies become more difficult, the environment more inhospitable and the bosses are ones that irritate even the calmest of knights.
Not, it’s not one of those frustrating games that end up punishing the player even after he learned the dynamics of that region. On the contrary, getting to the boss is a big challenge, and when you do, it means that you actually have the competence to be there. Every mistake, every death is the player’s fault — and he knows it. All thanks to a very precise and well-balanced gameplay, with fast controller responses. There is a random element here and there, but the basis is empirical: learn patterns from error and get it right the next.
Fortunately, the game is generous and doesn’t have that characteristic of taking you to the beginning of the world by losing all your lives and getting a continue. Even if you die all your lives just in boss fights, when you get a sequel the player goes back to that point. But that doesn’t make it any easier, as lives are limited and there is little room for error. The real advantage is the feeling of not wasting time going through a phase – or a part of it – several times. Every advance is significant.
16 bit root
It is quite common to find games within the indie logic that use the pixel art aesthetic, a kind of reverence for classic games using current technologies. This is not the case for Damn Castilla EX. Here, the game is, in fact, a 1980s game produced today. In the images that illustrate this post, it is clear that the action window is well defined and framed, the scenarios are limited, the patterns and textures well established and the color system seems to have come straight from previous generations.
The sound of the game reinforces this perception, synthesized from the same old characteristics and, therefore, balanced for this experience. So it’s a cleaner sound, without sounding like a MP3 saved in format MID, like many games that purport to look old. Noise and ambience are equally rich and minimalist, completing the almost purist atmosphere. Here, it will depend on what the player expects to assess whether the balance is positive or not.
As a whole, it’s a beautiful game, who respects your inspirations without inventing too much. The characters have charisma, the enemies have an interesting design and the scenarios are very well structured, resulting in an intriguing and cohesive level design. The bosses, on the other hand, are remarkable and the musical score is also beautiful within the chosen paradigm. More than a pixel emulation, the game seems to extract a kind of analog aesthetics.
Damn Castilla EX it’s a great tribute to the classic Ghosts’n Goblins and there is no way to question that. However, he doesn’t limit himself to that and shows a lot of personality with each new phase won, with each new painful death when there was only one attack left to eliminate the boss. It’s a game from two decades ago made in the present, with all the technical limitations and all the creative solutions that so captivated some of us older gamers.
Difficult as it should be, but never punishing or frustrating, the game presents a high level of challenge, but fun. It’s beautiful, although sometimes you might miss seeing it all in full screen. And it still finds space to deal with a less explored mythology in games with a medieval theme, valuing its origins and presenting the world with another look at the fantasy of the old continent.
Available to Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox one, Nintendo 3DS and SQUARE, the game is all in English, but it’s one of those games where the verb to be and the book is on the table already guarantee a basic understanding of the events and it’s quite worth it both for nostalgic players and for those who want to get an idea of what it was like to play single player games in arcades in a neighborhood bar with the change for bread.