• Madcap Castle

    6 hours playtime

    no achievements

This is a platformer. Besides your standard left/right movement and jump, you can cast a spell with the X button. However, you start off with no spell, and can only have one at a time (usually getting a new one each tower). Each tower has 15 levels (if you count the bosses as levels), and each level is one screen. However, in order to beat most levels, you have to touch little buttons scattered around the screen, and the next one only appears after you hit the previous one. This can be a little annoying since it isn’t uncommon for the game to make you backtrack, or even redo the same exact platforming because the next button appeared near where a previous one was or because the level is symmetrical and the button appeared in literally the same spot on the other side.

The game actually makes a good first impression. The controls are fairly responsive, and first tower does a good job of building up the difficulty without going overboard…but then the game introduces its dark levels: everything is blacked out except a few units around you and a couple units around any candles that may be in the level. Not only do switches not have their own light, but some levels make you light candles, but you still have to do it in a specific order or the flame will go out after a second. Since you can’t see where the objectives are, you need to use the light around you to look for them, but the light’s range is so short and your jumping speed is so quick that you won’t have much time to react if there happen to be spikes on the ceiling (unless, of course, you do short hops and slowly raise your jump height). That was my first death in the game.

But okay, maybe that by itself isn’t a big issue, but the game has a ton of little issues that all compound on each other. There’s a type of enemy that moves diagonally and reflects off of walls, but it sometimes alters its angle when it hits certain surfaces (so instead of going at a 45 degree angle, it’s a 10 degree angle), making it unpredictable. There are several levels where an enemy or other hazard is placed right in front of you at the beginning, giving you less than half a second to react to it after the level transition goes away before you die. The shield spell, despite having several fluid frames of animation, only works as a shield for the first couple of those frames; the rest of the time, you’ll see the enemies’ shots go straight through it and kill you (and don’t forget that all spells except gravity flipping have a full second delay before you can use them again). In contrast, explosions remain harmful for far longer than they should; there could only be a couple tiny wisps of smoke left, but they remain just as deadly as the initial burst. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that bombs aren’t the only things that explode; the goat boss will shoot thin fireballs at a random frequency, so sometimes you’ll only just barely be able to squeeze in between two, but then suddenly they hit the floor and increase their hit box with an explosion, killing you anyway. This leads into another issue I had with the game: even though bosses are all the “dodge until vulnerable” type, they don’t get harder with each phase, instead just having parts of their attack pattern be randomized (not to mention that quite a few of them have cheap shots that you have to know in advance to dodge, like the final boss’s flame floor). The game doesn’t even do introductions well; level 40 would have been perfect to introduce ice blocks, but the actual first level to have ice blocks puts a spike right at the end, likely having you slide into it on your first try. The room that first grants you the teleport spell has a cannon shooting right at where the spell is, and on top of this, the spell sends you nearly halfway across the room, meaning you won’t be able to intuit where you’ll end up after using it. To make matters worse, the spell produces a huge cloud of fog by your destination, so if there’s a hazard nearby, you won’t be able to react to it well after teleporting. The card spell lets you shoot a projectile forward, but you’re two units tall and it only fires from the top, so not only does this mean it will go over all the one-unit-tall enemies, but if you have to break through blocks and the bottom one manages to be the only one left, you’re stuck and have to pause and quit to retry the level. That isn’t even the only level where you can get stuck like that, either: one level has all the platforms destructible, but puts one of the buttons in a spot you can only reach if you manage to avoid destroying certain ones, and another level has the exit door in a pit that you can’t jump out of, so if you fall in before hitting all the buttons necessary to unlock the door, you’re once again stuck. I’d say it’s old-school literally to a fault, but that isn’t an issue associated with retro classics; it’s a flaw associated with retro bootlegs. I think the worst power is the gravity flipping. It’s fine if you just need to go from the floor to the ceiling and vice versa, but there are a couple levels where you have to swap gravity rapidly in midair to get through a spike tunnel, and this is where you discover that it keeps whatever your vertical momentum was when you hit the button. Combine this with your jumping speed and you’ll realize that if you hit it too early, you’ll continue flying up and hit the spikes, but if you push it a split second later, you’ll have already fallen on the other set of spikes (and if you rapidly hit it, you’ll still slowly move either up or down and still won’t be able to make it across). One of the reasons I play retro platformers is to avoid physics-based mechanics like this! The dashing spell has a similar level where you have to be on practically the exact right pixel when you push the jump button or you won’t be able to make it over the spike arch.

However, despite all my problems with everything mentioned above, the worst problem with the game is its spears. They have two frames: out (harmful) and in (safe), so there’s no warning for when they’ll switch positions. On top of this, they can be in one position for 5+ seconds, and what’s worse, different spears within the same level will be set to different, asynchronous patterns. It isn’t uncommon for a few spears in a row to be just slightly off of each other, forcing you to sit there and wait for a solid minute or two before they sync back up again and it’s safe to progress. Oh, and don’t forget that this game is an unforgiving precision platformer where you die in one hit. Thing is, I don’t mind the challenge, but when I’m forced to wait for an absurd amount of time just to try again, that kills any potential fun the game once had. I swear, this was only done to inflate playtime artificially. A level that would have taken only one or two minutes suddenly takes more than 20 minutes before you win. Sure, its not as bad as Cross Code’s or Victor Vran’s asynchronous hazards, but this was the closest I came to giving up on the game.

Overall, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. There’s some fun parts, but just when you get past one problematic part and you think it’s starting to get better, another problem shows up (or an old one reappears).


unforgiving precision platformer where you die in one hit

I’ll never understand the appeal of these hard platformers. But people like them, so I suppose they exist for a reason!

The game doesn’t look like much from the Steam page, but it seems pretty packed with content, even if that content isn’t very good.