2D action platformers have been the genre of choice for many gamers over the decades. Castle of Heart looks promising with its medieval setting and appealing visuals but does it deliver the old-school goods?
Upon starting Castle of Heart, you're treated to a rather impressive opening cutscene complete with professional production values and a narrator who helps set up the world that you're about to adventure within. I must admit, that left a fantastic first impression and I was excited for the journey ahead. After starting my playthrough, I was surprised by how detailed the visuals were with smooth animations as well as environments that actually had a lot of depth and intricacies in their designs. On the other hand, the sound was quite off-putting with generic effects, weird annoying music, and odd vocalisations that sounded like they were coming from a horde of zombies. With all of these superficial things out of the way, you may be wondering what the gameplay is all about so allow me to explain how Castle of Heart turns from a promising old-school experience into a frustrating mess.
Castle of Heart is played like most 2D action games as you run around, attack, and jump. Besides these basic controls, you can also block and roll to dodge attacks, unleash a special attack, use items, and shoot or throw a secondary weapon. Although this seems like a lot of mechanics, all you basically do is run, jump, attack, and interact with the odd lever to open a door which seems superfluous. Why not just have the doors open automatically? Anyway, using items is handy to take care of multiple or faraway foes but I didn't find dodging and rolling to be particularly useful because you can just run past all the enemies and emerge relatively unscathed instead of trying to fight them. There's no point in battling them either because you don't get anything for defeating them besides maybe a small health boost which probably won't make up for the damage that you incurred in the fight. It's really quite pointless.
Speaking of combat, battling enemies is completely unsatisfying. It's the opposite of visceral. You simply exchange blows until someone perishes then you either restart at the last checkpoint or go on your way to the next tedious fight. The only mildly satisfying thing you can do in combat is smash your opponent's shield as both striking an enemy and taking damage don't provide any sort of feedback. All you do is watch your health drain and see enemies eventually collapse. The same can be said when you take damage from hazards such as spikes or fire because your character never seems to react. Remember how in retro games, your character would be knocked back or flash or some sort of sound will notify you that you got hurt? Well, you'll miss that desperately as you play through Castle of Heart.
Along with monotonous and frustrating combat, the stage designs are some of the worst that I've ever seen in a 2D action game. Most of the time, you just deal with enemy after enemy but sometimes, the gameplay shifts into an endless runner style segment that requires a lot of memorization and luck. I say this because whenever there are moving platforms or similar features, they rarely seem to move in tandem. The game designers need to realise that this is key because whenever you have to wait on a platform as it moves back and forth a few times so that the next platform lines up perfectly, that's just bad design. They should be in sync.
Finally, there is no character progression as you don't level up or equip anything which is a huge missed opportunity. On the other hand, you can collect crystals in each stage and doing so can be fun if you're a perfectionist. If you're not then why even bother?
Castle of Heart may look like a promising 2D action game that's reminiscent of the classics but it's so poorly designed that you'll want to plug in your NES so you can play a far superior selection of games.
- + Graphics are pretty detailed
- + Finding all the collectibles can be fun
- - Sloppy and highly frustrating gameplay complete with tedious stage designs
- - Wholly unsatisfying combat
- - No character progression at all