Thursday, March 22

Review: Castle of Heart [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The traditional side-scrolling action/adventure genre has been kicking around since roughly the arcade days. Classics like Ghouls and Ghosts morphed into the more sophisticated likes of Castlevania and many others over the ages, but the roots are pretty consistent: Expect to be hacking and slashing your way through foes and then trying desperately to avoid the many traps and obstacles set in your way. As a brand new title the Switch-exclusive Castle of Heart enters the fray, looking to put its own spin on things and no doubt establish some roots.

The story ties heavily into the gameplay mechanics, where you’re a knight who is trying to find and defeat an evil sorcerer who has cursed the kingdom and you as well. Turned to stone, you’re barely managing to keep alive and throughout the game you’ll have to collect orbs to stave off death. Taking damage or simply taking too long will cause your life gauge to diminish. As you approach death you’ll lose an arm, leaving you unable to use any secondary weapons, and if then if you’re unable to get to the next checkpoint quickly you’ll crumble to pieces.

Your journey will take you through 4 pretty distinct chapters, each with their own aesthetics, traps, and action sequences. Gameplay tends to alternate between combat, platforming sequences, and then more signature stretches of action that change things up quite a bit. It’s probably these moments that are the most interesting, intense, and notable but they can also be a bit unforgiving. At the conclusion of each chapter you’ll then face a major battle, requiring you to put the skills (and hopefully some secondary weapons like bombs) you’ve accumulated to the test.

What unfortunately overshadows all of the positives in the game are the muddy controls and some serious inconsistencies in behavior. There’s either a bit of control lag or at least some clumsiness in the movement animations in the game. Everything feels kind of accurate but not really tight, and given all of the sequences where you need to be precise this can be grating. While checkpoints are meant to help break things up, and they do to a degree, there are stretches that play out almost cruelly, making you slog through combat and then try to go through a sequence of jumps or traps. While the constant loss of your life force is an interesting mechanic it also actively discourages you from wanting to explore as the rewards for getting sidetracked are generally not worth the risk. Similarly the pretty clunky combat wastes time and I found I was often more successful only fighting when I needed to and avoiding it whenever possible. Possibly the thing that irritated me the most, though, was the major inconsistencies with dropped secondary weapons. A ranged weapon can be crucial and yet they were inconsistently dropped by enemies from run to run. Throw in the fact that on most deaths you wouldn’t then have the secondary weapon you’d had when you got to the checkpoint and this really makes some runs feel doomed before they start.

Put it all together and though there are a lot of ideas and interesting sequences in Castle of Heart, the execution is lacking in polish in key areas and that often makes the game more aggravating than fun unfortunately. It’s not outright broken, but it falls into the trap of getting in its own way with ideas that are actively fighting with the mechanics. Throw in control that’s not very tight and while the game does have a lot of heart, trying to do its best, it’s difficult to recommend heartily.

Score: 6

  • Some well-conceived action sequences
  • Interesting ideas, some of which work well
  • Distinctive art and elements in each Chapter

  • Controls are muddy and lack the precision a game like this needs
  • Combat is very limited and clunky, better avoided if possible
  • Secondary weapon drops are inconsistent for the same enemies on different runs and yet they’re quite crucial to success
  • There’s little incentive to do anything other than try to run the levels quickly because of the health mechanic and stingy rewards for getting sidetracked to find orbs