A video game is only difficult to those who aren't willing to learn, at least that is what Maldita Castilla EX, would have you believe. I respect a game that forces you to learn the in's and out's of its gameplay. This is one fine example of that. From boss fights that will challenge your very soul, to perfectly timed platforming. Maldita Castilla EX will have you cursing and praising its difficulty from the very beginning. Inspired by the Ghost's and Goblins series from the 80's Castilla invokes a sense of nostalgia and just good feelings from the beginning. The difficulty is not lowered in this game, although it is easier than it's Capcom compatriot, due to unlimited continues and a healthy amount of checkpoints. If you thought you were prepared to die, then think again, this is Cursed Castilla!
Cursed Castilla is available on Steam for $11.99.
Side note, the game has two names, I use Cursed Castilla when referring to it, as it is the technical name for the second release, but both Maldita Castilla EX and Cursed Castilla are correct titles.
After the first hour or so into the game I wasn't really sure if there was going to be a story to this game or not. Not because the intro didn't introduce the world or anything of that sort because it does. The reason I thought there was not going to be a story was just because of the arcade feel to the game. I felt like I was going area to area with no real cohesion other than the areas would start to blend into one another and once in a while, my main character would meet up with some of the other characters from the beginning of the game. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when about halfway through the game some major events occur that push the game into having a story that was quite worth uncovering.
The elements of storytelling that are here will not change your life, however, they will make you realize just how excellent the developer was at crafting a story within a level. From the designs of bosses names to the levels themselves, everything has a story to tell. You may just think you are a little guy who jumps and kills enemies (no not Mario! COME ON!), but you play a much bigger part in the story that this game is telling. This is no more evident than when you think you have beaten the game and then you see the true goal that you are trying to achieve in the game, and then you weep. Not because the story is sad, but because you suddenly realize just how good at this game you have to get.
My biggest gripe with this game is not about how the story is hidden behind this macabre wall, or even how some of the game parts feel cheap because of certain gameplay elements that are thrown in. These things I quickly ignored because I knew that this game was supposed to be hard. The biggest issue with this whole game is just how darned hard it is and how it hides its story behind that difficulty. I know that games have been hard in the past, look at the Souls series.
Yes, they are hard, but they are all doable and there is no ridiculous task set in front of you that says if you don't die you get the best ending. Yes. That is what you have to do to unlock the better endings in this game. You have to find all five of these hidden gems in the game, which is not that bad. The worst part is beating the game using no continues and no deaths. All I can say is that there should have been a special unlock for that, but I don't think the best ending of the game was the way to do it. Thank god that some people have or I would have never seen the best ending for myself. Which was incredible! It's too bad most will never see it through natural progression, though.
In this game, the number one thing that will keep you going is the gameplay. It is absolutely addictive, fast paced and very well thought out. One of the biggest problems with an arcade style game like this is that typically enemy placement and type is not very well thought out, however, Cursed Castilla is an exception to the rule. With every enemy placement spelling doom for our hero, be prepared to jump, run and fight your way to victory constantly. This gameplay becomes so smart and so well honed in fact, that by the end you will think you are invincible until you make one mistake, then you just start to feel dumb.
Enemy design in this game is unmatched in most games today. Every enemy has a certain attack pattern, much like the Souls series. That means you have to watch the enemies and try to ascertain just what they are up to at every moment. Just because their attacks seem pointless does not mean they are. In fact, the first time an enemy is typically introduced in the game their mechanic will seem flawed and easy to get around. Then the level design kicks in. Once the level design starts to take place the enemies moves suddenly become one of the hardest things to avoid, so a pot that spits bubbles in an open area is not normally a problem, however once it is put in an area where you are constantly falling and spikes are around you and one hit means you fall on them, yeah it brings a whole new level of difficulty.
This type of design moves into the boss fights as well. Many of these fights are really innovative and use certain tactics that just feel great. One boss fight you are fighting in the clouds and dodging thunderbolts that fall from the sky in patterns, and in the next, you are fighting a half medusa/half fireball wielding mage. All of these fights bring a level of life to the game. Most of the bosses are quite difficult, but there were some, and not only in the beginning, that I found to be way too easy and did not do much for me. These bosses tie into the story of Cursed Castilla and it feels natural and every bosses gameplay design fits that idea. Never once did I feel that a Manticore was fighting unlike how they should, or did I feel that a giant knight with a shield was using tactics that didn't fit. Every single fight is a mental and physical challenge for you to discover how best to defeat and outsmart that certain enemy.
Every weapon in the game, from axes, daggers, swords, and holy fire are useful in their own right. These drop from chests and are great ways to mix up the gameplay. Be warned, however, if you die you lose everything you picked up, so get used to using the sword for the majority of the game. This is especially true for boss battles. Many times before a boss you are given a drop for a random weapon to make the fight fairer, often though you will die and restart in the boss room with just your sword, so trust me when I say, get good with that sword you were blessed with. There are items in the game as well that change up the gameplay, like a fairy that shoots a blue orb when you fire or boots that allow you to double jump. Every item in the game is unique and serves a purpose within the confines of the game and makes this game just all that much more special.
On a last note level design in this game is fantastic. At times you are asked to do platforming sections all the while defending yourself and not getting hit. These are where the action feels slowed down a bit, but it will pay off as you start to feel that you are actually getting better at the game.
This game is so pretty. It's not graphically impressive, but it's immersive. I felt like I took my 24-year-old self on a trip back to childhood land. This game just looks like a freaking arcade cabinet game, in a good way. If you sat me down and asked me what game this was 10 years ago, I would have said Ghosts and Goblins. It looks that true to the original source material. However, enemy design and so many other aspects feel complete and well rounded out than the original material ever did. From characters to enemies I have never seen a game in recent memory that nails that aesthetic better than Cursed Castilla.
This presentation feels so natural in boss fights as well. When you enter a room, the music will change and you start to feel a certain change hit you, and then boom. They appear. As you start the fight you look at the enemy and are drawn in by their design, the music, and just the overall ambiance. Every aspect of this game makes you feel alive. This is one of the best parts of this game. No matter if you are in a dirty swamp, a musky castle or even the catacombs, every area feels alive and different. You would never mix up the graveyard area with the catacombs, they look so different and a lot of this is due to the music.
One of my favorite (and least favorite, due to difficulty) areas takes you into a crypt of sorts after doing some very unspeakable things to certain enemies (if you play this you will understand). You are met with somber music and I suddenly felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had realized what I had just done and also what this meant for my end mission and the realities of what this meant for my main character. For a game that is so rich in nostalgia, I was not expecting every little thing in it to hit me in some of these ways. If you are looking for a game that feels, sounds and just is overall great. You don't need to look any further.
I loved Cursed Castilla. It honestly is a great game. Even a day removed from playing it I can't wait to get back into the game and put more time into honing my score and perfecting my understanding of the gameplay mechanics. There are some minor annoyances such as difficulty spikes, uneven portions as well as a difficulty that hides a great story. Overall, though, in the end, it doesn't matter. My time with the game was fun, frustrating and had me cursing at Cursed Castilla in the middle of the night. I felt like I was playing something special that had a lot of love and care put into it. A great game deserves everyone's chance, and this is one that I personally feel should be played by everyone.
|+ Fun Gameplay||– Super Hard, no way to change difficulty|
|+ Variety of Weapons||– Story is hidden|
|+ Story is fantastic if you can reach it||– Some "unfair" portions of some levels|
|+ Soundtrack pulled straight from the arcade of my soul|
|+ Enemy Design, from bosses to regular foot soldiers, no design is sloppy here|