The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] Review: Retro a Go-Go! (Switch)

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is a loving tribute to the Cinematic Platformers of the late 80s with a stunning CGA inspired art style, silky smooth animation, and hard as nails gameplay. But does this flashback take us to another world of nostalgic delight? Or is it a regressive retro revival?

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] Review: Retro a go-go! (Switch)

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is a retro-inspired platformer on the Switch in the style of the Cinematic Platformers of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The title sees you taking on the role of either Adam or Eve as they traverse the game’s five worlds trying to repair their ship so that they can reach the mysterious Eternal Castle. The game utilises an art style designed to replicate the colour pallet of early home computer games with a distinct CGA colour scheme and a synth-wave inspired soundtrack. But is it any good? Well that is what this The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] Review is for!

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is available on Switch and Steam.

STORY – ANOTHER WORLD

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]’s story is set on a far-future version of Earth, which has been ravaged by nuclear war, pollution, climate change,  and the depletion of natural resources. Most of humanity now lives on space stations orbiting the Earth, but with resources running low, they send Scavenger Units down to get the resources they need to repair their self-sufficiency machines. However, one has gone missing, and it is your mission to go and find them and save your people.

Along the way, you’ll traverse caves, small tribes, combat arenas, even a haunted house in your search for the components needed to repair your ship and gain access to the Eternal Castle.

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] - Official Trailer - Nintendo Switch

The game’s story outside of the opening text scrawl is told fairly sporadically utilising background details and, occasionally, text descriptions and short cutscenes.

This is the second game I have reviewed for this site where elements of the backstory and world-building are told via environmental elements. However, in this case, it feels more appropriate to the experience; you are alone in a hostile and desolate world; having NPCs delivering exposition would reduce the mystery and make the world feel far less lonely and far less hostile. Besides, a game that is designed as it is to be speed run friendly and trades so heavily on its atmosphere would frankly break its flow with too many text boxes and cutscenes.

ELEPHANT NUMBER ONE PLEASE

Let’s just address the elephant in the room here: The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is not a remaster of an older title from 1987. It is a modern game that utilises art, music, and gameplay styles of the late 1980s in a tribute to games of that era. The fact that it is a ‘remaster’ doesn’t factor into the game’s story; outside of pre-title animation and a potential floppy disk reading sound effect early on, there is nothing that really speaks to the pretence of it being a remaster. It is a marketing ploy. One that clearly states in no uncertain terms who this game is for, and I cannot fault or mark down the game because of that choice.

At first, I thought it was a loving tribute to a forgotten classic, then I learnt it was a loving tribute to a near forgotten genera!

At first, I thought it was a loving tribute to a forgotten classic; then, I learnt it was a loving tribute to a near-forgotten genera!

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]’s narrative occasionally features flirtations with meta-fiction, none of which really go anywhere. I don’t know if it is just there for flavour (Because let’s face it, so many indie games do it these days) or if there is some grand thematic element I am missing. But in either case, it never felt developed or present enough on either count to be much of a muchness aside from making me worry the game was going to descend down a rather pretentious path. In all, its story isn’t a revolution in its writing or its delivery; its all fairly standard sci-fi stuff. But it is still competently told even if its presentation at times can be hindered by its chosen fonts.

GAMEPLAY – IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is a Cinematic Platformer much in the vein of those of the late 1980s and early ’90s; titles such as the original Prince of Persia from 1989 and Another World, in particular, feel like they are the strongest influences upon it. As such, if you have ever played any of those, then you’ll have a good understanding of the type of experience that you are in for. If you haven’t, and to that end, have never heard of the term ‘Cinematic Platformer’ before, then let me explain.

One of the key features that differentiate Cinematic Platformers from their more conventional platforming kin is that their central gameplay loop is focused more on trial and error rather than the more traditional platforming experience. This means it’s less a matter of simply getting to the endpoint and is more about learning how to complete the various challenges though memorisation. This isn’t the kind of game that you are going to romp through levels on the first try. You will frequently find yourself replaying the same few sections several times over. Each time, you are learning the correct timings of all the jumps and how to solve all the puzzles in that life’s first try. To fail means certain death and replaying that same section again.

Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be back again, and again...

Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back again, and again…

IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES…

At best, The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]’s gameplay offers a silky-smooth experience that feels both intuitive and empowering to a level that I rarely see in many other games; it makes me feel like a badass without having to lower itself to action movie one-liners or over the top set pieces. Even the central trial and error gameplay loop, while it can be punishing it feels fair and only gives you the drive to do better in your next life.

Because when it works, it really works! But when it doesn’t, the game is unresponsive, slow, and with a level flow that at times ventures into the abstract. Whose trial and error loop feels less and less a result of me not pressing a button at the correct time or not paying attention to a boss’s move set and more as a direct result of the game’s art and animation style. 

INTENT VS EXECUTION

While the game’s intent is to be difficult, it is perfectly clear what is difficult by design and what is made difficult inadvertently. Character animations are slow, which means you need to press the jump button in advance of a gap. That is understandable and something that you can practise and remember. But an enemy shooting you from off-screen seemingly only 33% of the time isn’t, nor is the game lagging when there are too many enemies on screen, nor is tutorial text not loading because I was a pixel too far to the right of the trigger point.

The laggy Can-can is huge in the post-apocalypse

The laggy Can-can is huge in the post-apocalypse

How enjoyable you find The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] depends on if this is the type of experience that you are into or not. And even if you are the game is shockingly short, even with all the trial and error, it only took me about two hours to finish it, if that.

This is honestly surprising as the game touts itself as having twenty levels across five worlds when, in reality, it’s five levels that happen to be rather long. Yes, there is an unlockable side story, a PvP mode, and a no death run mode. While they are fine for what they are, how much enjoyment you get out of them depends on the level of enjoyment you got from the main story mode.

AUDIO AND VISUALS – FLASHBACK

The games art style is easily both its strongest and its weakest point. Honestly, it is positively stunning just how atmospheric and visually rich the game’s world is despite only using a limited colour pallet; it always gives you just enough information to be able to understand where you are and the kind of history that that area has, and yet provides enough to your own imagination so that you can fill the gaps in. The animations are brimming with character, which feels pitch-perfect for this world and the kind of game that it is and truly harkens back to those platformers that inspired it.

There is simply no denying that The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] comes from passion and genuine love for the games that helped to inspire it and in that regard, it knocks it out of the park. Everything about it is just so visually arresting that it is a joy to see every new location and how they are able to convey the history and character of them. Goodness, there are very few ‘AAA’ studios that can create this level of character and atmosphere with graphics, teams, and budgets that totally eclipse that of this title.

Screenshots alone don't do the game's art style justice

Screenshots alone don’t do the game’s art style justice

HEART OF DARKNESS

With all that in mind, however, it pains me to say that whilst the art style and presentation of The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is fantastic, it is also the game’s greatest weakness to an almost critical degree. Its art style and animation, whilst brilliant to watch when it is in full flow, is also frequently an absolute pain to try and deal with. Often times leaving me feeling like I am fighting against the game itself just to make headway.

There are many points in the game where I fail not because of me getting a puzzle wrong or not jumping in time but because it was near impossible to tell what is in front of me or where I should be going. 

Can you see the player? What about the monster? Is there a checkpoint here? How about a pitfall?

Can you see the player? What about the monster? Is there a checkpoint here? How about a pitfall?

There are many sequences within The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] where the player character, the shadows, the platforms, the backgrounds, the enemies, the pitfalls, and crawlable tunnels are all the same colour. And given how well they can all blend together it often feels like a gamble if the next move I make will result in me dying or just rubbing against a wall thinking I’m moving forwards. Whilst some of this can be mitigated by memorisation, it does feel at times like I am making progress based on luck and not judgement. And that goes against the whole idea of the core gameplay loop.

YOU WHAT MATE?!

This is probably the first videogame that I have struggled to fully read and process the text that is on screen; I am dyslexic, and whilst I do not suffer with it as much as others do, I did find certain stretches of text (in particular, the opening text) almost impossible to read. Frequently the game presents its text in a way that resembles the scrawls of a mad man or sci-fi computer text.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it looks great; from a practical standpoint, it is anything but. Some of The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]‘s text is manageable; it isn’t easy to read, but I can get the gist of it. But there are many sections where I cannot read a single word of it. When it is flavour, text is an acceptable loss, but when it is vital to story information, it’s appalling. 

Answers on a postcard please...

Answers on a postcard please…

The only reason I know what the story is about is because of my research for this review. If I hadn’t done that research, then it would have been almost a total write-off for me. All the context for our actions is in that opening crawl. And we never get anything quite as explanatory for the rest of the game. I am frequently blindly charging on with no idea what I am doing or even why. And by extension, I find it hard to invest myself in the story or the world.

ETERNAL SOUND

From an audio point of view, The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] does an amicable job in recreating the sound effects of the early home computer gaming era. None of them ever feel out of place or too modern for the era. The soundtrack, whilst it does not feel totally period-appropriate, it is still a great listen even if it appears infrequently; it only raises in moments of action or narrative significance, which is fine even if I wish I could hear more of it.

There is nothing wrong with the game’s soundtrack or sound design. The only issue I have is that it’s not as impressive as its visuals. Though with that said, this game has one of the best art styles I have seen in a very long time, so take that with a pinch of salt.

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] was reviewed on Switch with a review key provided by Jesús Fabre.

Summary
The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] obviously comes from a place of great passion and love for the games and era that inspires it. Its art style masterfully uses the CGA colour pallet and its animations are smooth and characterful. However the core gameplay whilst solid on its own is often defeated by its art style. Often obscuring key details and progression paths making it overly hard to see where you are supposed to be going or what is hidden in the dark. Plus the game's fonts whilst great to look at can be difficult to read and can rob the play of vital information and backstory the game needs.
Good
  • Brilliant Art Style
  • Smooth animations
  • Plenty of Post-Game content
Bad
  • Art Style can obscure key details
  • Incredibly short
  • Font is hard to read
7
Good

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