“Do there exist many worlds, or is there but a single world?” A German friar Albertus Magnus asked this question over 800 years ago. While referring to the science and nature at the time, I can say that I have an answer to his inquiry: there exist many. Thanks to video games, portals to new realms are available to us just a fingertip away. Inside these gateways are untapped potentials and remarkable stories being laid out in front of us. One such domain is that of Castle of Heart, and what we posit here is - is it worth trekking to?
Placing you in the shoes of a stonework knight, the story hits familiar beats. The villain, known only as the ancient sorcerer, extorts a town for gifts and money. As antagonists often do, he gets too greedy and someone stands up to stop him. Our hero, holding his beloved, attempts to play foil to sorcerer's vileness but is turned into stone. As the diabolical magician scampers off with the maiden, magical McGuffins arise and cause the knight’s heart to beat once more, animating the statuesque knight so he may save the woman he loves. The story does follow a basic trope, but it’s told over time and has you exploring strange and enticing locations with some interesting characters, so it’s actually quite a fun tale.
A journey isn’t complete without the adventure, and it’s the environment that shines brightest in Castle of Heart. Utilizing smart design choices, the land is traversed as a side-scroller platformer. You move the knight through the landscapes, jumping up and over obstacles both big and small. In sections such as sliding down roofs and leaping or ducking to avoid spikes, timing becomes often key. Other times hindrances, like giant logs of thorny death, require a diving roll to duck under.
The traps and barriers you need to overcome are all unique and challenging pieces that never get stale. The knight also has a nice sense of weight to him which helps to keep the pace of the game smooth and calm, while other elements can create a suitably chaotic quickness. One major piece of the gameplay is that your knight’s health slowly drops over time until you reach a checkpoint, acting as the game's timer. This means that every second you stand around is eating away at your energy.
When you encounter a foe, your options are limited to attack with the sword, or defend with the shield. Your weapon cause little to no knock-back to enemies, while blocking doesn't prevent from damage, only reducing it. Methodically trying to guard and swing back will result in more consistent deaths than just slamming the attack button over and over. There are some other weapons you can pick up which can also serve as ranged attacks, but they’re more likely delaying the inevitable than preventing it. The game also has a bad habit of throwing several enemies at you at once, resulting in times where fleeing is a better option than fighting. Running from your opponents feels out of place in a game where you’re playing as the knight trying to fight back against his nemesis.
As far as the difficulty goes, Castle of Heart feels like a crossover of Super Mario Bros and Dark Souls. The enemies you face don’t feel like disposable fodder, rather they are equal fighters to you. While this is plausible in the later levels full of strange beings, the villagers of the starting area who are just as strong as you makes little sense in the context. Granted, your character has been turned to stone and kept mobile through magic, but it’s presumed he’d be stronger than sandstone. Between the surprisingly tough enemies, the heavily hazardous landscapes and the depleting health, your knight of stone finds himself breaking down quite often. Thankfully, the game puts up plenty of checkpoints to counter this, but that doesn’t help in making the frustrating parts any less painful.
If nothing else, Castle of Heart is a beautiful game. Despite entire chapters taking place in a singular area, your journey takes you around a full range of cohesive environments. Muted colors match the drab and dark feel of the story and its surroundings. The diversity of the backgrounds don't carry over to the foes in the knight's way, though. They all look pretty basic, with only a few noticeable differences between them in given settings. The boss characters, on the other hand, are strikingly interesting, and the knight himself has a great look to him which instantly reads "made of stone"’.
The visuals and the platform challenges create a strong framework for what could be a great game. Despite these sturdy foundations, the skirmishes are problematic. Castle of Heart is blemished by some bad gameplay decisions when it comes to the action. If you can look past these flaws, though, there's an enjoyable game making me warily recommend it.