Indie games come in all forms. Some try new and innovative ideas, some refine established formulas, and some call back to the past. The Eternal Castle is a bit different; it calls back to a past that actually never was. It’s a remaster of a game that only exists in the imaginations of its developers.
The Eternal Castle’s visuals are impressive, like drawing the Mona Lisa on an Etch a Sketch. The color palette is limited and the sprite art is notably retro. The graphical restraint that the developers put on themselves makes the game beautiful. Despite the retro visuals, the modern sound effects fit well with the presentation. During cutscenes and boss fights, the neat synth-heavy soundtrack evokes a real sense of excitement and danger.
The gameplay is a revival of 2D cinematic platforming games, such as The Prince of Persia and Another World. Movement is incredibly smooth, though the restrictive controls took some time getting used to. There’s an input lag that came off as unresponsive, though I eventually overcame it. Interacting with the world also didn’t feel initially very responsive, which made the game feel unpolished. Combat is rudimentary and is mostly there to drive the narrative.
The Eternal Castle usually runs at around 18 frames per second, though I have seen it dip to 12 in some areas. It’s a limitation set by the developers in order to recreate that old-fashioned style. In gameplay, however, it definitely restrains responsiveness. Running at such a low frame rate hurts the experience way more than it could ever possibly help. Some things are better left in the past, and an abysmally low frame rate is one of them.
The game has hand-to-hand combat as well as basic shooting gunplay. Despite fluid animations, controlling your character couldn’t be farther from smooth. The gun combat is rigid, but it works for what it sets out to do. Sure, it functions better than Another World’s combat, but that isn’t saying much. While the game has a lot going for it, combat or even the gameplay altogether isn’t all that noteworthy.
I ran into a questionable glitch when shooting in a certain area early on in the game. It would crash the program every time. Shooting in there was unnecessary, though, but I only did so due to not knowing what to do next. Regardless, it’s not a game breaking bug, but it left a bad first impression nonetheless.
There was also an in-game freeze that left me wondering what I was doing wrong. I dropped into a hole and it just left me frozen on the screen forcing me to kill the game and reboot it. This made me question what other options there were in the area to progress. Dropping into the hole consistently froze the game until I tried the fourth time. It turned out that the game just failed to load the next area and was left floating in limbo.
Another section featured a neat chase sequence with autoscrolling that just played out very strangely. The camera would pan to the right and I had no idea where my character went. Eventually, the camera stopped moving, so I just held the analog stick right and continuously jumped until I reached the “climactic” conclusion. In short, the bugs really detracted from the game and left the experience feeling amateurish at times.
The story is structured in a very standard damsel-in-distress setup. It’s a typical plot that starts out with a hard to read text dump and sticks out primarily due to how stylized everything is. The levels all have familiar scenarios that keep the adventure interesting due to effective execution, while the subtle environmental design leaves a lot up to the player’s imagination. The bleak post apocalyptic setting really fit the highly stylized art style that calls to the past. As I progressed through the game, I didn’t really know what to expect as each level felt unique and self-contained.
The diverse set of levels the game provided was a highlight for me. It was an often gloomy landscape full of unknown dangers. The game felt oppressive throughout the two-to-three hour long journey, which contrasted nicely with the checkpoints that leave your player character calmly meditating. The rewarding feeling of reaching a peaceful checkpoint was enhanced by the sheer danger evoked by the level design and atmosphere.
The Eternal Castle is a neat experience that prides itself on its unique aesthetic and interesting environments. Unfortunately, gameplay felt a bit dated, though, and left me with conflicted feelings. Overall, The Eternal Castle is undoubtedly a title that is definitely style over substance.