In the latest pixel platformer to hit the market, Castle of Pixel Skulls, a small skeleton must escape a castle full of enemies and traps.
Stop me if that description sounds familiar …
Yes, you’ll have almost certainly have seen something similar to this more than a few times on your adventures. Personally, I’ve lost count of the amount of castles I’ve conquered! But whilst it’s admittedly lacking in originality, there’s technically nothing excluding Castle of Pixel Skulls from being a great game in its own right.
At least, that’s what I thought before I played it.
After playing it, I can definitively say that this isn’t a great game. Rather, it’s a distinctly average one that fails to live up to its billing. Castle of Pixel Skulls promises to pull no punches and offer some genuinely difficult platforming. It doesn’t. There’s nothing particularly challenging here, and you’ll probably be able to clear each level with only a few deaths.
You’d expect things to get at least a little harder as the game reaches its later stages. It doesn’t. The reason why is clear. The enemies and traps remain exactly the same throughout the entire game. And there are no boss fights. So you’ll have seen pretty much everything there is to see by level five or so. The only discernible difference you’ll ever see in this game is the fresh coat of paint that some levels get.
The fact that this is the case is even more perplexing when you consider that Castle of Pixel Skulls splits its forty levels across four chapters. These natural breaks in gameplay usually allow developers to add in new enemies, traps and mechanics, and differentiate one block of levels from another. Why this game doesn’t take that opportunity is unclear, and it completely negates the point of having chapters in the first place.
In various sections, Pixel Skulls asks you to jump up a series of floating platforms before they disappear. Nothing too taxing, right? Wrong. The jumping mechanics are horribly inconsistent. Holding down the jump button produces wildly different results, seemingly at random. One jump might see you clearing a gap; the next will probably end in failure.
In these circumstances then, having to climb platforms on a timer can seem practically impossible. In one instance, it took me thirty minutes to clear a set of six vertical platforms. Thirty. Minutes. For a game where levels usually last a minute or so, it’s ludicrous and sucks any enjoyment right out. Had it not been for the purposes of this review, I would have given up right there and then, and gone to play something else.
I probably wouldn’t have had much trouble with it had I known that there was an ability to wall jump. Of course, the Castle of Pixel Skulls doesn’t bother to mention it (which is why I am).
When the hardest time someone has with your ‘tough-as-nails’ platformer is with the controls, something has gone seriously wrong.
Castle of Pixel Skulls is lacking in other areas too. Rather disappointingly, there’s absolutely no story to speak of. You’re plopped down at the start of level one and told to get on with it.
And once you’ve finished the game, there’s nothing to bring you back. Nothing new is unlocked for beating Castle of Pixel Skulls. The levels are timed so you could technically go back and try to beat your times, but I don’t see why you would. There’s no gold medal or special acknowledgement for beating a level in a certain amount of time.
At least the game looks decent. The pixel art is the only thing that is consistently solid and it’s clear that Castle of Pixel Skulls is inspired by games of old. The polished pixel art enables it to capture at least some of that retro feel even if the gameplay is lacking.
There’s also a set of easy achievements to entice any hunters in. You’ll only need to reach level twenty and die a few times for the full 1000G, and you can reasonably expect to do this within thirty minutes or so.
Castle of Pixel Skulls is a game that is lacking in almost every department – originality, controls and gameplay. It fails to deliver on its promise of challenging platforming. In fact, the only real battle is dealing with the inconsistent jumping mechanics. Of course, if you’re looking for another quick and easy completion to add to your collection, look no further. But if you’re actually looking for a decently challenging castle-crawling platformer, I’d suggest giving Castle of Pixel Skulls a miss, and instead look to one of the other hundred similar games available on Xbox.
Enter the Castle of Pixel Skulls on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One – the Xbox Store listing will hold all its secrets