Castle Pals is a new console port by solo developer Brad Erkkila, published by Ratalaika Games. It’s a retro platformer where you will take control of two different characters, Kylee and Owen, each with their own unique playstyle. The story is fairly simple: the two stumble upon Castle Pookapick and decide to see what lies inside.
Kylee relies on her punches and ninja kicks to work her way through the mysterious castle. While Owen, with the help of his little propeller hat, prefers to utilise quick reaction time and head-hopping. The game takes place over a little more than 40 levels and those levels are grouped into separate acts. Three acts make up the main story, and if you manage to find three gems that are scattered throughout the game you’ll unlock an additional set of levels.
Each level has simple puzzles to solve, usually by pushing buttons, dodging or fighting enemies, and avoiding environmental hazards such as fire spouts, rising lava, and bouncing energy balls of death. As you play you’ll switch between Kylee and Owen after each level, and since Kylee relies on power and Owen on mobility, there will always be some variety.
But Castle Pals places the most emphasis on completing levels as quickly as possible, which is evident by its gold medal system. Finish a stage within a set time and you’ll acquire a shiny gold medal for your efforts. The time varies but usually ranges from 30 seconds to one minute. My biggest criticism of this system is that many of the levels can be completed way under par time and I sometimes finished stages in half the time that was allotted.
But what’s going to take up the bulk of your time isn’t the puzzles – it’s the quick reaction time needed to dodge all the hazards thrown your way. The early levels are pretty easy to sprint through without much incident, but as you get further the difficulty does start going up. The most difficult levels are the longer ones that give more opportunity to fail.
They do alleviate the struggle a bit by including a checkpoint somewhere along the way. But if you die and have to use the checkpoint, the clock for gold on that level gets set to zero and you’ll need to restart if you want to earn that gold medal. But frankly, without these checkpoints it probably would’ve taken me a lot longer to get through the game.
In terms of game mechanics, things seemed to work pretty well. The controls are intuitive and easy to get used to. For combat, every enemy is a one-hit KO with the exception of the few boss fights that take place, each of which has their own format for how they work.
Otherwise, there isn’t much to say about how Castle Pals plays out. As I said earlier, Kylee has the ability to actually attack and when Owen is in charge you will have to channel your inner Mario to take out your foes. Occasionally I did seem to experience a bit of input lag when it came to Kylee’s attacks and Owen’s propeller jumping, but it was all pretty minor and the only real issue was that it is possible in some levels to push one of those aforementioned buttons against a wall, making it impossible to move it where it needs to be, thus forcing you to manually restart. Since most levels aren’t designed to take any longer than a minute though, a couple of faulty deaths or forced restarts isn’t much of a setback.
One nice perk about this game, which is fairly commonplace in most smaller titles like this, is that there is a quick 1000 Gamerscore to be earned, which makes Castle Pals a great game for the achievement hunters out there. Overall, the gameplay isn’t bad, it just isn’t amazing, and towards the second act of the game the puzzles become redundant and the challenge doesn’t lead to much sense of satisfaction.
I think it’s worth mentioning that Castle Pals was originally released on mobile platforms, which means it was available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store way before it made its way to console. And I think the best way to surmise my thoughts on Castle Pals for Xbox One is that this is in no way surprising. Castle Pals works well as a game that you play when you need to kill a little time when out and about, but sitting down and playing it in one go just isn’t what it was designed for. After two to three hours of dedicated playing you can complete every level and even get gold on most, if not every, level as well.