HomeReviews3/5 ReviewCastle Renovator Review

Castle Renovator Review

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No, Castle Renovator isn’t a new Channel 4 series helmed by Dion Dublin. Although we can imagine it. Good old Dion bounding into a castle, complaining about the upkeep of the battlements. 

What Castle Renovator is, instead, is a simulation game for a job that – and we’re guessing here – never existed. The job that Castle Renovator imagines is a weird hybrid of demolition expert, interior designer and architect. You get a call from owners of large-scale medieval buildings to help out. Then you brush off your toolbelt of broom, hammer and screwdriver, and head over to tidy them up. Which, more often than not, means destroying things, picking up rubbish, and fixing the odd side-table. It’s all unexpectedly odd.

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A trick of Castle Renovator is that you don’t actually renovate many castles. Oh, there are galleons, courtyards, mansions and Tudor-like houses, but we counted only two castles. But they’re all medieval enough, so we will roll with it.

It’s surprisingly domestic to start with, too, giving you what other people might call chores. Castle Renovator starts you off outside a house, in what looks like a farmstead. In the first level, your task is to pick up discarded detritus outside a house: things like logs, fence-posts and wheels. You are a groundskeeper, stuffing rubbish into bins until the game tells you that you’re done. 

Luckily, things move a little closer to castles and renovating in the following levels. Castle Renovator begins to trust you a little further. You are given an axe to chop up trees, and tools to rebuild stools and tables. Chunks of mortar and fence-posts can be placed in the hotspots where they originally fell out. And you carry a kind of medieval Homebase catalogue, where you purchase flatpack furniture, plants, animals and the component parts of buildings – walls, floors and roofs – to create your own domiciles. More on that in a bit.

An objective tracker keeps a tally of how many poo stains you’ve wiped up, and how many planks you’ve tossed in the bin. Some of these objectives are mandatory, but a few are optional, there to give you a warm glow in your heart and the odd achievement. Most levels have their own specific and unique objectives, like lighting torches in a dungeon, or clearing cobwebs. But the gist is the same throughout: the medieval area has gone to pot, and only you can clean it up. We liked to imagine these were 16th Century crime scenes, and we were the Wolf from Pulp Fiction, cleaning them up before the Inquisition arrives. 

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We’ve had a bit of a flippant tone throughout the review because it’s all inherently a tad silly. But you know what? There’s a real PowerWash Simulator-style joy from getting the tasks done. Arriving in a level, you survey the scene and it’s an utter mess. But inching through the rooms and making them pristine, well, that’s rather calming. The objectives tick up, items get checked off, and the level begins to look like you could eat a banquet off it. We took the piss, but we grew to look forward to these levels. 

But, gah, if only Castle Renovator could have kept to that simple core. It keeps getting in its own way, and its simple joys get buttressed and built around, making it hard to actually reach them.

Where to start? The controls and interfaces are probably a good start. Not much in Castle Renovator is contextual. You have to find something to swab or fix, then pull up a radial menu and find the right tool for the job. But that alone is a mess of unintuitive buttons. And the radial menu is different for each level, with ‘Repair’ and others located in a different place each time. It’s a clumsy hokey-cokey to do the most basic of enjoyable task. It gets in the way.

Next is the constructing. Oh, the constructing. You see, Castle Renovator has ambitions, and it doesn’t just want you to be renovating castle-like buildings – it wants you to be constructing them too. So, we get a massive toolset with which we can create structures, from foundations to floors to walls to roofs, and then populate them with furniture. 

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This sounds fine, if a little bit out of the game’s remit. But in execution it’s like building a matchstick house while wearing boxing gloves. If you thought the basic cleaning controls were bad, the construction controls are impenetrable. We think you press every single button on the Xbox controller to place and rotate a simple window: it’s that convoluted. This was not made with the Xbox in mind. 

There’s a neat snapping feature, where the game tries to anticipate where you want to place something, which lightens the load. But it only works ninety percent of the time, with the other ten percent spent wrestling the system, trying to get it to lock to the node that you want it to lock to. And there are far too many pieces to place, so finding the one that the game actually wants is a minefield. 

If it was frillery, things would be fine. But it makes up a stupendous proportion of the game. Levels increasingly require you to build – a few levels are solely building – and the hub location that you return to periodically is intended to be a Minecraft-like sandbox for you to get your builder’s hat on. Luckily, you can dodge the majority of the hub – it unlocks lots of stuff, but it generally only feeds into the construction systems themselves, so you can ignore it – but we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were missing a large chunk of game. Castle Renovator is only a few hours long without it.

It became the elephant in the room. There was this second, large chunk of game that we could play, but we deeply, desperately didn’t want to. Every time we dipped our toe into it, it kept throwing out features that made it even more boring, even further out of the fantasy that made us like Castle Renovator in the first place. Oh, you can rent your houses to other characters, as long as you meet their very exacting criteria for what the house should contain? Oh, whoop-de-doo. You can unlock more recipes for construction by playing lame sliding puzzles? Good gravy.

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There are two games in Castle Renovator, and neither of them involve renovating castles. The first is a PowerWash Simulator-a-like, where you tidy up medieval houses, and it’s the absolute business. Give us DLC themed entirely on this half – we’d stuff guineas into your money pouch. 

The second game is an impossibly clumsy construction game, and it’s about as fun as being hung-drawn-and-quartered. Now, force the player to play both of these halves, whether they like it or not, and you have a complicated game to score. Castle Renovator is a real beauty and beast: one half fab, the other half flab.

You can buy Castle Renovator from the Xbox Store

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