How retro is too retro? That was the question that ran through my mind when I got my hands on Castle Walker, a new game from a solo dev by the name of Alexandr Bondarenko. Retro it is, but does Castle Walker deserve a good shoeing, or should we all be playing it?
It’s the story which is always my first port of call when reviewing a game, and in Castle Walker the narrative is somewhat brief, to say the least. It appears that there is a castle, there is evil, and the two have come together. A call has gone out to a bunch of heroes to come and clear the evil out of said castle, and due to events that are not abundantly clear, we end up being the only ones left who can do the job. It’s all presented as a series of cut scenes, without the benefit of any commentary, and so this is my interpretation of what I think is happening. Maybe they were invited for a picnic, I’m not sure.
Anyway, for whatever reason we end up in the castle, left to explore the place and get rid of any monsters that may be frequenting it. It’s here where the question I asked at the top of the article comes into play here, and with the look of Castle Walker: how retro is too retro? Basically, what we have here is exceedingly old-skool, being only a few clashing colours away from dropping into ZX Spectrum territory. While the game moves at a fair pace, the graphics wouldn’t make a pocket calculator sweat.
The action is viewed from a side-on perspective, and the only options for interaction are to jump and to shoot, so animation is not high on the list of priorities. The creatures we meet are very two dimensional, appearing almost to be made of paper, and while the sprite of our hero is a little more three dimensional, it’s not going to win any awards for graphic design. That said, the sound is reasonable, with squeaks and whooshes as you kill the monsters, but all in all Castle Walker is like stepping back to the 1980s. Take that as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preference.
The aim of the game is to clear all the monsters out of the castle, and while there is a twist at the end of the first stage (no spoilers here), we are largely only required to jump, and to attack, and sometimes to jump and attack simultaneously. Luckily, we are a trained magician, so rather than getting all sweaty swinging a sword about, we can dispose of our foes from a distance. We have a natty line in fireballs, mapped to the X button, and we have a special attack actioned by that of the Y button. With jumping duties taken care of by the A that’s all we need to know. The special attack will drain our mana bar, but luckily enemies drop potions that will refill it. I’m not sure where the bats that drop the potions are storing them, as the potions are bigger than the bats bodies, but maybe they have a backpack or something.
As we go through the castle, and later a forest, we have to kill various enemies – it’s here where Castle Walker goes about throwing Xbox achievements at us almost non stop. Kill one monster, kill five monsters and so on; the achievements on display here would almost be Ratalaika Games worthy. In fact, there are only two achievements that are related to actually progressing through the game – for killing two bosses. The rest are almost given to you as soon as you start the game; expect to have them ripped up within twenty minutes or so and that means, even taking time to look around and check the game out,, the desire to push on will possibly be gone.
Other issues with the game come in the form of the pacing of the hero character: it’s not called Castle Walker for nothing, as the hero will stroll at his own pace and nothing you can do will make him move faster. This is problematic when enemies spawn behind you, as they often do, as in order to get some distance and shoot them, we could do with a run button. There isn’t one. Losing all the slivers of your health bar will send you back to the start of the level, so this is an issue that can get frustrating. That said, Castle Walker is fairly simple as a whole, and easy as well, so there’s not a massive amount of challenge on offer.
Castle Walker is 1000 Gamerscore of easy Xbox achievements – with a game attached. That game is the very definition of okay: it’s not bad, but neither is it good, and while it can provide some minutes of amusement, there isn’t enough here to reward long term play.
Castle Walker is available from the Xbox Store
- Easy achievements
- Extremely retro look
- It does all feel pretty dull
- Slow pace makes it frustrating
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Desert Walker Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 9 September 2022
- Launch price from - £TBC