A retro-inspired masterpiece.
Four words that send a shiver down my spine.
The current generation of consoles have recently been hit by all manner of ‘retro inspired’ pieces of art; not all of which are worth the outlay. So when I heard that the cute puzzle solver, Mystery Castle was being marketed by the development team at Runestone Games as another retro inspired title, my heart sank just a little bit. I was expecting clunky controls. I was expecting those damn 8-bit visuals. I was expecting a backing track full of beeps and 1980’s style pain.
I was not for one minute expecting what I actually got.
Mystery Castle is, as I’ve already alluded to, a top-down puzzler in which you take charge of Monty, a little fat wizard. Now, Monty is a rather delightful little chap who likes to do a bit of exploring and loves to stop for a chat with anyone he may bump into. He’ll talk to treasure hungry dwarves, lost Princesses and bossy Chinamen; all of whom will help progress the tale of a fun-filled journey of adventure, collection and problem solving which makes up the entirety of Mystery Castle.
Simplicity is very much the name of the game with Mystery Castle, at least when it comes to how things play out. Whilst Runestone Games have quite intentionally kept away from the retro blocky route that many have recently gone down, I can’t for one minute pretend that the visuals on offer are mindblowing. But, they don’t need to be mindblowing. They need to be crisp, clear and allow enough visual clarity so that the gamer knows what is going on at all times, what needs to happen in the future and how that future needs to come about. They do that in spades with delightful colours and some rather unique castle layouts combining to allow for an easy enough time on the eyes.
The mechanics of the game follow the same ideology, with the controls amongst some of the easiest you’re ever going to pick up. Monty can move in four directions – left, right, up and down – and will need to navigate his way around, collecting various pickups and then heading for the nearest exit. With various crates and other obstacles placed strategically on each of the well-thought out 180 levels, you’ll need to use a great deal of thinking time to work out exactly how Monty will complete the collection objectives in place prior to making his way to the exit. Progress further into the depths of each castle and you’ll find that the standard wooden crates which initially bring a tactical edge are joined by lava flows, breakable pathways, ice blocks and more. Each brings its own little extra factor to consider but all are thankfully drip-fed slowly into the action at just the right pace.
But that’s not all, as Monty will also happen across magical powers that help him out further. You’ll find that it isn’t long before the little tubby one himself gets transformed into a bat, a toad or one of the evil golems that mindlessly wander around many of the areas found in each castle. Throw in secret areas that are only discovered with the addition of a magical lantern, special portals that teleport Monty from spot to spot and the addition of a number of huge explosive bombs that will clear his way even more, and you’ll quickly see why Mystery Castle won’t be an absolute walk in the park. Again, each object or magical power that he comes across allows for an extra level of thinking, ensuring that the puzzle solving side of Mystery Castle switches up multiple times.
Complete enough levels and reach the end of each castle and Monty will find himself up against a boss character. These final stages play out in much the same way as the standard levels and no matter what the size of the evil boss in his way, at no point is there ever anything to be afraid of. Mystery Castle may dabble in destructive fire golems, it may bring you face to face with heart-stopping ice golems and it may see you going up against some horrid big bosses, but it’s all done in such a light-hearted way that it is actually all very delightful.
In fact, I have to admit to being taken aback by how well everything in Mystery Castle ‘just works’. If I’m being picky, I’d have loved to have seen a quick reset button in place, though. Going back to the menu and waiting for all of two seconds for the stage to load up again is quite obviously a pain and with much of your success boiling down to trial and error efforts, there’ll be many times when you’re just looking to reset everything as fast as you can. But hey, that is being really picky and doesn’t in any way detract from the overall delights that it brings.
Mystery Castle is Runestone Games’ first foray into the console scene and so you could forgive them if their debut console game was a little dodgy. A huge deal of praise, therefore, has to be thrown their way as Monty’s mysterious adventures are well worth playing through. It won’t obviously be for everyone, and you’ll have to ensure you’re ready for a bit of brain taxing gratification before even deciding to hop aboard, but should you be in the market for a new puzzler to keep you busy for a little while, then I wholeheartedly recommend you check Mystery Castle out.
It’s a delightful retro inspired masterpiece.