Developer: Leonard Menchiari, Daniele Vicinanzo, Giulio Perrone | Publisher: Playsaurus | Genre: Cinematic Platformer | Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
When initially booting up Eternal Castle [Remasterd], one would be forgiven for thinking the game is an actual remaster. Everything about it, from the neon tinted pixel art to the synth soundtrack and apocalyptic world, ooze eighties gaming. However, the game is no remaster; tather, it’s a brand new project that’s only been made to seem like one. The advertising trickery makes sense once you start playing the game, since the entire experience is about calling reality into question. Unfortunately, the narrative never dives into such philosophical thought outside of merely stating the possibility of reality being a dream, but that doesn’t keep Eternal Castle from leaving an indelible mark. Thanks to a singular art style, compelling music and sound, and fantastic pacing, Eternal Castle [Remastered] is a must-play for anyone who loves the 80s or is interested in gaming’s artistic potential.
It’s clear from the outset that Eternal Castle wants to keep the player in the dark. The opening prologue, which is dense and filled with lore, is intentionally obfuscated with letters jumbled together in a way that’s barely legible. Then once the game starts, the shadowy world forms. The game is colorful, to be sure, with bright colors searing the stylized sky, but it’s also eerie and opaque. Characters are silhouettes with only the slightest, but effective, details indicating their nature whether they be zombies or bandits. The world of Eternal Castle feels like a shadow within a shadow, and it’s captivating from the very beginning all the way to the end.
While the game is obtuse, it’s not impossible to understand. Making the effort to read the prologue reveals the base setup: an apocalyptic calamity forced humanity to retreat to the stars and occasional teams are sent back to earth to gather what little resources are left. A woman who recently left on such a gathering mission is missing, and it’s up to the player’s character to find her. It’s a simple premise that parallels many a classic game from Mario to Prince of Persia where some lost princess needs saving. It works well in Eternal Castle because the entire experience may be a dream or some form of an illusion with the fantasy at the heart of the premise only reiterating those themes.
Over the course of the game, the player visits three different areas, a ruined city, a graveyard, and a battle zone, in search of resources to power their ship whereby they can reach the eternal castle and find the woman. Every location has a unique story that feels like a homage to classic 80s flicks. My favorite, the graveyard, has Cronenberg body horror written all over it. These side stories work well within the world, and each raises questions about dreams and reality, but they do little to add to the story and theme. They parallel the game’s ideas without saying anything new.
Even if the narrative is flat, the visual splendor cannot be ignored. One of my favorite sequences occurs early and involves falling into a combat arena. A bandit attacks and dozens of white eyes appear from within the darkness, cheering for carnage. Then, upon victory, they immediately fade. The sequence feels uncanny almost like it could all be imagined, a hallucination by the protagonist to give the fight some kind of purpose. It’s aesthetic moments such as this where Eternal Castle’s musings on idealism feel genuinely earned.
Actually making your way through the world of Eternal Castle is a mixed bag. The animation, just like the visuals, is excellent and smooth, but control lags. There is an input delay that may be intentional as it requires forethought to play but it just makes one feel disconnected. The input lag makes platforming annoying, especially during chase sequences, and the combat often boils down to button mashing. It’s occasionally possible to get the drop on enemies, and shooting feels solid, but once melee combat ensues it’s just wildly pressing the button with little sense of direction. I often felt like I was hitting air as often as I was hitting the enemy.
Eternal Castle does suffer from some technical issues, as well. The camera occasionally glitches out, failing to properly follow the character. During certain chase sequences, the camera ceased moving and reloading was the only option. The other, more serious issue is the frame rate. Terribly inconsistent, the performance often chugs during scene transitions and has problems during some of the more chaotic sequences.
For all the technical and control annoyances, Eternal Castle works far more often than it doesn’t thanks to excellent pacing. At 2-3 hours in length, it never stays in one area too long and constantly adds in new sights to see. While this means no place is given the chance to meaningfully expand on the games philosophical ideas, it also means the game is never stale. At one point you’re fighting bandits in an arcade, the next you’re making your way through a desert battlefield where cybernetically-enhanced/controlled soldiers mindlessly kill each other. It all looks gorgeous and is bolstered by an excellent synth soundtrack that would feel right at home with the very best of the 80s.
Eternal Castle does have some replayability too. There are collectibles, a new game plus, a secret ending, and cooperative play. They’re all worth checking out despite being underdeveloped. Coop works fine but takes away some the atmosphere and tension while the new game plus and secret ending feel like missed opportunities. Both are intriguing in concept and have the potential to significantly add to the game, but like the rest of the narrative, they ultimately only raise the same questions without saying anything new.
Eternal Castle [Remastered] has a lot going for it. Aside from some technical hiccups, the aesthetics are sublime and are worth the price of admission on their own. If the game just delved into its story more or interacted with its ideas beyond simply raising questions, it would be a masterpiece even with the clunky controls. As it stands, though, Eternal Castle [Remastered] is still a must-play for anyone who appreciates the aesthetic power of gaming.