Adventures in the Lost Castle
Developer: Little Snail Studio
Publisher: Little Snail Studio
Release Date: 1/9/2011
Adventures in the Lost Castle is the result of great effort on the part of the two-man team known as Little Snail Studio. Unfortunately, its current incarnation reminds us why many indie games are doomed to obscurity “â€ because the ideas and passion behind them are much greater than the skill level of the developers can show. Since this game is out for the PC, though, it has the potential to be fixed with updates and patches. So what do we have right now?
Let’s run this through the scores and find out.
Story / Modes
The bare-bones story tells us of how a king had hidden a great treasure in his castle before he died, and now Biglird the Dwarf is the latest adventurer to try and uncover it. This leads him straight into the late king’s overly complicated castle of ghosts, monsters, and traps. Biglird’s fate is soon given over to you. In other words, we have a classic curiosity killed the cat scenario and the equally predictable let’s see if you can survive where others have failed route you’re supposed to take. This isn’t bad in itself, of course, but this is the least of the story’s issues.
In this case, the most glaring issue is that the game seems to care little about its premise. Why do I say this? Because all the background information is given in a pile of text that scrolls by too fast for you to read everything, barring multiple resets. You’ll likely miss that the character you’re playing even has a name, and that it’s Biglird! Now granted, games of old didn’t provide much in the way of background information, either; you just picked it up and played. However, the stories they did provide came in the instruction manuals, where you could read them at your leisure. Adventures in the Lost Castle has no such instruction manual, so those who prefer to have some kind of context around their video game quest are going to be left hanging.
So the story itself isn’t bad, though neither is it great. Its real problem is in the articulation and execution; it just isn’t around long enough for you to read it.
We have some good news here and some bad news, but let’s start with the good. The graphics are quite crisp. I was reminded of Super Mario 64, in fact, only the quality in Adventures in the Lost Castle is sharper and clearer than the old N64 title. Biglird looks more like a big yellow anteater than a traditional bearded dwarf, and he stands out well enough against the backgrounds to be visible at all times. You can also distinguish obstacles like lava pits and enemies from the rest of the environment easily. Finally, the animations are smooth; the motions of Biglird, his enemies, and the occasional moving obstacle run without a hint of lag and on some minimal system requirements.
Now here comes the harsh part. As you progress from level to level, the only noticeable changes in the environment are in the overall layout and the color. Aside from that, every floor, ceiling, and wall has the same stone texture plastered everywhere. Granted, Biglird is running through a castle dungeon; you’d expect to see an abundance of bricks. However, even the old 2D titles would exercise some creativity so that the every inch of the castle level didn’t look bland and repetitive. They’d spice it up with background details like chains or windows, they’d vary up the color so players could find new routes, they’d give obvious clues to inform the player that he or she’s reaching the home stretch, et cetera. Adventures in the Lost Castle doesn’t do much of that. Literally, the only differences you’ll see are in what’s okay to land on and what isn’t. Some areas you can actually go through blend in with other impassable walls because they all look identical. This makes for one convoluted but boring-looking castle dungeon if I ever saw one.
The other major graphical issue rests with the resolution. The game was made with non-widescreen monitors in mind, but also with the option to play it in a windowed mode. Okay, not so bad there. Then you start adjusting the resolution to suit your screen, and you realize the only difference you seem to have made is that you’ve increased the size of the black border that surrounds the main game area. What this boils down to is that the one resolution listed that will actually display properly is 800 x 600; the others… not so much. Trust me when I say that a good chunk of resolutions suffer from this. As I mentioned before, this problem is more pronounced if you’re using a widescreen monitor, but it’s present even if you aren’t.
As impressive as it is that all of two people worked on the entirety of the game, it doesn’t excuse some of the most glaring issues like screen resolution and repetitive use of textures.
By far the most prominent sound I heard was that of Biglird’s yelping, a hilarious and over-the-top “UGH!” that I couldn’t hope to convey accurately in writing. The accidental humour dies out fast, unfortunately, because you wind up hearing this a lot “â€ far more often than you should, in fact (more on this later). Most enemies make no sound outside of an initial growl, and the annoying arrow trap makes an unmistakable whoosh noise to inform you that it has fired a shot “â€ just before you’re hit. Also, Biglird makes no sound when he jumps or lands anywhere that isn’t lava. Now, the sounds that do exist aren’t so bad, but only Biglird’s yelping is really memorable. The others are serviceable but unremarkable.
As for music… if this game has a soundtrack, it either isn’t engaging or it doesn’t seem to consist of more than ambient sounds. All this does is make the drawn-out levels feel even more dull and never-ending than they already appear to be. I’m not expecting The Most Riveting Soundtrack Ever here, but some actual music would’ve gone a long way to keeping players interested in Biglird’s treasure hunt.
Rating: Below Average
Control / Gameplay
The default controls allow you to use either the W-A-S-D keys or the arrow keys to move Biglird around. You press the space bar to jump, the B button to drop a bomb, and the P button to pause. You can access the main menu by pressing the Esc key. Biglird can attack enemies with a sword if you press the left Ctrl button. Much of this sounds intuitive on paper, but in practice, the layout of your basic keyboard makes reaching for the buttons a little tricky. Now, the initial pop-up window that appears when you click on the game’s icon gives you the option to customize the controls how you see fit so you’re not stuck with the oddly set-up default layout, and you can thus minimize the trouble quite a bit.
Once you start playing, the gameplay becomes hit-or-miss. Jumping works as you’d expect it to, though you can also futz with the physics a bit so Biglird can scoot himself onto a platform as opposed to letting him slip off. This makes clearing some of those bigger leaps easier. Unfortunately, frustration comes in many other forms, not the least of which includes the hit boxes around Biglird and the enemies. Enemies patrol back and forth either from left to right or from background to foreground, and they aren’t always spaced far enough away from platforms you have to reach for Biglird to avoid them. What’s more, Biglird’s sword has about as much reach as a knife, and this short range is hampered further by how very s-l-o-w-l-y our big-nosed hero swings it. The result? Biglird often takes hits when you’re trying to maneuver him around them. You could try planting a bomb, but at least one kind of enemy has the ability to just knock it off the platform and into an abyss of uselessness. Needless to say, you lose lives quickly.
You can keep track of your lives by the three icons consisting of Biglird’s face in a circle, all located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Take enough hits, and one Biglird icon is replaced by a skull-and-crossbones one. Dying once sends you back to a checkpoint without any sort of transition, and losing all three lives yields a game over. The icons also double as a health meter, oddly enough. Should you find healing items, you can heal the damage that’s been done on one life and start filling another (e.g. if you’ve lost a quarter of health on your second life, grabbing a healing item may restore all the health on that life and a little bit on the first one you lost). This sounds handy, but I think a regular ol’ health meter and a Sonic– or Mario-style life counter would’ve been more intuitive. Besides, the three large Biglird icons take up a significant amount of room on a screen that already has a pile of problems laid on it (see the Graphics section above).
One other issue dogging this game lies in how you’re supposed to clear each stage: find a bunch of red gems and the key to the exit door. This is one of those easier-said-than-done scenarios, but it’s taken to a ridiculous extreme. For one, you’re given no indication as to just how many red gems you need to collect per level; for another, there isn’t any sign of where the exit door may be (to its credit, the door is relatively easy to identify). You have no way of keeping tabs on your progress this way, which is yet another source of frustration.
So getting Biglird to walk back and forth and jump is not a problem. Getting Biglird to avoid enemies with narrow hit boxes while moving and jumping is a problem, and it’s not entirely the fault of the controls. To top it all off, you have no way of knowing how much closer you are to advancing to the next level, never mind the end of the game. Prepare for pain.
Rating: Below Average
As the game currently stands, there’s little reason to play through even one round of the game, let alone more than that. The reasons why have already been addressed, and the whole issue with balance is coming up. The only real incentive is if you’re somehow adamant about clearing a game you thought was easy at first, but only a small and tenacious few would bother with that, and I doubt they’d even try to continue with whatever comes after. Everyone else who tries out the game in its present form will grow bored or frustrated with it very quickly.
When the first level, called “Training,” is more often than not kicking you to your doom, you know the balance is off-kilter. As an example, the ghost enemies will go down in one hit from Biglird’s sword, and that’s fine… but they have an uncanny knack for hitting Biglird once before they blink out of existence. How big is the hit box around Biglird, and how narrow is the one around the enemy? I don’t know, but the difference seems unfair. Other obstacles that have a talent for sniping Biglird include the aforementioned annoying arrow trap. More often than not, you’ll trigger it by dropping down to a platform and then whoosh! Out flies the arrow and then, “UGH!” goes Biglird. You’ve just landed in a new area, and you take damage before you can even react. If you don’t move quickly enough, a floating skull will nip you “â€ but because Biglird’s hit box is iffy, the skull will likely take a bite out of you anyway. I know people can design some pretty sadistic platformers, but again, only a very tenacious few would even bother trying to reach the end. Everyone else will just write it off as Bad Design and discard it.
Games are supposed to become more difficult gradually, not punish you from the start. Adventures in the Lost Castle could afford to scale back the difficulty in the first few levels to better catch and hold the attention “â€ and the patience “â€ of potential players.
The basics of the story are nothing new to us, but the presentation of it could’ve been done far better. As I mentioned in the Story/Modes section, the scrolling text that provides all the exposition goes by too fast for you to read it all. I understand that game designers want people to start playing as soon as possible, but this is too quick of a push. Maybe Adventures in the Lost Castle doesn’t articulate its story in the best of ways, but it doesn’t have to dismiss it so fast, either. Really, the opening text could’ve scrolled by at a snail’s pace, and we still would’ve gained control over our hero sooner than we would’ve in, say, Xenosaga. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with having a simplistic tale every now and again.
What about originality in the gameplay? Sadly, I can’t say much is unique here, either, but this also isn’t bad per sé. All the commands you’d expect in a basic platformer are here: Biglird can move left or right, he can jump, and he has a means of defeating enemies. Two out of the three of those basics are implemented well enough, but the third needs some tweaking. Hurting the originality still further is the cookie-cutter brick textures that differ only in color. Each level may have a different primary color, but they’d look more interesting if they weren’t ninety-percent monochrome.
At the end of the day, this isn’t the most unique game to come out of the indie field.
As I said earlier, the game offers very few incentives to play it for more than a minute. What kills this further is the punishing difficulty, which I addressed earlier. If you’re not willing to play through the game a lot and you’re more often than not dreading the thought of playing through another session, then clearly, it’s not addicting. In fact, I’m not sure what would qualify as a remotely good reason to play the game some more. Collecting every gem, and not just the red ones, in every stage? Obtaining a better score in a stage than last time? The right to say a game has never beaten you? And even if you make up a reason to keep playing, is it really worth all the hassle?
In addition to what I wrote before, if you’re asking yourself the question I just asked, then clearly, the game isn’t holding your attention.
The game, in its current form, is not going to appeal to many people. They’re going to turn away after trying to clear level one for reasons I’ve already covered. Gamers will feel like they’re playing a paid beta; non-gamers will delete this after suffering through the couple of deaths they’ll likely suffer in the first level; both will want their money back. With enough fix-ups, this game could appeal to a large number of people, namely those who enjoy video games and platformer fans in particular. Otherwise, this game will be lost and forgotten before you can finish saying Biglird.
Despite everything I’ve said, I’ll give the game one thing: it has the potential to be great. The key phrase, of course, is has the potential. It’s far from there at the moment, but the developers can provide the game with patches to fix the problems as they hear about them. A pity it couldn’t have been closer to finished before they decided to distribute it, but what’s done is done.
Another detail worth noting about the game is that it’s dirt cheap: it’s default price is $10. What do I mean by default price? As the developer’s web site says, you can name your price, but you have to pay a minimum of one dollar. It’s cheap no matter how you stretch it, and the power of the price tag as influential as always. With enough patches and updates, Adventures in the Lost Castle could very well become a game that’s worth every penny. It’ll just take a while to reach that point.
Sound: Below Average
Control/Gameplay: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Final Rating: Poor Game
Short-Attention Span Summary:
For a two-man effort, Adventures in the Lost Castle is an admirable attempt at making a traditional platforming game. Unfortunately, it’s plagued by a number of design shortcomings including no progress meter, cheap enemies, a not-so-intuitive life counter, and obstacles that are hard to see due to both color choices and resolution issues. The game’s only saving grace at this point is that it’s on the PC, where it can receive patches much more easily than if this were a console release. Little Snail Studio will have to give Adventures in the Lost Castle some more serious fine-tuning and a major overhaul or two if they want their project to catch more attention.