Review by Lindsay M.
The setting was perfect when I nested comfortably into my chair to play Creepy Castle: the sky is heavy with clouds despite it being daytime, there’s a noticeable autumn chill in the air as rain mists from above, and as a result the entire world seems melancholy. It was mere days prior to Halloween and I was ready to be creeped out — after all, “Creepy” is half the title. Creepy Castle isn’t horror, but the setting is a castle filled with creepy-crawlies so the game certainly delivers what its name promises. Does the game deliver anything else though?
When it comes to crowdfunded games, I believe its history is incredibly relevant to the game’s eventual release. Back on September 4, 2014, Creepy Castle’s campaign began on Kickstarter. The developers are a self-described group of hobbyist game enthusiasts from across the globe that was formed in 2008 named dopterra, as per their profile on the crowdfunding website. Exactly one month later the campaign ended, successfully raising nearly $8,500 from over 250 backers. The stretch goals met included a colour palette representing everyone favourite old-school Nintendo Game Boy (which suits the game amazingly well, by the way), Mac and Linux support (on its way!) and Steam achievements. It all sounded promising, but I’ve learned to be weary of crowdfunded games (or anything really)… often they are disappointing, come late, or never arrive at all. But never fear, as Creepy Castle has delivered in every way possible!
The player begins as Moth, an aptly named moth with a sword, enters — you guessed it! — the Creepy Castle. Why on earth does a moth have a sword, you may find yourself asking. One of the castle residents also posed the same question to our plucky hero: what is he? A traveller? An adventurer? A fighter? The first part of the adventure takes you through the living quarters of the castle employees before dropping Moth into further, more sinister parts of the castle. From what Moth hears, whoever is in charge of the castle is making a strange device called the Heartbreaker. The Heartbreaker was kept a secret from those agreeing to be employed as it would have prevented anyone from actually accepting a job offer. The first (game) boss encountered is someone named Monsoon; he seems to know Moth, but it is unclear whether Moth knows Monsoon to the same extent. The worker’s often reference a boss is named Darking. He’s got a “plan” — maybe the heartbreaker? — that some of the dwellers disprove of. There’s apparently an entire hierarchy to be discovered in this castle.
Creepy Castle doesn’t beat around the bush: if you need to know something, it physically tells you. There are tutorials scattered about on wooden signs about how to do actions such as battle or avoid obstacles. Every old castle has traps (don’t you remember Super Mario Bros.?) and this one is no different as falling ceilings, wrecking balls (cue Miley Cyrus), and floor spikes will hinder your hero on their quest to… something. The truth? Yes, Moth is on a quest for the truth, that’s about the only reason that makes sense for him being in the castle. Treasure chests often hold goodies such as bombs or food, but sometimes naughty monsters are actually disguised as chests so be alert! When Moth kills enemies, they spew out little stars. Enemies are all creepy-crawly 8-bit bugs, much like our new plucky hero.
The game manages to successfully combine the platform and RPG genres into one pretty fun retro blast. Creepy Castle plays left and right, up and down like a platformer but there are definite RPG elements such as turn-based battles, puzzle-solving, and navigating dungeons. There’s a map in the pause menu but it is merely a capture of your current surroundings and not searchable in any way. The map also only shows save spots and the tunnels, not locked doors or your target. It is easy to get lost in the maze of tunnels, losing where there are doors to be unlocked or places undiscovered. It feels as though Moth is an ant navigating an ant farm, which is certainly fitting considering all the enemies are bugs as well. Creepy Castle makes you work for the experience instead of handing it to you with a fork and it’s all the better for it.
Moth has a bag to carry supplies he finds along the way, such as food and keys. The first slot will be for his action and the rest will fill up quickly. You can change actions/items by highlighting the object that represents what you want to do (for example a key is used to open locked doors). The action icons make it obvious what you’re selecting; aside from a key to unlock doors, various food items can be used to heal health and bombs can be used to defeat enemies. Moth can’t jump, but he’s stellar at falling! He’s also great at ascending and descending ladders and stairs — what a hero! Okay, I’ll be honest: he’s really a hero due to his sword-weilding ability. Enemy attacks are turn-based. Some enemies employ a duel method of fighting whereas others Moth just walks up to and whacks until they burst into starry XP. There are four types of duels: quick-draw, parry, pursuit, and struggle. Each come with controls relating to their title and are employed by a variety of monsters. Bosses are the ones to truly worry about though, as they use a combination of all duels in an attempt to defeat poor Moth.
There are lots of side areas that don't directly relate to the story at hand but do provide extra story or items to help Moth on his journey through the castle. Lore can be found in books on shelves. When you read something for the first time, “lore found” flashes at the top of the book’s pages — a helpful reminder that you’ve just hit somewhere new and to take an extra look around. The sheer number of written tombs within Creepy Castle’s walls are shocking, especially since many contain personal experiences rather than work-related content. The books almost become a sign of something biblical, representing the lore of those here before Moth. This representation could also be relevant as the cross is used in several iterations: a small cross represents XP to aid in levelling up but a giant cross hanging from the ceiling is a save spot. Save points aren’t plentiful but are not exactly sparse either. Once they are located it’s fairly quick to navigate back to the closest ceiling cross to save. So the books are written histories and there are crosses everywhere. Tell me that isn’t at least somewhat Christian.
Creepy Castle really spreads its wings and soars when it comes to the extensive lengths the developers went through to make the experience simultaneously authentically retro yet contemporary. The display settings are extensive — you can make the game look creepy, retro, or cutesy with dozens of combinations available. I went with the bloom shader, a vivacity palette, and a creepy classic border; I love vibrant colours but otherwise wanted to remain aligned to the developer’s original vision. You can also choose the movement style — 8 pixel, smooth (horizontal), smooth (horizontal and vertical). I love the attention to detail despite the 8-bit graphics. For example, the diary of a resident living under a swimming pool is water-logged as the pool is leaking and damp spots are on every page. There is one seriously nagging issue for me though: Moth’s icon is encased in a square the same colour at the background. This is both aesthetically unappealing and mentally distracting as he often passes in front of objects such as ladders and it appears as though he’s suddenly in front of nothing at all.
The game’s retro music is quite comforting, even after several hours of playtime. A little noise and a lot of midi goes a long way to recreating the feeling of 8-bit RPGs; in fact, my boyfriend walked by and said it reminded him of Final Fantasy III. The music is so catchy I often find myself bopping along to the beat. Then sadness occurs, as sometimes the music altogether stops; it appears to be random but I may be wrong. Regardless, it is distracting and takes me out of the game and throws me back into the rainy-day real world that awaits me. Ick.
Related Reading: Creepy Castle’s publisher, Nicaris, appears fond of retro-styled games — it also release 1001 Spikes, reviewed here.
I’ve saved one of the best parts of Creepy Castle for the ending of my review: Moth isn’t the only character. There are multiple story paths, each with its own set of characters and unique mechanics. This ability to play several times over without overlap is impressive, especially when combined with everything I already love in the game. The story is fun, the graphics are out-of-this-world impressively retro, and the controls have been updated for modern computers and controllers (or keyboards, if you so chose). I found myself completely immersed in the castle’s world — except when the audio cut out — and plan on going back again soon.
- Lindsay M.