When Jordan Mechner created the original Prince of Persia in 1989, he had inadvertently spawned an entire sub-genre of platforming. What made it different from other platformers was an emphasis on weighty and realistic movement, and exploration that required careful steps instead of fast reflexes.
The appeal of the “cinematic platformer” lies in puzzle-centric gameplay, and its tendency to have cinematic flair in its presentation. Shortly after Jordan Mechner’s opus came out, Another World would up the ante by leaning in hard with its story telling. Intricate in-game cutscenes impressed gamers, and depicted a story without relying on any dialogue or text to convey itself.
The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED], a game that was inspired by rumors, bald-faced lies, and half-remembered dreams is not coy about its influences. It aims to deliver something authentic to the experience you would have gotten somewhere in between Prince of Persia and Another World.
The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]
Developer: TFL Studios
Publisher: TFL Studios
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: May 15, 2020
The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is not a remaster of anything, but you think it is because of its commitment to 2-bit CGA graphics. Then you realize how foolish you were by not realizing the obvious, because aping off retro aesthetics is what indie devs do to cater to nostalgia.
With The Eternal Castle, things are a bit different. It kind of feels like the developer is drawing inspiration from misremembering and mixing up specific games together.
The way how vague the story is told, with anachronistic imagery meeting sci-fi and the surreal vistas meeting the incredibly low-fi presentation, makes the experience feel like lost game from the 80s.
The pixel art is very rough, seemingly by design, to make The Eternal Castle seem more authentic to the era it is from. It is shocking that there are no CRT filters included at all.
Everything is very raw with stray or empty pixels strewn assets. There is a dirty and gritty quality to the setting and compounded with the limited two color pallet per scene, it would be easy to believe the meta narrative the designer has constructed.
The retro synth hum that permeates the ambiance of every scene would be a cliché in something more polished or slick looking. The way The Eternal Castle uses its music only further adds to the authenticity of being some kind of forgotten late 80s PC platformer.
The 2-bit CGA aesthetics have to make liberal use of inky, crushed black real estate, because actual CGA processors back in the day relied on black being a color. This shrouds The Eternal Castle in shadows and silhouettes, with only highlights giving the impression of defined shapes.
This can lead to visuals becoming utterly indecipherable, since the overall art direction is also intended to be very scratchy and crude. The protagonist can become completely lost and will have no defined silhouette, with only a few speculator highlights to give the impression of their place on screen. The effect can make the player-character look like a guy wearing a mo-cap suit with dots.
In one area that relies on stealth to bypass, there are patrolling monsters. Other than a few pixels to indicate their frame and a few glowing eyes, it can be troubling to identify which way they are facing or about to face.
Thankfully, The Eternal Castle is not so polished that the A.I. can be easily circumvented by running passed this part. It does not always work, but it’s blessing in disguise that the developer failed to play test this sequence.
The Eternal Castle is designed around the player choosing which stage they wish to play after the tutorial level. Outside of the aforementioned stealth sequence, there is an area that will test your skills and patience at hand to hand combat. Another area is focused on using guns and after completing all three areas, the final level opens up that puts all skills to the test.
Between solving some puzzles that can be figured out by process of elimination and timing jumps while running, The Eternal Castle can feel pretty standard as far as cinematic platformers go. There are even some traps and pitfalls that are lifted from Prince of Persia‘s keep, like the horizontal guillotine and spring spikes.
Everything is mostly functional except for the crapshoot melee combat. Unlike similar games, the protagonist has limited stamina and is able has two dedicated attack buttons; punching and kicking. There is no technique to the action; just smack some boys and try to abuse the i-frames from rolling.
Aside from sluggish playability, the frame rate can tank hard which truly makes this feel like a game programmed in the 80s. This frustration is further compounded by the way the game’s settings tend to change every time you die, as if it’s mocking you for wanting to play with a specific control set-up.
Perhaps it is a bug that will be addressed in a future patch, but it is extremely tedious to have to re-adjust the settings in a game where trial and error is part of the experience. Even opening menus and making selections has a long delay and pause, which at first could be mistaken for a crash.
When thankfully, The Eternal Castle works, it is acceptable, but hardly riveting. The scenarios are milquetoast and verge on being overly drawn out, which is unusual for a game that is as short as this.
The settings clash with one another- as if there are three or four different games crammed into one. In one area you’ll be skulking around in a graveyard with ghouls running around, and the next you’ll be in some arena fighting a dozen boys with clubs and axes.
In a way the complete incongruity of the scenarios does add to the surrealism of the adventure, but actual adventure games from the late 80s and early 90s where much more cohesive than this.
The Eternal Castle is supposed to be some kind of science fiction adventure- at least the intro suggests as much. The story revolves around finding pieces of a space ship, and rescuing what might be your significant other.
It really does come across that the designer wanted to throw everything in that he vaguely remembered from a game he can’t recall. Why would there be a spaceship piece hidden in a graveyard? It never makes any sense.
The Eternal Castle is ultimately not worth the eye-strain, and better options like Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition or Flashback exist on Nintendo Switch.
Only the most desperate who are easily swayed by retro visuals will be impressed by The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED]. With a bit of polish, this could be an interesting and worthwhile cinematic platformer.
The foundation is much to shaky, and substantial chunks of the game would require some redesigning. Even the controls need some refinement and simplification, like reducing the combat to one button and having run be mapped to a face button.
If this was the “remastered” version of The Eternal Castle, I would hate to see what the original was like. The best thing about this was the marketing gimmick and the music.
The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by TFL Studios. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.