Monday, 17 December 2012

REVIEW – Maldita Castilla (PC) - Ghosts 'N Goblins for 2012!

Maldita Castilla is the work of one man, a man who goes by the name of Locomalito and is responsible for some truly great indie titles on the PC. You may be aware of the fantastic horizontal shoot-em-up Hydorah, or the retro first person shooter stylings of 8-bit Killer. How about the ZX Spectrum inspired platforming action of Endless Forms Most Beautiful, or Abbaye Des Morts? All of these games are highly polished and extremely playable with unique character and charm, so it was with some excitement that I awaited the arrival of his latest game, described as a "traditional action game". It is based heavily on Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins and its sequel, Ghouls 'N Ghosts which graced arcades in the mid to late 80's. These hard as nails platform Run & Gun (Or Run & Lance) games featured a Knight named Arthur, tasked with battling a ludicrous amount of demonic hell spawn over 8 large side scrolling stages. They are cult classic titles, not only for their immense playability and charm but also for their punishing difficulty level. Both games even have the audacity to send you back to the beginning to replay the whole game after you defeat the final boss, all in order to receive the 'true' ending. As a result of this insane difficulty the Ghosts 'N Goblins series is a firm favourite among hardcore gamers, with several sequels and spin-offs created in the proceeding years. Well Locomalito's take on the series is finally here and I am pleased to say it has been well worth waiting for.

From the very moment you boot up the game you can tell you are about to witness something special. From the fake ROM boot-up sequence of old arcade Jamma boards and the screen created to look like a slightly worse for wear arcade cabinet display (complete with phosphor burns), to the jaunty music and short intro sequence. Once you have soaked in the retro ambience and pressed start the story is set by the king sending you and three other Knights of the realm off to fight against the evil that has plagued the land of Castille. You immediately feel as if you have been transported back to the glory days of arcades, the visuals replicating the 80's coin-op look perfectly, with wonderfully detailed sprites simply oozing charm. From the main character to the bosses you encounter, every creature and item looks authentic. The backgrounds are equally excellent, and full of tiny details that make them come to life. The music by Gryzor87 suits the game to a tee, with the jaunty tunes sounding as if they could have been in the original Capcom titles. The sound effects are similarly well suited and blend in well with the rest of the audio and atmosphere. Overall the presentation simply can't be faulted.

Luckily the gameplay matches the high standards set by the visuals and sound, being an absolute joy to play. The controls are extremely tight, with spot on jumping, and the ability to slightly control the protagonist mid-leap making you feel completely in control of what is going on at all times. He can fire in front of him as well as up, and also beneath him when jumping, which leads to some frantic jumping and firing when trying to hit some of the more sneaky aerial foes. Speaking of foes, they are extremely plentiful and will keep your trigger finger busy. Harpies, demons, zombies, spitting plants, possessed armour and much much more await you. As well as the end of level guardian that must be defeated to progress there are also mid stage bosses, adding to the challenge. Fans will be pleased to know that Maldita Castille is no walk in the park, with a high difficulty level, especially in later stages. However, it never reaches the dizzying heights of its sources of inspiration, and while the game is a tough nut to crack, it never feels unfair or impossible. There are no saves, but you have infinite continues with which to complete the game. There may be a punishment for using too many though as upon using my fourth continue I was told by a demon that it would come "at the cost of my very soul". You also lose your score when you continue, so this is an ample challenge for score chasers and those who like to complete games in one credit. You are blessed with 3 hits before you die, and chests can be found along the way that contain bonus items, either for large score bonuses or a handy chunk of meat to restore some life. There are also hard to reach chests containing keys that open secret areas, giving the game a bit more of a sense of exploration than the games it is influenced by.

Maldita Castilla is exceptionally good fun and made with care and attention, as well as the utmost respect for the games that inspired it. It is also one of the best old school platformers around, and certainly one of my favourite games of 2012, not just because it is addictive, challenging, and enjoyable to play, but because it brings back so many memories of playing games like these in dark, smoky arcades, the audio clutter of multiple machines ringing in the air and the sense of wonder of finding new games you had never seen before. A time when arcades were filled with classic games and not just row upon row of dance machines and prize grabbers. Games like this have the power to take you back to a time and place that no longer exists, and for that alone I thank Locomalito. It is another string to his bow, and I will await his next release with even more excitement.

The game is FREE and can be downloaded from the Locomalito website.

The Good:

  • Wonderful tribute to 80's arcade games
  • Excellent visuals and sound
  • Fun and challenging gameplay
  • Completely free

The Bad:

  • It is fairly short