Castle of Heart (Switch eShop) Review
Some days just don’t go right. You never know when a sorcerer might descend upon your village and turn all the people to stone. Sometimes you get lucky and in the act of protecting the one you love, you are only kind of cursed and able to track down the person who did this to you. In Castle of Heart, you are a kind of cursed Knight who has had all of the above happen to you. As a result, you are turning to stone and the sorcerer has taken away your partner. The only way to right this wrong is to trek across the land, confront the sorcerer to undo his spell, and to rescue your partner (and maybe everyone else).
Castle of Heart takes form as a 2D platformer with 3D visuals. While there is plenty of traditional platforming elements throughout the game, there is also a big focus on combat. To stay alive through each level you will need to collect health from red orbs in plain sight, or hiding in destructible objects. Ideally, you want to collect health by killing everything in your way. As the cursed knight is turning to stone and needs every bit of health he can get, your health is always dwindling and every hit you take removes a chunk from the health bar. If you run out of health, you turn into rubble. Although dying when you are out of health is the par for the course, here when you hit near death you will start to fall apart a little.
I do not know what to make of the health mechanic in this game. It is one of the games’ main hooks, and at first, it seemed interesting to be in control of someone who needs to keep fighting and finding health to stay together. However, like your knight, it all falls apart. Whenever you take damage, you lose a fair bit of health. When you are close to death, you will lose an arm to indicate you are one step closer to becoming gravel. Losing the arm adds a sense of urgency to finding the next orb and getting your arm back, but more often than not it’s too much to come back from. Throughout the game, there are secondary weapons you can get from fallen foes or on weapon racks. To use these you need to have both arms, otherwise you drop the weapon. You also carry some extra items like daggers and bombs, but they can only be used when you have one arm. Not too far into the game enemies can really soak up the damage (about 6-8 hits instead of the usual 1-3 hits), unless you hit them while also holding an extra weapon. This means when you lose that arm and you are near death you also lose this ability, which makes death come even quicker when enemies take double the time to kill and you are surrounded. Castle of Heart is filled with strange decisions that sound good on paper but are not fun when you play the game.
There is a lot of focus on the combat in Castle of Heart. To survive you need to be killing everything, so there are plenty of enemies to dispatch. Along with your sword, you have the ability to block and roll. It’s treated as if you will be using a combination of these to strategically take down anyone in your path, but unfortunately, the game is not equipped for this. Enemies can alternate between easy to see hits so you can play strategically, or they’re just wildly hitting you with no rhyme or reason to the patterns. When it is the basic melee thugs, it is manageable. However, when the game starts throwing multiple enemies, ranged enemies and flying creatures taking pot shots at you, everything turns into a mess. There are many frustrating enemies in this game, but the award for worst enemy goes to the flying enemies. Small flying creatures flying at you, or lobbing projectiles. Good luck trying to jump and slash at them while they whittle down your health and get in the way while you are fighting everything else. Early on, I began to dread areas that are designed to drop in enemy after enemy. The knight does not control well or quick enough to handle groups of enemies, let alone block against them. Even jumping over them was a jump too far. The combat may not have been so painful if blocking had any impact. The feedback of if it is working is inconsistent, and enemies had trouble sticking to attack patterns that would make any kind of strategic combat useful. I did find one move particularly amusing though; you could jump on top of enemies and they would just stay there doubled over as you stand on their back as you swing and stab their comrades. It served the handy use of keeping them from attacking, and at times making it all a bit more manageable.
While there is a lot of combat in Castle of Heart, there is also a lot of platforming. You will find yourself running, jumping, rolling and ducking through the 20 levels. Every level is filled with traps and obstacles to evade, with no shortage of gaps to fall down or water to sink into. There are sequences that harken back to older platformers – classics such as the ‘wall of spikes’, escalator fights and crumbling platforms. Some work better than others. The problem is that the game doesn’t feel like it was meant to handle platforming, and along with the combat issues, it will have you dying a lot. The most frustrating platforming moments were often when the game throws new kind of collapsing platforms at you with no warning, or any time you’re asked to do a precision landing from a rope swing. All the obstacles and traps wouldn’t be so bad if so many didn’t seem like a throw of the dice; sometimes the trap will go off, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes an enemy will set it off but damage you more. Sections look like they can be safely navigated with some skill, but it all comes down to the same game of chance and then the same frantic search for health.
This game will keep you going for a while, there is a good 7-10 hours as you work your way through the 20 levels. You’ll traverse a handful of environments, though at least 10 of them are split between a village/castle and a swamp. Every level within a chapter feels almost indistinguishable from the one before it, even down to the enemies and music. It’s a real shame that nothing is done with the levels as it never feels like you’re on a journey. The only difference between the first level and the last level of a chapter is that there’s a boss at the end. This is one of the toughest things about Castle of Heart, there’s nothing to really make you want to push forward, between the ‘kill for health to stay alive’ mechanic and some weirdly placed checkpoints they make every level an unnecessary slog. For every moment that is genuinely challenging in the way it was intended, there are many more that make each level a war of attrition from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Castle of Heart at a glance looked like it had real potential, the cursed knight constantly needing to fight for health to continue on his quest for combat deeper than just swinging your sword in one direction. Unfortunately, none of this shows in the final product. Frustrating combat, unreliable platforming and a swag of other minor issues made this game a struggle to play. Castle of Heart is a tough game to review; in all the hours I played I never ended a session happy or feeling like I accomplished something. Every time single time it was closing the game in frustration and anger and dreading to have to go back to it, and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.
- Entertaining to stand on enemies
- Inconsistent combat
- Unreliable platforming
- Lack of variety in levels