Fairy tales today aren't quite like they used to be. Our version of Cinderella doesn't have anyone cutting off toes, the last Little Piggy doesn't boil the Big Bad Wolf alive, and Granny doesn't get devoured in Little Red Riding Hood. But when these stories first burst on the scene, they were rife with gore, terror, and treachery. Considering that, you shouldn't be too surprised when The Count Lucanor, a tale of a boy leaving home to make his mark on the world, quickly descends into madness.
The Count Lucanor (Based on the Spanish tale of the same name) is a survival horror game taking inspiration from the likes of The Witch's House and Mad Father. You play as Hans, a ten year old boy who is tired of living in poverty with his mother and sets off to get rich and find adventure. He takes his father's cane, the few coins the family has left, and a wheel of cheese to sustain him on his adventure.
About fifteen minutes later, you're running from bipedal goats with a taste for flesh and probably wondering where everything went so wrong.
In this nightmarish, warped version of the forest, Hans finds a cute, anime-esque kobold who leads him into a grand castle and presents Hans with a challenge. He can have riches and power beyond his wildest imagination, and he only has to solve one trial. He must guess the kobold's name. This is easier said than done.
The bulk of the game takes place inside these castle walls, tasking you to explore the keep's many rooms and uncovers its secrets to find hints and collect the letters that make up his name, all while interacting with the strange NPCs that reside within. For the first bit in the game, there's not a lot to worry about. Sure, there are ways to take damage, but overall you'll be pretty safe as you collect the letters and other assorted supplies. However, it won't be long until the castle's servants come out to play, and this is where things really get interesting.
Your main source of light throughout the game are handheld candles that you can place to light hallways. These will help out quite a bit when the servants begin their patrol, allowing you to spot the monsters before it's too late. There are happens to be plenty of areas where you can hide out from the servants, adding a very simplistic stealth element to the game.
Dying isn't just a slap on the wrist either. For the majority of the game, the only way to save is by tossing a coin into a fountain. However, this obviously deprives you of a coin you could use to purchase items. Therefore, you really have to balance between spending and saving, a unique mechanic that adds a lot to the game's tension.
This fountain resides in the castle courtyard, where most of the game's subplots take place. Like Dark Souls' Firelink Shrine, its inhabited by NPCs that have their own unique stories that will progress during the game's duration. However, the main plot is focused on Hans and the hellish experiences he has in the castle walls, which honestly managed to get under my skin more than I would like to admit.
The game's presentation is interesting, because the graphics go from looking amazing in cutscenes to being a tad simplistic in the actual gameplay. Cutscenes are very anime-esque and vivid, while the actual sprites in the game are very simplistic. This clash of styles is especially noticeable when the more detailed portraits pop up in dialogue, allowing you to see the contrast first hand.
Thankfully, The Count Lucanor's sound department is top-notch. The music is composed of some fantastic chiptune renditions of Bach to great effect, and the footfalls never fail to make my hair stand up. The Count Lucanor does an excellent job of convincing you that danger is around every bend, and each trial Hans faces seems more horrific than the last. Strangely, Hans seems detached from the whole thing, somewhat dampening the blow. It's harder to be scared when the character seems more curious than anything else.
My biggest problem with The Count Lucanor is that it's very easy to accidentally screw yourself over. There are a couple of very distinct advantages you can get throughout the game by making a choice in the first ten minutes without really knowing how they'll help in the grand scheme of things, and once I realized the impact on my first playthrough, I started the game all over and had a much easier time with just a little foresight.
However, The Count Lucanor still manages to constantly provide good scares. The atmosphere is packed on thick, and unlike other titles, it doesn't wane throughout the entire experience. The game's a bit short, but for what it provides, I'd recommend horror fans of all stripes to stay the night in Castle Tenebre.
The Count Lucanor was reviewed on Steam with a key provided by the developer.
A thoroughly enjoyable survival horror title that can provide good scares and a great atmosphere.