The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] got me. I swore it was a remake of a 1987 DOS game. Based on the developer’s personal story, it is. It's even in the title: "remastered." But that 1987 game apparently doesn’t exist – or, it was not called The Eternal Castle. Whatever mystery game this 2019 release is based on, it will take you into some kind of past.
This was the developer's goal: to give players a taste of the mystical gaming experience he encountered on a floppy disk, now lost to time - whatever it was. You will be immersed in a CGA, cinematic experience that will remind you of the 80s and early 90s-era computer games and action movies. I got into the feel, even if I did not love the platforming and combat. These core gameplay features feel clumsy and can be frustrating. At least at one point, they even feel broken. Despite all that, the overall atmosphere that drenches the game's visuals saves it.
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="270929,270930"]
The cinematic scenes in Eternal Castle nail the atmosphere of an 80s action movie.
The game is rendered entirely in CGA graphics. This means discerning the different characters, objects, and scenery present at any given time is fairly difficult. However, this lack of visual definition was one of the creator’s goals. The design tries to recapture the same magic he had felt when playing the mystery DOS game of ages past. Primitive titles that leave most of the visuals up to the player's imagination. At times, I couldn’t make out what the backdrop was supposed to be, and sometimes it was near impossible to read the text.
The intro story paragraph – the first text you see upon starting a new game – is nigh unreadable. But this visual design gets the vibes across, and for the most part, I was feeling those “old game” vibes in a good way. I’ll set aside my quibbles, then, and give any downside to the graphics a pass, because, on the whole, it’s an awesome aesthetic experience. There are really neat, detailed effects, as well, like the smoke from a gun, or a hanging parachute drifting in the wind, or a door unsealing.
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="270932,270933" orderby="rand"]
The story and setting are a little hard to figure out. What I’ve pieced together is: you’re a human returning to a post-apocalyptic Earth to rescue an artificial intelligence. You travel to different areas in your ship looking for it, each one a ruined place with hostile denizens. So far I’ve been to an Unholy Church, a Forgotten City, and Ancient Ruins. Each area feels like an action movie vignette: there’s a bad guy, his cronies, and a whole lot of running, jumping, and fighting set to pumpin' synthesized music.
Outside of being a love letter of the developer to a DOS game he experienced as a child, The Eternal Castle is also a cinematic platformer. Think the original Prince of Persia or Flashback. I had never played one of those games, but watching footage of them recently reminded me exactly of the kind of gameplay I had experienced in Eternal Castle. You control a relatively regular-sized human – so it’s not a short cartoony character like Mario or Sonic – and walk, run, jump, crouch, and mantle. The movement is awkward. Several times I missed a jump because my character didn’t jump in time. Other times I fell off a ledge instead of climbing up it. I could also be running in one direction, then turn to run in the other, but experience an annoying delay before I fully turned. It’s not the most graceful of platformers.
There's also a part where I got stuck. Right after entering a new scene in the latter parts of the Ancient Ruins segment, a spiked boulder drops and starts rolling behind you. Upon entering this scene for the first time, this boulder dropped in front of me. I was just been turning backward to re-enter the prior screen. This meant my saunter down the following hill was much less stressful, but when I reached the bottom I found that the boulder blocked my path. I had to reload from the last checkpoint and be sure the boulder fell down behind me in order to proceed. So, again, the running and jumping and segments need some tweaks.
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="270938,270936"]
You’ll be fighting as much as platforming. Most of the enemies are human characters like you, with some exceptions. Thus far, I mostly fight them hand-to-hand. There are melee items, like axes, and projectiles, like guns. It is difficult to draw and use them, however. Often when an enemy combatant spotted me, I would hardly be able to draw any weapon I had before they were on me. When multiple enemies were present, dogpiles emerged. I hammer the attack key, crouch down occasionally, enemies knock me over several times in a row. All while not knowing what was going on.
By chance, I'd either come out of it on my own two feet or find myself at last checkpoint. The melee combat gets old after so much of it in a row. There was one room populated by a disco dancing crowd and enemies alike. This after several other enemies encounters in a row. I wanted to run, jump, and enjoy the scenery, so the constant fisticuffs became frustrating.
The boss fights were similar. I find myself spamming the attack key near the boss until their inevitable defeat. This isn’t a surefire strategy – sometimes I die early on – but other times I successfully fell them without much challenge. Thankfully, the boppy synthesized tracks that play in the background save the boss fights. The very first boss you encounter, during the intro segment, has quite a moody tune and got me pumped for diving further into the game.
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="270934,270935"]
The nostalgic, cinematic feeling the game inspires in you is its saving attribute. Clumsy platforming and tiring combat feel secondary to the immersion. The developers really do make you feel like you’re playing a classic game from the past. Get The Eternal Castle for the vibes, then – the trip into a CGA past, and it will likely pull you in enough that you can deal with frustrating platforming and combat. That it was able to do so with me is a testament to the creator's nostalgic vision coming through. The movement and the fighting mostly frustrate, and I am unfamiliar with past cinematic platformers. Yet still, The Eternal Castle immersed me enough to like it and makes me want to keep playing. It's got the right vibes if nothing else, and now I'm nostalgic for the mythical past it hearkens to.
TechRaptor covered The Eternal Castle on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.