When I was a kid, I remember a certain Rare-developed hack and slash title for the Game Boy called Wizards and Warriors X: The Fortress Of Fear. It was straight up awful, to say the least, but because beggars can’t be choosers, I had no other choice than to play it over and over again. I will always remember it, especially the single looping melody that was composed by none other than David Wise. The reason why I bring this up is because Castle of Heart very much reminds me of Fortress of Fear in many ways. But while I will reminisce about that nostalgic but extremely dire Game Boy title, it’s unlikely I can ever say the same about this one.
Developed by Polish studio 7Levels, this hack ‘n’ slash Nintendo Switch exclusive sees you play as a cursed knight out to rid the land of an evil sorcerer who has wickedly turned you into stone. For whatever reason, you can only stay alive by either destroying those that stand in your way or by collecting small sacks of energy littered throughout the level. Your health is constantly draining, so, in theory, this should persuade you to abolish anything that moves in order to keep your health gauge topped up. However, due to the game’s incredibly dull combat system, it’s more practical to just make a run for it to the nearest checkpoint, as opposed to actually fighting for your survival.
Despite being a fairly decent looking game, Castle of Heart is let down by its incredibly poor animation. Everything looks and feels slow and robotic as you gormlessly pick up weapons and pull levers looking like Robocop stoned to the gills. Half the time, it doesn’t even register that a weapon can be picked up, and when your character finally does decide to grab it, he doesn’t half make a meal out of doing so.
Fair enough, our hero is made out of stone after all. But the problem is that you never quite feel like you have any sense of weight whatsoever. In fact, it seems more like you’re made out of helium as you float around like you character is tied to a string, jumping from pillar to post in the most generic way possible. What makes things even worse is by how poorly placed the enemies and traps are set out.
While you can use the environmental objects to your advantage, cutting a lamp down to light a baddie up forces you to wait around until the flames have settled to avoid getting burned yourself. Everything that’s out to kill you is just laid out in the most awkward places possible, providing a challenging experience for all the wrong reasons. I would constantly find myself wiggling back and forth to find space in an effort to avoid damage. This would be all well and good – if a standard for this sort of game – if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes ages just for the knight to actually turn around.
When it comes to combat, the tools available have the potential to provide at least some sort of depth. Besides your single melee sword attack button to mash out with, you can also throw out a stronger swing providing you’re willing to sacrifice some health for it. Your secondary weapons like crossbows, spears, and maces can be launched or swung at targets, along with another temporary short range set of projectiles that you can swap between using the directional buttons. Your defence options lie in the good old faithful block, or you can always action man roll your way out of danger to gain some distance from your enemies.
This is where our hapless knight suffers from ‘all the gear but no idea’ syndrome as nothing quite executes the way that I wanted it to. Because the brain-dead enemies generally love a good beating and refuse to shout their safe word, battling hordes of them just takes far too long to deal with. Half the time when you are trying to block an attack, your knight just seems to get carried away swinging his little sword around without a care in the world. Even roly-polying around seems only vaguely useful, as you bump into anything and everything due to how far across the screen you travel. The whole process just feels very clumsy in execution and the boss battles at the end of each section have to be some of the most boring and long-winded encounters that I have ever faced in gaming.
Like I said before, Castle of Heart does look fairly decent in a high-end mobile app sort of way. There’s a good layer of depth to the backgrounds with some half decent looking enemies further into the game. The story itself is unimaginative for the most part, cherry-picked from plot lines with Disney princesses in them while the quality of the script itself comes across like a standard Power Rangers episode in the sense that you feel like a bad actor by just reading it.
Needless to say, Castle Of Heart isn’t a good game. Its humdrum platforming mixed with shoddy animations and sluggish controls makes for a rather dopey gaming experience. While the game’s main gimmick of keeping your life afloat does have some potential, it’s never quite implemented well enough to stir up anything new or interesting.