Dark Castle (Genesis) review
"Of these gaming failures, there has to be one above all others that misses even the lowest and most reasonable of expectations. That game is Dark Castle: a title with a target audience of none."
"Yo Thomas, that Silent Hill crap you recommended SUCKS, you ****er," my coworker Mats was telling me the other day.
"Why's that?" His unnecessarily offensive comment had piqued my curiosity, and I couldn't help but ask.
Mats chewed another spoonful of Grape Nuts, spilling out the words between bites. "Bad control. Buhcause the game ain't got no John Woo-style, slo-mo ratatat Bullet Time action."
"Bullet Time? You mean like in Max Payne, where time slows down, except for your gun aiming, and you can mow down all the bastiches like Chow Yun Fat?"
"Yeah bro. That's what I mean."
"Mats, you've gone bloody senile. Silent Hill is a story about an everyday man thrust into a horrific, unbelievable series of events. It's a game about atmosphere and drama, not gun-toting action. The control is spot-on, you're not supposed to be an ace assassin."
He just stared at me with that dopey grin. "Ain't my fault the game blows. The designers shoulda had Bullet Time."
Some people just don't understand.
It's fine to hate Silent Hill. Loathing Halo won't bar you from passing through the Gates of Heaven. BUT! Just because you personally dislike a game, doesn't mean it's an outright ill-wrought clunker. It could be something personal that rubs you the wrong way. Or perhaps you're not even in the game's target audience. It could even be a case of unrealistic expectations — a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment.
Everyone's allowed their say, but saying that Final Fantasy 7 is too linear because Cloud can't harpoon Aeris on the end of his blade begs the question — "Did you really expect you'd be able to?" Like it or not, FF7 is out to tell a story. Sometimes we've got to judge a game for what it is, not for what we wanted it to be.
But just to keep us from spiraling off into an "Everything is good in its own, special way!" HappyLand, you have to remember that sometimes a game tries... and actually fails. An RPG with no compelling characters. A 3D platformer with sluggish control. Of these gaming failures, there has to be one above all others that misses even the lowest and most reasonable of expectations.
That game is Dark Castle: a title with a target audience of none.
Oh, it pretends to have a purpose. The game throws you into side-view (platformer style) room after room, each with jumps to be made, enemies to be slain, and puzzles to be solved. Advance from the entrance of a room to the exit, find the items, and make your way out. That's the general idea, and with clever obstacles, the concept holds promise. But things get off to a really bad start.
The Dracula song (that organ ditty we've all heard in those old horror B-movies) kicks in at Dark Castle's title screen, presented in two channels: high-pitched squeal, and lower-pitched squeal. I hope you like the song (but you won't), because that's the only tune you'll hear throughout the entire game. In their magnanimous nature, Electronic Arts lets you turn the music off entirely. So you can either play in silence, or listen to a poor rendition of the Dracula song. For the duration of the entire game.
The graphics are not a step up in quality. We've all seen the "HeY duDE these are like NES graphix" lame insults thrown about, but you know what? These are like NES graphics. Bad NES graphics. The color variety is low, even for a Genesis game, and the hero doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Ryu Hayabusa. Instead we've got a poorly-drawn fool dressed in an olive shirt and brownish pants: this guy's attire screams "my mommy dressed me this morning" and his intelligence follows suit.
You see, if the Dark Castle guy could hold a candle to Ryu, he'd drop it and burn himself, because the man is a total klutz. Whenever he falls a short distance (you'll know the distance was short because otherwise he would die instantly), the Dark Castle guy spins around dizzily, incessantly crying out "WhoOOah WhoOOah!!" And, you know how in some platformer titles, the terrain is a bit uneven? Like how in Sonic, you can run down sets of blocks like a staircase? Well if the Dark Castle guy comes across a step — pretend it's the size of a streetside curb — he's not intelligent enough to step down to the lower ground. Instead, faced with this horrifying two-inch dropoff, he falls flat on his face. Literally. To advance, the Dark Castle guy must take a FLYING LEAP over the curb.
With a foundation suited for structural collapse, how could it possibly fail?
If you recall, the game thrusts you into room after room, each with its own puzzles, enemies, and horrific story to tell. There's no possible way to describe everything that is wrong with Dark Castle: every room just adds something new that makes you wonder what the hell the designers were smoking (and why they wanted to make the player suffer). So, I'll pick a room. It's one of the very first rooms you'll visit and, as you'll learn, most likely one of the last as well.
I like to call it "the room with stairs, uneven floor, and ropes".
The sky is dark blue, an ominous organ piercing the silence of the night. On the left, the Dark Castle guy stands outside a wooden door. Below him, a set of three staircases leads down to the ground. The floor lines the bottom, with a small curb halfway across its length. On the far right side, leather ropes lead upwards to the exit. Dark Castle Guy must travel down the staircases, across the floor, and up the ropes.
Obstacle One: The stairs
When you first step on a staircase and are swarmed by the vampire bats from the ceiling (which shriek "SKYAA!! SKYAA!!" nonstop), you'll realise that the Dark Castle guy has a drawback. He can't fight while on stairs. So, he'll get hit two or three times and die.
Obstacle One: Still on the stairs
On the second try, exercising a bit of intelligence, you eliminate all the bats beforehand, and advance down the staircase, with nothing in the vicinity to harm you.
Then you arbitrarily roll head-over-heels down the stairs, landing in a crumpled heap. Dead, of course.
Obstacle One: You go!@#$!ed bathead!
Flustered by such a random, pointless, and unfair death, you forgot to kill the bats in advance. One lands on the Dark Castle guy's head, killing him instantly. What happened to "two or three hits"? Well in a dash of realistic insight, blows to the head result in immediate death.
Obstacle Two: The floor
Supposing you miraculously advance beyond the stairs, there's a second obstacle in your way. You must advance from left to right along a straight path!
It's tougher than it sounds. You see, one of those dreaded "curbs" is in the way. Whereas in ANY OTHER GAME OF THIS TYPE you could just keep walking and pass it harmlessly, not so in Dark Castle. So, coming upon this single step, your walking vegetable keels over facefirst.
Don't worry, you're not dead. You get back up... just in time to get hit in the back by a bullet. What, you didn't see the ethereal door appear from the Shadow Realms, revealing a gun-toting grey blob? For shame!
Obstacle Two: The floor re-visited
This time around, you jump over the curb. As the bullet comes flying, you press down to duck... and get a hole blown open in your back. You see, pressing down doesn't duck in Dark Castle, it moves your arm downwards (a fact that I often forget). Why would you want to move your arm downwards, or upwards for that matter? Because that's how you fight. You aim your arm in a trajectory, tap the attack button, and then a rock flies out in a straight line (which, oddly enough, does not match the angle of your arm).
Obstacle Two: Damn the floor to hell
This time when you take that leap over the curb, the Dark Castle guy pulls off a bad-ass somersault in mid-air! "Yes! This animated turnip can actually DO something!"
He soars further than ever before, flying high like an eagle... and lands flat on his back. Dead.
Have fun navigating the stairs again.
Obstacle Three: Climbing the ropes
Finally reaching the third obstacle, Dark Castle Guy jumps up and grabs hold of a leather strap. Okay, so he's slow to climb the ropes, but he's also out of bullets' range and all the bats are dead. No problem, right? Sorry, wrong. Infinitely-regenerating rats keep dropping from the ceiling, and should one happen to graze the Dark Castle guy...
...to a tragic demise.
Supposing you actually persevere, crossing through hell and high water, at last discovering a "key room", you will have a choice between two identical keys to take. Pick the wrong key, and a one-ton weight falls on your head, crushing you instantly. Pick the correct key and, congratulations! You now get to backtrack through several screens of hell, all so that you can unlock a door that leads to a room you could have reached without having even used a key.
To answer the logical question: yes, it's random. Pick the left key once, it's wrong; pick the right key next, it could very well be wrong, too.
The madness never ends... until you shut off the game.
The Rope Room. Move from left to right across adjacent ropes... but some of the ropes are "fake". No, they don't snap. You just try to grab a "fake rope", and you, um, don't. So you plummet all the way to the bottom.
The Eyeball Monsters. Even more annoying than the bats, they screech "NYAANYAANYAA NYAANYAANYAA" over and over and OVER AND OVER until fist meets Genesis.
Crap games often develop a cult following, people who want to witness a massive trainwreck unfold onscreen. Like a runaway locomotive aimed squarely at a gas station full of starving Ethiopian babies, you know something BIG is gonna happen at the end. But this time around, it's not an entertainingly explosive trainwreck like you'd find in Sword of Sodan. I doubt you'll be able to put up with the game long enough to see even half the badness. In Dark Castle, the train runs you over before it explodes. And you can't enjoy the ensuing calamity if you're dead.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The last boss fights by throwing drinking cups at you. How lame is that? DRINKING CUPS!!!
Staff review by Zigfried (Date unavailable)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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