PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain (Xbox Indie)

Survivor Charlie

1 (100%)
The Way Too Indie Review of PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain
by Charlie Reneke

80 Microsoft Points ($1.00 US)
7/24/10 by Magiko Gaming

The people at Magiko Gaming must have been abused as children. It's the only way I can explain PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain. It's what I imagine the recent Playstation 3 exercise in self-harm known as Demon's Souls would have been like if it had been released on the NES back in 1988. Artistically, Castle Pain looks and sounds like an 8-bit game, and it's gameplay is classic old-school trial and error platforming that will have you dying. A lot. Seriously, I can't stress this enough. Often your character will perish multiple times within a one second space. This is a game designed with one goal in mind: to kick your ass.

As you might have guessed by the name, PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain is platformer. You play as knight who must navigate his way past all the obstacles in the game and reach the princess at the end. There's no attack button and no way to disarm the traps. Gameplay consists of you dying when you find a new trap, then dying a couple of times trying to get past it. You have unlimited lives to clear the game, and in fact when you reach the end you're told how often you croaked and how long it took you to finish it. There's only one level in the game, and it has three difficulty settings: easy, medium, and hardcore. Or as I called them: Ouch, Jesus Christ, and Oh fuck Off.

Most of the stuff that kills you is simply pointy things sticking out of the ground. Any contact at all and your character's body explodes, leaving only the head and a splatter of blood. Most of the traps are easy to identify, but some of them are less obvious and it feels cheap when you run into them. If you die, you respawn at the last checkpoint you hit. Thankfully they are all over the place and marked by candles. If you fall past the current section you're on and hit a candle you previously hit the candle is not relit, so you simply have to kill yourself to go back to your previous spawn point. Other traps include spinning blades, moving platforms, lethal bird shit, the birds themselves, fish, fireballs, arrows, and electricity. Basically, if it doesn't look like solid ground it's going to want you dead, so step carefully. The game's default has you zoomed in for a close-up of the stuff you're hopping on, but using the X button you can zoom out to two more wide angles so that you can see what's above or below you.

Like any platformer, the value of Castle Pain comes down to how good the play control is. It's here that my only gripe with the game can be found. The controls just are not very good. Movement is floaty and too loose. It's not entirely on the development team. The Xbox 360 controller was never designed for 2D platforming, especially the D-Pad. It's a complete and total piece of shit. Nintendo got it right all the way back in 1985 with the NES. How come nobody has come close since? Just make a goddamn plus-shaped pad, console manufacturing fucktards. Is it that hard? (Note: this review was made BEFORE Microsoft announced the new controller with plus-shaped D-pad. It only took you five years guys, no sweat!)

That said, the jumping is a pain in the ass too. Sometimes I simply could not make the guy jump as high as I wanted him to. The game seems to have some kind of inertia system in use, but even after three hours of playtime I couldn't figure the damn thing out. It just seemed like the height of my jumping was determined randomly and I would simply have to keep jumping in place until I had a jump high enough to reach the platform I was trying for. It was frustrating and bullshit and if the jumping mechanics had been more refined, Castle Pain might have been the best game on the Indie platform.

Despite the ass kicking I got, I genuinely enjoyed PLATFORMANCE. I really, truly did. Like Breath of Death VII, the producers tried to capture the charm of the long-gone 8-bit era and they absolutely succeeded. Even the frustrating controls give it a retro charm. I'm not saying that the horrible jumping physics are a point in the game's favor, but like some of the best old-school platforms, Castle Pain is a winner despite it's flaws. Going off the screenshots, I expected something more along the lines of Castlequest, a very obscure NES game that I happened to love but nobody else seems to even remember. But any resemblance was purely cosmetic. There's no puzzles to solve here and everything is about accurate timing and jumping. Again, there's no life system in place but you can game over if you take too long to get past an obstacle. This is because there is a ghost chasing you throughout the maze. It's not particularly fast, but it does add a sense of tension to the experience.

The first time I played through, I chose easy mode and failed to complete the game in my first two cracks at it. The ghost caught me in the same spot both times, where you must scale up a well that features very narrow platforms. The jumping issues got me both times, as I found it hard to jump high enough to reach the first platform on it. Jumping to the next ledge with my timing off led to me getting impaled on a spike that would poke in and out of the floor. On my third run through I made it to the end. It took me eight minutes and six seconds and I died 56 times. Switching the medium difficulty, I found that more floor traps were added and I ended up failing to reach the end about a dozen or so times. When I finally finished it at eleven minutes and change, I had died 174 times.

For shits and giggles, I tried the hardcore mode. This is truly insane stuff. I died almost 100 times before I even reached the spot where you activate the ghost that chases you around. The ghost doesn't take shortcuts and follows the same path you do while scaling the castle, but it seems to move faster on the higher difficulties and on Hardcore I just could not get past the bird shit. So no, I didn't finish on Hardcore. It would be quite impressive if you could. If PLATFORMANCE were a regular XBLA title, the achievement for completing it on hardcore would be like meeting someone who carries around a minigun: clearly someone to not fuck around with.

Rating: **** Although there's not a whole lot of game here, for $1.00... cheaper than a kingsize candy bar in most places... you sure get your money's worth. I would have actually gone the full monty if the controls had been more finely tuned. I hate to keep beating on the jumping, but it seriously doesn't work. And for a genre that's only as good as its jumping physics are, this sucker really could have used a couple more hours of fine tuning before being unleashed on the masses. The fact that, despite it's very fatal flaw, I give PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain four-stars out of five shows what true quality is in place here.

This is gameplay stripped to it's very core. Success in the castle is dependent upon pattern recognition along with some good old fashioned trial and error. There's no crates to push, levers to hit (although you have to activate a key during the final sequence, which is done by jumping into it), or enemies to kill. It's just all running, jumping, and dying. It's like a low-tech Limbo, and it's one of the best and most refreshing games on the Xbox Indie scene. It's hard, but no impossibly so, and completing the game even on easy feels like an accomplishment. An accomplishment that will have you cussing like a Tourette's sufferer on speed. I want a sequel!

Thanks to Chris for editing.
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