Every now and again, a game will come along on whatever format that will challenge you from the moment you try reading the title – obvious examples being Xeyxz and Cacoma Knight in Bizyland which in a number of different ways roll off the tongue. Another contender for this is the game featured today – Castelian. Is it pronounced Cass-tell-ian or perhaps Castle-Ian, or maybe in fact Caster-leean. It is one of those conundrums that involves a flight-or-fight response – does a game with a title like Castelian make it worthy of your hard earned money and precious time, or make you want to stick to the mainstream and for games whose names are easier to pronounce? Let it be known that for the sake of reviews I am always up for a challenge, so how will this game fare – like a glorious phallic-like tower visible from miles to announce its superiority on the world (or NES console at least), or just a phallic-type game?
Castelian, or Nebulus in certain regions, started off life on the Commodore 64, and is a platform game where the idea is to climb to the top of the tower to plant a bomb (stay with me here) which is built in the sea, in order to destroy the tower. The way up to the top is not easy, what kind of game would it be if you were at the bottom of the tower and entered an elevator and pressed the button for the top floor and at the top easily plant the bomb when no one is around? An easy one at that, and everyone likes a challenge supposedly…But anyway in order to reach the top you have to pass enemies and traps that try thwarting your progress. You climb the tower in ledges, and if you get touched by an enemy, you fall to the ledge below to carry on your ascent to the top. If you happen to be on the bottom ledge i.e. at the start of the level, then you fall into the sea and lose a life. As well as being thwarted by enemies and randomly disappearing ledges (more on that later) then you also have a timer as well which unsurprisingly if you don’t reach the top in time you lose a life.
So popping the cartridge in your console and powering the beauty up, you’re treated to the main screen, with dare I say funky music being played and the game’s protagonist Pogo, or Julian, or in fact Kyorochan (depending on what version of the game on which console) who looks like an adorable green pig – if you’re playing this game with two players then your cute piggy character is blue which is a nice variation. If you leave the game for a few seconds you then see the staff credits and right at the bottom it says to press Select for the options menu or Start to play the game. Why this couldn’t be on the main screen is anyone’s guess, as when you turn on your console ready for gaming action, you’re going to be mashing the start button and not thinking what hints or tips are going to be on the next screen. Well pressing the select button does bring up the options menu where you can choose between one or two players (which works in the same way as Super Mario Bros 2 player – not co-op and if player one dies the second player then starts), choosing between sound effects and music in game, and the difficulty – Novice or Hero. As natural as it is to select Hero to, well be a Hero like a certain NES reviewer here, it is recommended to start out on Novice, in order to get a feel for the game and the impending trials and tribulations that await you.
So you start the game at the ominously-titled “Tower of Eyes” and then off you go. Within a few moves to the right where the path leads, the ledge gives way and you fall in the water. What kind of BS is that – it reminds you a lot of Dragon’s Lair, where the pitfalls are not obvious unless you have played the game before. Unfortunately in that respect Castelian is reminiscent of Dragon’s Lair a lot, and not in a good way. It is a sure thing you will lose a lot of lives before completing the first tower, as it is trial and repeat which although gives some sort of replay value, for the first level it should ease you in, not trick you like the fake blocks in Simon’s Quest that is only known by throwing Holy Water. With Castelian, you don’t even get that luxury. As a weapon you do get a white projectile to throw at enemies however this has a range of results, it may kill the enemy straight away, it may stun them which makes them turn a different colour, or have no effect at all. Again, it is trial and error, because if you stun the enemy and touch it (thinking it can move), you then fall down a ledge, and with only a certain amount of time to complete the tower, which usually is a measly 100 seconds , time as well as your memory is your greatest enemy.
Graphically, Castelian has a simplistic EGA hue of purples and blues which although do the job, does make you wonder why they could not include a better colour palette – the Amiga version had a colourful palette and this is on the console that brought you Super Mario 3 and Rainbow Islands, so it should have been more colourful. One of the good things about Castelian is that when your character moves left or right, he stays visible in the centre of the screen, and the background tower turns, which conveys a sense of depth. It can be confusing at times, when you expect an enemy to go round the back of the tower but instead the enemy is heading towards you and your weapon doesn’t work, but it is still a nice effect. As mentioned, the music has a funky beat however if you’re playing the same level again and again due to the difficulty, it can get jarring especially as the main title music is the same as level one’s music and you will be hearing it a lot – well not unless you mute the televison. Controls-wise, it is straight forward – left or right to move your character, the A button to fire your weapon IF stationary, if you are moving and press A you jump, which again could have been improved as you should have the ability to fire your weapon if moving – why this couldn’t have been mapped to the B button again is anyone’s guess but you’ll have to get used to the projectile being at a angle and being stationary in order to use it.
Castelian is a mixed bag of a game – graphically it had innovations such as the background moving clockwise or anti-clockwise and for a hwile has some funky music which for the NES is only a good thing, however playing the game reminds you of Dragon’s Lair which is a taste that isn’t good. The stingy timer for the level, coupled with the fact it is a game that relies a lot on trial and error means the game at time can be both extremely frustrating, but rewarding if you persevere long enough but how long do you give a game repeating the same level and encountering the same traps before you say enough is enough? What is good is that when you run out of lives you have a continue option, which amounts to 2 continues so although it could have been more continues, it is better then nothing. Overall, Castelian is one for collectors only – it isn’t a game that you would give your precious Sunday afternoon’s for, no matter how adorable the green pig-looking character flashes his eyes in your direction, but a game for those who seek a challenge, which you certainly will get in Castelian. I’m off to find my own micro-pig and climb a tower but not to destroy, hopefully there will be a princess there instead of a mushroom advising the princess is in another castle…
Rating – 2 out of 5