Castle Grayscale: The Eternal Castle: Remastered
A flash back to another world
The Eternal Castle doesn't exist. Just The Eternal Castle: Remastered. That's a clever little idea and one that surely has to have been done before, but I can't immediately recall any examples. A remake of something that was never made in the first place - a smart little conceit.
The trailer I saw for this one was striking, to say the least. Following Hotline Miami and seemingly every indie game that followed it, I'm a little bit over the whole synthwave thing, but those visuals! A compelling mixture of the smooth Éric Chahi (Another World/Flashback) cinematic visuals with a beautifully corrupted CGA graphics aesthetic, it immediately grabbed my attention.
Gameplay-wise it's very much as it appears - inspiration has been taken from those games already mentioned, with the "cinematic platformer" movement present and correct. Interestingly, though, controls feel less precise even than its forebears. As far as I could tell there's no way to reliably move in single steps ala Prince of Persia, but this isn't really a bad thing. It actually lends itself nice to the somewhat manic confusion of the visuals, which are constantly shifting. That's not to say it's difficult to look at it, rather that the looseness of the controls fits with the looseness of the world, and assuredly your protagonist's mental state.
What's the story? I don't really know. I picked up the details as I went along, but mostly I was too focused on surviving. The Eternal Castle: Remastered is tough in the moment-to-moment, but overall very reasonable in its checkpointing. You save your position by meditating at certain rocks you'll find lying around. Sometimes it can seem like they're quite far apart, but usually that's because there's a situation you haven't "solved" yet. It's not a trial-and-error game, but there are times you can stumble into violent encounters without warning.
Thankfully your character isn't defenceless like in so many of these games. He can fight with his bare hands, but will quickly exhaust his stamina doing so. This can turn hand-to-hand combat into a mad scramble, which again is perfectly suited to the opaque visuals and that sense of being lost in an alien world. You've also got access to weapons like guns and axes, but they're limited in their application. Wielding the axe in particular can feel absolutely brutal.
This focus on combat gives Eternal Castle a different feel to most games of its pedigree, but there's still plenty of athleticism and exploration. This is a very hostile world with a lot to discover, so it's a good thing that despite the unwieldy-by-design movement, the controls are responsive. One criticism I could level at the game is that in a multi-man fracas it's quite easy to lose sense of exactly where you are in the scrum of bodies, but this in itself feeds into the general chaos and danger of the melee. There's atmosphere to spare, and every seemingly-disparate element of this title enhances it.
It isn't for everyone; I think it helps if you already enjoy or appreciate games that aren't really interested in being your friend, or providing answers with any real expedience. The character movement may cause frustration - there were a few times I died by accidentally nudging the left stick on my Switch, causing me to run full pelt off a cliff - but it is by design and part and parcel with this genre.
It's an absorbing, ultimately rewarding title with many cool setpieces, and it isn't afraid to be retro in its design rather than just pay lip service to the aesthetic.
Oh, and sorry about the Castle Grayscale joke. Grayscale, Grayskull. He-Man reference. But it doesn't really work, because a) the game isn't in greyscale and b) I say "greyscale", not "grayscale", because I'm from ruddy, bloody Britain.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.