Castle Pals is a platformer which encourages fast reactions and rewards you with a decent selection of tough levels to work through. Whilst it’s on the short side and the controls can feel a little unreliable at times, overall there’s a good challenge to be found here.
The game starts with two friends, Owen and Kylee, as they find Castle Pookapick and decide to explore it. As far as the story goes, that’s all you will get. This works to the game’s favour, as you’re immediately thrown into the simple gameplay loop. Every level has you play either as Owen or Kylee, alternating between them for each one. Levels are catered to their specific move-sets; Owen wears a propeller hat which means he’s able to fly through the air, and Kylee wears boxing gloves, which means she’s able to beat up enemies she comes across. Your goal is to get to the end of the level as quickly as possible, whilst picking up any collectables along the way too.
Castle Pals have a cutesy cartoon look, which plays well for the kind of action platformer it wants to be. It allows you to trust that the hitboxes you see are reliable, and there’s enough of a differentiation between elements on the screen to allow you to quickly rattle through levels as intended. The accompanying sound is a low point, however. The background music is fairly nondescript, think poor Castlevania knockoff for the Game Boy Colour. This is a shame, because the nature of these types of games require repetition of levels, and so having a decent soundtrack to listen to whilst you do this would have been great. You also have to contend with poorly mixed sound effects. For example, every time Owen flies into the air with his propeller hat, all you’ll hear is the accompanying sound effect, as it’s mixed so much louder than everything else. It’s a real shame because you’d think instances like that could be easily fixed, and it lets things down slightly.
The levels you play as Owen are the most creative, although they come with the caveat that often it feels like you’re playing through Super Meat Boy levels with Flappy Bird. Owen’s stages are designed to be a bit more forgiving compared to Kylee’s, but there are definitely moments where you’re asked to be precise, and Owen’s controls rarely allow for these pinpoint inputs. Each button press jumps you up into the air further, so trying to hover in place, or to get by a barrier that’s moving up and down, proves frustrating. That said, because of a very lenient checkpoint system, and the fact that successful runs of levels can often be completed in under a minute, these annoyances aren’t huge deal breakers.
Playing as Kylee, you’ll perform typical action-based platforming. Whilst these levels are fun to run through, one downside to Kylee’s play style is that punches and kicks seem to regularly miss when you wouldn’t expect them to, especially when combining an attack with a jump. This is particularly frustrating because Kylee also has a spinning attack, which is extremely satisfying, so developer Brad Erkkila definitely knows how to create something that feels good here. That spinning attack on its own led to taking down some later bosses in really fun ways. And it’s worth calling out the bosses here, as they are definitely highlights. One boss had me immediately cursing myself in frustration as I died repeatedly trying to take them on. Like all good games, however, everything was there for me to take this boss down, and once I slowed down what I was doing, paid proper attention to the boss room and their attacks, I could finally defeat them.
Developer Brad Erkkila has said of Castle Pals that, “I had been promising that I would put Owen and his friend Kylee in a game together for the last 4 years,” Owen is Erkkila’s son. Owen actually has been in one of Erkkila’s games before, Owen’s Odyssey, released way back in 2014. I can understand Erkkila’s reasons for not making this information more prominent, but it is a sweet bit of sentiment to take into the game if you’re able, and it’s nice to know that Castle Pals have come from this place of kindness.
Castle Pals provide a quick hit of fun, and so long as you’re prepared to look past a few issues around controls, this is a charming game which clearly comes across as a passion project of the developer. The guts of this game contain a really great action-platformer, and it would be great to see what Brad Erkkila could do after refining more of the core gameplay that works well here.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Castle Pals Review
Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 4/10
Replay Value - 6/10
Castle Pals is a charming game which clearly comes across as a passion project of the developer. The guts of this game contain a great action-platformer, it’s just a shame it isn’t as polished as it could be.