Dark Castle is a witch's brew of great entertainment. The game starts off with the basic ingredients for all spooky castles: Bats, plague carrying mice, henchmen, witches, and the odd floating eyeball. Throw in a dash of thunder and gothic pipe-organ music, and voila! Instant atmosphere.
Dark Castle was originally programmed for the Mac, so there is a different feel to this game than with most other c64 games. The Mac had crisp, detailed graphics but didn't seem to emphasize sound or colour as much as other systems. This shows in the c64 game, which has large screens with smallish characters, and not a whole lot of color. What sets this game apart are the details, and it shows how much attention to detail can make or break a game.
Dark Castle has attained a level of perfection not often seen in other games. The intro screen plays some excellent digitized music, with lightning, thunder, and a creaky drawbridge that slams open when you start the game. There are excellent in-game instructions, something not at all common in 80's games. The programmer even went to the trouble of making the disk change screen look pretty.
Each level is packed full of creatures, all animated and moving around doing their own thing. Guards pace back and forth on their platform, mice emerge from holes in the wall, vampire bats hang from their perch and then descend on you when the hunger strikes them. There's even a poor slob in the bottom dungeon being whipped by a henchman (hint: if you save him he'll tell you which is the correct key).
The game features a unique system for throwing rocks and aiming that I have never seen in any other game, but once it's mastered you will love it. The physics in the game are excellent, producing the expected trajectory while still remaining challenging. Lobbed stones lazily fly through the air, crossbow arrows arc tightly, swinging on ropes seems fluid, and bouncing boulders gradually lose their power until they fall down a further level.
But it's the little touches that raise this game above an average platformer. I think what I love most is the sheer number of ways you can kill your player. He falls into lava, gets flattened by boulders, catches pestilence, gets knocked over by cross bow arrows, whipped to death, dive bombed by crows, drowned, electrocuted by lightning, and on and on. When he jumps to another platform and misses he looks down, Wiley Coyote style, then plunges into the lava.
The levels are quite varied, with a high degree of challenge. Once you learn the techniques for each level it becomes easy, but that's the essence of any game. The castle contains lots of secrets to discover, such as pits that transport you to other sections of the castle. It's one of those games you could play it for weeks and still discover new secrets.
About the only bad part is disk switching between games. It makes it hard to play several games in rapid succession, but that's a minor quibble.
|GRAPHICS - 9/10|
|Crisply defined characters, nice backgrounds but not a lot of colour. |
|SOUND - 8/10|
|No music during the game, but the intro screen pipe-organ music deserves a special mention.|
|PLAYABILITY - 9/10|
|A very fun challenge. This is a platformer with its own unique style of play.|
|OVERALL - 9/10|
|Even though this game is a port from the Macintosh, I still consider it a c64 classic.|