Maldita Castilla Preview
Warning: This preview contains detailed mechanical spoilers but only moderate narrative spoilers.
If it wasn’t immediately apparent, the aesthetics and gameplay of Maldita Castilla are heavily inspired by Ghosts’n Goblins, an old platformer notorious for its difficulty. My familiarity with GnG is limited to secondhand knowledge and that one rather infamous section of I Wanna Be the Guy, but I’d say that MC aims to be a reimagining of the original arcade cabinet version of Sir Arthur’s first quest.
In both games, the player character: is a medieval knight, starts with a throwable sword / lance / knife thing, and fights hellish zombies and demonic red crows among other monsters. There’s also the matter of difficulty. In GnG, Sir Arthur could only take a pitiful two hits before dying, and just one hit was sufficient to reduce him to having to do battle in his skivvies. In Maldita Castilla, expy Don Ramiro can take a more forgiving three hits but unfortunately lacks the trademark disintegrating armor. On top of that, MC currently has the benefit of not including those atrocious Red Arremer enemies. Perhaps this explains why user comments on various pages reporting on MC decried the game as “too easy”. Now, I wouldn’t classify the game as being brutally difficult, but it’s certainly no cakewalk! The omnipresence of enemies and a level timer that’s much more stringent than usual, at the very least, makes the game intense if not “difficult”. I’d add that the intensity is underscored by a sense of relentlessness considering that the timer constantly impels progression, and that the ability to pause is completely absent. Maldita Castilla doesn’t have time for weaklings who feel the need to pause for a break or interruption; it’s all or nothing here!
Even though it’s not officially listed as one of MC‘s inspirations, I felt that the demo’s gameplay was reminiscent of Castlevania. No, not the style of gameplay implied by the term Metroidvania, I’m talking about old-school Castlevania like the very first installment, where linear progression through nightmarish obstacles made for challenging but perpetually fresh and interesting play. The similar sluggish walking and restrained jumping can be easily attributed to wanting to retain the style of platforming that was featured in Ghosts’n Golbins, but weapons like the throwable battleaxes and the boomerang-esque sickles have near-identical counterparts in Castlevania. There are also these blue ghoul enemies that travel in groups, and they generally act like a slower version of the infamous Medusa heads from Castlevania. And don’t forget about the presence of collectible hearty meals that instantly recover chunks of your health!
The enemies up for blood-soaked slaying definitely complement the game’s intensity. There’s mundane and predictable offerings of the aforementioned zombies and crows, but then there’s all sorts of other crazy stuff going on. Headless and limbless maniacs? A huge, fully armored, decapitated knight like Kuarl from House of the Dead 2? Larvae that remind me of the leeches from Splatterhouse? An acid-spewing flying monstrosity hilariously named “Insolent Worm”? What’s going on here?
The strangeness of the enemies creeped me out, but the entire game’s aesthetics put the fear factor into overdrive with haunting music, brooding castle architecture and tactful placement of gore. Maldita Castilla‘s blend of gameplay elements is perfect for survival horror, and the game succeeds at being unnerving and scary.
The one and only thing that ruins that carefully crafted atmosphere are the throwable sickles. There’s four weapons (all projectile) in the game: the default sword thing, an arcing battleaxe, a set of boleadoras, and boomerang sickles. The sword and battleaxe have their advantages and disadvantages (while the boleadores are terrible for anything that’s not one of those Medusa head ghouls), but the sickles verge on being a gamebreaker. They’re fast, they go through walls, multiples can be on screen at once, and like all weapons you have an infinite supply of them. Every other factor and scenario in the game puts the pressure on the player and makes things tense, but the sickles lack disadvantages to balance their out their use and kill the tension. If you’re familiar with Dead Space 2, just think of how the Hand Cannon completely undermines the horror and sense of vulnerability once you start using it to tear apart everything you come across.
Other than that one complaint and perhaps some overbearing intensity, Maldita Castilla looks like it could be a great game. The demo is quite short, but it showcases a robust variety of enemies and environments in that time. Quality over quantity seems to be the mantra here. If the full release contains a similar frequency of novelty and balances out the weapons a bit more, it could shape up to be a consistently fantastic and engaging experience.