Knights of the Round.
Video games, like movies, are oftentimes cyclical. Whether we are seeing the resurgence of classic franchises, plenty of remasters, or like the game at hand, wearing its inspiration on its sleeve. This brings me to the matter at hand, Maldita Castilla EX. Developed by Abylight Studios, it is clear right out of the gate that this game is an homage to the Capcom classic, Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Of course, attempting to mimic the classic is harder than it sounds, as balancing frustration against challenge is a fine line to walk.
It is clear right from the start the love and care poured into this game. The interface is clean, the options are plentiful, and the difficulty is obvious right off the bat. Players take on the role of a knight tossing jousting spears in a suit of armor. Nostalgia kicks right in, as I start hurling projectiles at zombies rising from the ground. Massive boss characters wipe out my miniscule health, yet I know why I died, it was my carelessness; welp, time to start over.
Platforms: XB1, PC
Price I’d Pay: $11.99
It is things like this that craft a classic, old school difficult game. It is a balancing act of offering the player the proper tools and controls to achieve a task, then making that task ask more and more of the player as time goes on. Most games simply fail to achieve it, but the team at Abylight Studios has nailed it. I can see why this took so long to manifest onto consoles. Every single corner of this game is balanced with care, making it a perfect homage to the game it sets out to mimic.
Of course, if one simply mimics its inspiration, nothing is achieved. Instead, the developers have made plenty of modern game design improvements to enhance the experience. First off are the controls. With a game being challenging, this is a must. When I die, I want to know it came from my carelessness, not struggling with controls. Players are given three hits instead of the classic two found in Capcom’s offering, and trust me, that makes a huge difference.
There are also save points at the end of each level. Reaching them feels amazing. That sense of relief that washed over me whenever taking down the boss and seeing the area select screen was second to none. This game does an amazing job of giving the player a sense of accomplishment.
Visually it feels right out of the classic 16-bit era. There are a several visualization options, such as scanlines and perspective, giving players the chance to play the way they prefer. The animations are great, and the amount of creature design is impressive. That soundtrack also doesn’t disappoint, with classic tunes that would feel at home in a version of the game it mimics.
While the name may be confusing, this could easily be a blueprint for the successor to Ghosts ‘n Goblins, which is what it seems they set out to do, and they nailed it. If you are like me and grew up pulling your hair out at these punishing side-scrollers, this game is an easy purchase. It captures the magic, while bringing enough of its own charm to make it feel fresh. Plenty try to capture that magic, but few achieve what the team at Abylight Studios has managed to create here.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.