Cursed Castilla: Maldita Castilla EX

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Abylight Studios
Developer: Locomalito
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Cursed Castilla EX'

by Cody Medellin on June 25, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Cursed Castilla Ex is an extended version of the action platformer that's full of creatures from medieval myths from Europe and chivalry romances.

Buy Cursed Castilla EX

Ever since it was released for free on the PC in late 2012, Locomalito's Maldita Castilla has been a success. The word of mouth about this stellar retro-inspired title caused the game to ultimately come out with a paid version on the PC years later. That was soon followed by a tour of the consoles and handhelds, where it was met with equal success and critical acclaim. Two years after its appearance on the 3DS, the title has returned to a Nintendo platform via the Switch. On the surface, nothing much seems to have changed for Cursed Castilla EX except for the removal of the 3D effect. Considering how good the title is, that's a small price to pay for having the game available on the latest portable sensation.

The narrative is different from what one might expect from a retro-inspired title, as it doesn't involve rescuing a princess. A great war arose in the kingdom of Castilla located in Spain. Countless lives had been taken rather senselessly in these battles, with one death in particular causing a woman to grieve uncontrollably for her loss. A demon tricked the woman into giving her tears, which he used to forge keys to unlock the underworld and unleash demons upon our world. As one of the king's faithful knights, you've been assigned to save the woman and close off the doorway.

The original game has been often compared to Capcom's classic Ghosts 'n Goblins, and that comparison is well warranted in several different areas. From a gameplay standpoint, both titles are similar enough. There's a knight who specializes in throwing projectiles in four cardinal directions instead of using melee combat. You have a set number of lives and the ability to take very few hits per life before a continue is needed. The weapon set is varied enough that each one completely changes your attack strategy. Pick up the ax, for example, and you have to compensate for attack arcs, while holy water means having to worry about your slower overall attack speed. Death does mean going back to your basic sword, which is good enough to deal with enemies but not the best tool for the job.

If you're looking at the general gameplay, there are minor differences between Capcom's game and Cursed Castilla EX. You can take on three hits instead of two before a life ends. There are power-ups, like a shield or fairy, that stay with you until you pick up another one to replace them, similar to the weapons system. The stages are also segmented into smaller areas, similar to the original Castlevania instead of being one sprawling trek from beginning to end. The stages are also punctuated with several boss fights instead of one major skirmish at the end.

Cursed Castilla EX also happens to share the one thing that made the original inspiration so infamous: the difficulty. Part of that comes from the adherence to the knockback mechanic, which has you falling backward once you're hit, often resulting in you falling into spikes and a few pits. The lack of a controlled mid-air jump doesn't help things, nor does the fact that you can't attack while climbing on ropes and chains. It can be frustrating, but you rarely feel that the deaths are cheap due to the otherwise responsive controls.

There are other things that ease the pain of the initial difficulty. Levels aren't procedurally done, and the design is thoughtful enough that you can see the correct patterns emerge and develop a strategy to defeat a stage. This line of thinking also goes for the boss fights, which are easy to read and aren't as tough as expected. Dying is harsh, but you'll respawn at the beginning of a room instead of having to go all the way to the beginning of a stage. This happens when you lose a life or continue, so you can brute-force your way to the end if you have a little skill and loads of patience. The high numbers of the overall death counter are a constant reminder that the game is tough if you're trying to lose as few lives as possible.

Putting in the time to learn the game's nuances and strive for dying less is a big impetus if you're trying to get the better endings. Going straight through the game gives you the worst ending, which is nice considering how it's delivered. Opening up the real final stage requires you to do some exploring to find five mystical gems, a task made tougher by the fact that the game offers very limited exploration and deaths in some parts of a stage. It means that you're immediately locked out of seeing a decent ending if can't reach one of those gems. If you manage to get them all, there's the matter of finding some rare artifacts to sweeten the ending, and that requires you to shoot at everything and jump or kneel at the correct spots that you'll accidentally stumble upon (if you aren't using a guide). It is obtuse, but that's how most classic games did it. You still won't be able to get the best ending unless you go through it all in one run. The game indicates that you'll get a middle-of-the-road ending at best if you use four or more continues.

The presentation is completely retro without doing something that systems of the time wouldn't have been able to accomplish. Whether you give the game a quick glance or sit there analyzing it, you can't help but get the sense that this is a long-lost Sega Genesis game that would look amazing at the system's launch and still hold its own by the system's end. Character designs waver between slightly grotesque, with hanging bodies and human-faced worms, to a little whimsical, when you see large frogs wearing Spanish armor. Adding to the authentic pixel look is the ability to add scanline filters, and the game remains at a 4:3 aspect ratio, although you can zoom in the screen to get a better view rather than stick with a smaller gameplay box. The audio is also authentic, with the score giving off a heavy bass sound that was a signature of the system. The game is light on voice, and while some of the effects sound canned, it's pretty perfect for fans of nostalgia.

Cursed Castilla EX remains a fantastic and tough platformer. The look is authentically retro, and the controls are as tight as ever. The challenge is ever-present, but nothing feels unfair, except for the requirements to get the "good" ending. The game feels like it comes in at just the right length. For adventure platformer fans, Cursed Castilla EX certainly belongs in their library.

Score: 8.5/10

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