I covered a bit of Soul Calibur 2 for the PS2 yesterday because my internet was acting up, and the download for the game I thought I’d be covering wasn’t going to finish in time. That game was Nine Parchments, and after spending a short time with its repetitive gameplay, it was promptly banished from my computer, never to return again. Trash is trash regardless of how pretty it is. Beyond which, it was giving me serious Pyre flashbacks with its kind-of-lootbox system; they may not be similar gameplay-wise, but there’s no way I’m playing another game that tries to embrace bad gaming trends to widen its audience. Instead, today’s game is Madcap Castle, a Game Boy-styled action/platformer/puzzler that’s kind of like Donkey Kong for the Game Boy (the less common one that everyone forgets about) by way of Super Meat Boy, which is a way of saying that it could be considered a form of masochism.
The difficulty is as retro as the graphics
Madcap Castle is a game that looks easy to play, and it sometimes is. Sure, the timing can be tricky and the jumps precise, but the early stages are a breeze and can cause you to be overconfident. Then things start to get more complicated. Before long, things are shooting at your position, enemies are patrolling, lasers are moving around while turning on and off, and thwomps like the ones in Mario games show up. And I’m only up to level 46 of 150. Things will no doubt get even harder.
The goal of each (non-boss) stage is to grab the pellet—which will relocate when you touch it a couple times to make things nice and difficult—and then escape to the door. The controls are easy to get a handle on, as they mimic the limited control scheme of the original Game Boy. That means you can move right and left and have two buttons that allow you to jump and cast spells. That’s it. These spells are kind of interesting, too, as you’re given abilities periodically that the levels are tailored to push to their limits. So far I’ve been able to light candles, shrink, summon a chicken, and create a shield that reflects projectiles. These abilities are key to damaging bosses once you reach the boss fight at the end of each section, naturally.
I’ve found a few bugs, though
Level 40 is ridiculous. You run faster when you’re not shrunk (and the thwomps will get you if you’re trying to run past them in your mini form), so you have to shrink in the air to slip under a platform, then slip out and return to your normal size while immediately taking off running and preparing to shrink to get under the next platform. When you finally reach the pellet, it teleports to the other side, meaning you have to do it all over again (and death resets everything, as you’d expect). Personally, I loved this, and I kept trying to go fast, leading to 90-something deaths here. While continually dying, however, I noticed that getting hit in a certain way would cause me to teleport to the other side of the room rather than dying. That’s right—we have one of those rare helpful bugs on our hands! It throws off the stage’s timing, though.
This other bug is much more aggravating. Basically, the reflect spell can freak out and fail to reflect things. Sometimes this manifests as the object going crazy in a small area, while other times it’ll start to do that, only to resume its former trajectory and kill you unexpectedly. Sometimes it goes straight through your reflect shield even when there’s nothing obvious wrong with the timing. Whatever the case, this fight with with “Mr. Jester” becomes a serious hassle because of how inconsistent reflecting things is. I probably died 5-10 times to this bug alone. Very frustrating.
But that’s all in the past now
It took me a solid 15 minutes of banging my head against a wall, but I finally got lucky enough to get past this guy. Granted, the bug struck yet again (~1:50 in the above video, where you can see his projectile go straight through my reflect shield despite the timing being perfect), but things worked out soon after that. I even discovered that failing to reflect his projectile causes him to shoot another one almost immediately, which is a unexpectedly friendly bit of design. I’m really liking Madcap Castle thus far, then, though I’m admittedly about one frustrating bug away from rage-throwing a toaster through a neighbor’s windshield. That last bug was just the worst. Here’s hoping that later levels have more reliable spells.