Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Maldita Castilla (PC)
Years in development and interrupted by several other projects, Locomalito and Gryzor87's long-awaited retro-gaming epic Maldita Castilla (Damned Castille) has finally arrived. A well-researched and meticulously detailed tribute to both 1980's arcade hack 'n' slash coin-ops and medieval Spanish folklore, last year's preview has evolved into arguably one of the freeware highlights of the year, putting many commercial indie releases and official 'retro-reboots' to shame.
Maybe it's because as a young child I used to be (almost) obsessed with reading up about mythical creatures and beasts, but Maldita Castilla really struck a chord with me – and undoubtedly, the fact that Locomalito has got the arcade machine aesthetics down to perfection also helped. Playing like a combination of the obvious Capcom influences (Ghosts 'n' Goblins / Ghouls 'n' Ghosts / Black Tiger) but with a darker, European atmosphere, the game sees you in the role of a member of the Castille Royal Guard on a mission to free the region of demons and denizens by lobbing a variety of deadly (and at times unlikely) weapons in their faces.
Anyone who played the preview last year will feel immediately at home – the same linear platform/dagger 'em up gameplay is present and correct, complete with the retro and oft-complained about lack of ability to fire diagonally or defend yourself whilst climbing ladders (clearly a design choice, and a sensible one at that, naysayers). However, after the first couple of familiar stages the game starts rewarding the player with original content that, whilst offering nothing particularly new to the genre per-se, does a great job of telling a heroic and enjoyable yarn of good versus evil over the course of an hour or so. With the scene set by a rousing introductory sequence featuring the King of Castille briefing your team of non-player characters (who’ll later fight and die by your side during your quest), each of the six stages follow in a logical and believable manner, featuring memorable set-pieces and boss battles that never feel unfairly designed.
The controls are tight and new enemies and power-ups are introduced at just the right rate so as to keep you feeling motivated and eager to see what the next screen holds. The different weapons feel balanced and thankfully the element of 'luck' is reduced because the collectable icons change from one type to another, ensuring that in most cases you can strategically select the monster-slaying projectile of your preference.
In fact, compared to the hardcore-difficulty level of some of Locomalito's other games (here's looking at you Hydorah!), Maldita Castilla is a lot more accessible - especially on the early levels. With its unlimited continues and frequent checkpoints, it almost feels – dare I say it – casual. But don't be fooled, as there's a proper way to play the game; each continue resets your score and the only way to truly win is by completing the game on a single-credit (in addition to finding all the secrets). There's even a timer for those gaming-ninjas who like to compete in speed-runs.
As with all of Locomalito's games, Maldita Castilla is available for free, but there is an opportunity to donate in return for additional bonus material (in this case, a full game manual featuring some beautiful design and illustrations by Jacobo García). With his back catalogue of quality releases and at least one new game project already underway, in the current environment of no-guarantee indie Kickstarter projects being accepted as the norm (remember the days when people actually managed to make indie games without $10,000+ budgets?) Locomalito is a developer who just keeps on giving and giving and giving.
Maldita Castilla is one of my personal favourites of 2012 – and for that reason alone it is hard for me to justify not sending a few virtual coins his way. I simply cannot recommend this game enough - it is an essential download.
Download the game here (from Locomalito's website).