Designed as a retro throwback to the cinematic platformer of the late 80s and early 90s, The Eternal Castle was never actually released before even though “[REMASTERED]” is in the title. This is a retro experience through and through, right down to slippery controls, cheap deaths, amazing set pieces, and the visual style is truly Out of this World (see what I did there?).
The star of the show are the rotoscoped visuals. Simply watching the pixelated sprites move across each brightly colored environment is a sight to behold. Even the menus and loading screens play into this pixelated approach. Through the use of only a few pixels, it is amazing how much information is given to the player even when traversing areas loaded in shadow. Honestly, it is super cool and I want an animated gif of this game hanging on my wall like a picture at all times. As cinematic as this game is, the gameplay isn’t as silky smooth.
Movement is just as imprecise as you remember it being in classic Prince of Persia, where everything is on a one second delay. The clunky controls can be infuriating at times, like trying to avoid a rolling boulder Indiana Jones-style, when trying to fight a boss that demands accuracy, or even just jumping to that next ledge without enough momentum. One misstep can also be instantly fatal and there are plenty of cheap traps that will test the player’s skill and patience. The player can only move at one speed too – run – unless a weapon is drawn, so it makes some basic platforming a bit tricky at times.
Combat falls into a similar boat as the overall navigation. Attacking (punches or kicks), rolling, and jumping all cost stamina. When facing one or even two enemies at a time, it isn’t a big deal. However, the game often stages a horde of enemies against you at one time in which button mashing is really the only option. Since stamina drops so quickly and combat isn’t anything more than punching with an occasional roll, surviving fights can come down to luck as opposed to skill.
For the most part, spamming the punch/kick button doesn’t require timing or rhythm. Towards the end of the game, the player will need to take out a dozen enemies in a hallway in order to advance. You can try running through them and get lucky to have that one punch take them all out, or you can cheese the battle by luring one out at a time. It is sections like these that you can see what the devs were going for but sometimes wind up being more tedious than entertaining. Boss battles are also tricky and will require numerous attempts to figure out what the game wants you to do. The downside is, the boss opening cutscene animations are not skippable and make the experience longer and more frustrating than it needs to be. Outside of the opening moments, there are no tutorials and sometimes the narrative demands some complex gameplay, leaving the player to suffer through some trial and error, such as the final boss battle.
The combat might not be the most fluid system but environmental puzzle solving is where the game shines the brightest. For example, there are optional gems to collect through the campaign, some of which are hiding in hard to reach locations. One area has a secret vent shaft that can be opened but only after attacking a certain wall. This rewards the player with a faster route that avoids confrontation with several enemies. Or early in the quest, the player needs to subdue a hostile that is holding you at gun point – the solution took me a few tries but had a satisfying pay off. These little moments really stand out. The player also can choose which stage to tackle Mega Man-style so the campaign can be played in almost any order. For those that venture off the beaten path, a perk might also be found, like a bandana, cape, or vest that permanently enhance stats like being able to hold more ammo or take less damage. Without spoiling too much, dedicated players can also unlock a couple additional worthwhile modes once the campaign is completed.
The Eternal Castle isn’t perfect but it is definitely playable, enjoyable, and oh so pretty. The lack of a soundtrack is a little disappointing but this just makes each sound effect, like footsteps, grunts, or gunfire, seem more potent. Even though you will die many times, the difficulty is never Prince of Persia difficult, making the campaign a mostly pleasant experience despite some combat issues. This is easy one of the better cinematic puzzle platformers I have played in a while. At the very least, watch a speed run just to simply soak in the amazing visuals.
Also available on PC.
Also Try: Blackthorne in the Blizzard Arcade Collection
Better Than: Flashback
Don’t Forget About: the Prince of Persia remake on XBLA