Alternate History

HIGH Mindblowing visual style, great intrigue.

LOW The game crashed before I saw the ending.

WTF I get it’s an artistic choice, but these fonts need to be readable.

The Eternal Castle Remastered is a new game inspired by old ones — they might be unfamiliar to younger players, but those of us with a few gray hairs will remember classics like Prince of Persia (1989), Out of This World (1991), Flashback (1992) and others. Upon those bones, a small team of three developers have wrapped intense visuals and a touch of modern sensibility, creating a product that is both new and old, familiar and strange, all at once.

The experience works if taken as a piece that exists on the strength of its visuals and tone, rather than the details of its plot because, frankly, the story is more than a bit vague. The opening text setting things up is illegible, but it soon becomes clear that each of the five areas in The Eternal Castle Remastered is effectively a self-contained sidestory that doesn’t have much bearing on the others — and this is largely fine. While I value solid narrative work, the devs seem more concerned with delivering different play variations on the core concept, and it works.

Mechanically, TECR has players going (mostly) left to right while platforming and engaging in a very specific type of old-school combat. Those who haven’t encountered the titles mentioned above will likely be put off by how it feels – those games were rotoscoped and prioritized smooth animation over responsiveness and control. So much so, in fact, that it interfered with gameplay. Back then, players would have to account for how long a jump animation would take and then press the button far enough in advance that the character would go through the motion and jump at the right time.

These uninterruptible, extended animations aren’t used much these days and I haven’t missed them. That said, it’s clear what the devs are going for, and in this context it’s largely fine since checkpoints are generally frequent enough to avoid frustration and there aren’t many places in TECR where the chunky, sluggish combat is required apart from a few boss fights.

There are 30 “fragments” to collect which contribute to a secret ending, in addition to optional gear items which are scattered throughout the world. They give the player gifts like more stamina, more life, better aiming and reduced presence when the character ducks. These things add a nice level of complexity that TECR‘s predecessors usually didn’t offer, and players who seek these things out will be duly rewarded. That said, some of them are too easy to miss – not generally a problem, but players can’t revisit levels if they miss one.

Now, with that out of the way, I have to quit burying the lede and say that while all of that stuff I’ve just outlined is fine, the graphics and style of The Eternal Castle Remastered are absolutely what sells it, and honestly, this game is a knockout. Every frame is screenshot-worthy thanks to high-contrast colors, chunky shading and a perfectly understated and abstract level of detail. The devs do a lot with a little, and in this case, less is certainly more.

Walking through this saturated world, the bare outline of a thing shows more than seeing it rendered in photorealistic detail, and the way color and lighting shift is fantastic. One scene in particular had me coming from a brightly-lit outside into a dark tunnel illuminated with hot pink, and the push of a button flooded it with blue and white. Another section took place in a dark lab pulsing with turquoise, and my escape in its elevator was a rising strobe of white, black and red. It’s all wonderfully fluid and smooth, and a dazzling treat for the eye.

It was the strength of these aesthetics and the fluidity of the animation that caught my attention when I saw the trailer. Playing through it delivered on that promise, and then some. I absolutely love the approach the devs have taken, and I would often linger in a section or walk back and forth between screens just to watch the palette shift, or to examine how the certain things were rendered. Artistically, The Eternal Castle Remastered is superb.

While I’m quite enamored with the whole thing, there’s no doubt that there are rough edges that dull TECR‘s glamour. Apart from the implementation of ‘classic’ mechanics that players will either accept (or not) the Switch code is a bit buggy. I had a couple of crashes that didn’t result in anything more than an annoyed reload, but the worst one happened right as I was about to see the ending — thank god for YouTube. Beyond that, there were times when an enemy’s dropped weapon glitched out of the world and wasn’t usable, and I’ve clipped myself offscreen during a boss fight. Also, there’s a bonus mode unlocked after credits roll that runs poorly — it’s slow and it chugs in a way that the main game does not.

I don’t want to end this review on a down note, though. The fantastic visuals, incredible style and wonderful reimagining of this classic formula captivated me immediately — ironic, since I’ve never been a fan of the games in this basket — and the majority of my time was spent with a smile on my face. My Switch’s memory card is now full of screengrabs, and each level’s variety was strong enough to carry me to the credits without ever feeling bored, or thinking that the experience was running out of gas.

The Eternal Castle Remastered isn’t for everyone and I can easily imagine many prospective players being turned off by the controls or the abstract visuals, but there’s no denying the fact that it’s a strong addition which adds depth to the Switch library, and it comes absolutely recommended to anyone with a taste for those bygone classics or eccentric art-house titles.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Leonard Menchiari, Giulio Perrone and Daniele Vicinanzo. and published by Playsaurus and TFL Studios. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Blood and Mild Fantasy Violence. I suspect it’s too abstract and weird for most kids so they likely won’t encounter the content, but I almost think it should get a ‘T’ instead. Despite the stylized visuals, there are some semi-gross animations and it can be a little scary at times. I loved it but I wouldn’t let my little one play this, honestly. There is no salty language and no sexual content.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.Also, as a side note, be aware that the visual contrast of colors is quite strong in many scenes and there are also several areas where strobe-like effects are more prominent than in the average videogame.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information comes via text, although the font vacillates between being somewhat legible to I-can’t-read-this-at-all. The lettering seems like an artistic choice and there’s no way to alter it. On the other hand, the story is fairly confusing and the game can be played entirely without sound as no audio cues are necessary.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. Below is a graphic showing one of the preset configurations, and there are two more although they’re both nearly identical to this, just with the functions swapped.  

Brad Gallaway
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David Stratford
David Stratford
2 years ago

Strange… this game seems to have been pulled from the Switch eShop. I wonder what’s going on with it.