Xbox Indie Review: Platformance: Castle Pain

look out for the ghosts

Platformance: Castle Pain combines old-school conventions and graphics with the sensibilities of newer games in order to create a nostalgic journey that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It essentially assembles nearly every conceivable trap, adversary and pitfall that has thwarted 2D heroes over the past thirty years and crams them into a single enormous labyrinthian obstacle course of death. Not a single pixel of the fantastically designed level is wasted, ensuring that there is absolutely no filler or wasted time when playing the game. Everything is designed perfectly in order to maximize the enjoyment of the experience.

Platformance is the rather rote 8-bit tale of a brave knight on a mission to rescue the ungrateful damsel in distress, but the twist is that the entire game is condensed into one intense level. Bats, snakes, fireballs, arrows, ghosts and sea serpents are some of the standard-fare obstacles that plague the pixelated hero. But bird droppings? Really? Platformance: Castle Pain has really upped the ante for perilous situations.

The other twist is the ability to zoom out from the default camera to view the entire level. It does a great job of illustrating how the current segment is just one piece of the larger maze, or like a snapshot of the level. The game is actually fully playable in the zoomed-out mode, and it is actually important when falling from great heights in order to guide the fall.

Although he appears to be holding a sword, the daring little knight apparently lacks the offensive prowess to figure out how to swing it, and he unfortunately can’t do much aside from running and jumping. It’s a good idea to avoid the many obstacles; I guess that impressive suit of armor is just for show because even grazing one enemy will cause an instantaneous death. Thankfully, there are checkpoints after nearly every single sequence and deaths result in an immediate respawn.

The graphics have an intentionally pixelated look, which makes Platformance look like an 8-bit Nintendo game, albeit an exceptionally colorful one. All the sprites are very detailed and colorful, and the game looks very impressive in motion. The developer’s affection for retro games really shines through.

Death is an accepted reality of Platformance, but the game has a comically trivial way of handling it. Rather than fading in and out or making a spectacle out of the knight’s death, Platformance’s knight explodes into a pool of blood and instantly respawns at the nearest checkpoint. The game is thankfully rather generous with its checkpoints, meaning that are no long segments to repeat. Although the lives are theoretically infinite, there is an enormous Pac-Man-style ghost that slowly chases the knight throughout the level. On the lower difficulties, the ghost moves with such malaise that there appears to be very little pressure. However, the game has four different difficulty levels, each of which adds more ways to turn the hero into a knight-kabob. On the higher difficulty levels the ghost becomes a methodical hunter breathing down the knight’s throat like a looming game-over specter.

The level features an impressive array of classic platforming settings such as caves, cemeteries, hovering platforms, swimming, rope climbing, well, you get the idea. There are also hints cleverly written in the background along with humorous musings.

the zoomed out look

The jumping can be a bit unforgiving at times. Sometimes, the knight appears to be on a ledge with nowhere to move at all, but he still requires a running head start to get enough momentum to make a jump. This gripe is minor though, and isn’t something that really detracts from the overall experience. Frustrating jumps are the norm for the genre, so they do have a home in a game that is essentially one big videogame homage.

It won’t take experienced platforming fans long to navigate through Platformance, but the harder difficulty levels do put up a sufficiently frustrating challenge. Its brevity isn’t something that can really be held against it though, since it manages to compact so much fun and so many interesting little segments into one tidy package. It has the perfect combination of retro graphics, music and charm that make it a must play for old-school fans.

Visit the Xbox Live Marketplace to add a free demo of Platformance: Castle Pain to your Xbox 360 download queue.

Platformance: Castle Pain was provided for review by Magiko Gaming. It is available for 80 MS points ($1).

Posted on by Mike Wall in Reviews, xblig

About Mike Wall

Mike grew up and lives near Philadelphia and has been intrigued with games ever since his parents preached that they rotted his brain. He studied journalism at Penn State and got his master's degree in secondary education before realizing that not even summers off would make that job palatable. He now works in marketing and is trying to find time to continue writing a book about zombies, aliens, vampires, the end of the world, and a talking cat.