Thanks to 7Levels for providing us with this review code.
Castle of Heart (CoH) is a brutal action platformer that any fan of the genre should play. At just $14.99, it feels like one of the best values on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re wondering what it looks like, think Dark Souls. If you want to know what the platforming is like, think Castlevania (NES). And if you really want to know the nitty gritty details of the combat, environments, and overall gameplay, read on.
From the Developers
If you’ve read other reviews about CoH, you’ve probably heard complaints about input lag. I did not experience this at all. I’ve, of course, played several hours of the game in both handheld and docked mode. I went back to the developer, 7Levels, to get to the bottom of these complaints. They confirmed my theory about animations:
There’s no real performance difference while the console is “docked” and “undocked”. Gamers potentially may get such an impression when they watch animations, that are slower but it’s not due to console being plugged in or not. However since those slower animations seems to be an issue for some, we’re working hard to find a solution for that.
Whenever a developer invests in their game to improve customer satisfaction, I applaud them. I did struggle to get comfortable with the animation time and the overall pace of the game. So this is a welcomed adjustment. I’ll update this post when I learn more about the release schedule.
There is an evil wizard that controls the people of the local town by taxing them. It’s a peaceful village, save for every few years when he comes back to escalate his tax. When a local knight rebels to save his fair maiden, the wizard curses him by turning him into stone and then makes off with the maiden. The wizard intended to kill the knight. But, as the maiden was being taken one of her tears fell on the stoned body of the knight, and that gave him the strength to survive the curse. He wakes up, intent on saving his maiden, and slaughters all that get in his way.
Castle of Heart is more forgiving than it appears.
The platforming is primarily left to right with some verticality. Below ground you tend to find extra health, blue orbs, and pieces of heart - the only collectible in the game. Each level has 5 pieces. Above ground are platforms that are either static, rotating or they fall apart after you’ve stepped on them - typical action platforming environment. There are other dangers above, such as spike traps, snipers and angry birds!
Pacing is perfect. I love the mix of melee battles that follow or precede a chase from what is effectively a tank with spikes that chases you for 45-60 seconds. Or other fast-paced segments such as roof surfing. You have to duck, roll, and jump over and around obstructions. Timing is important, but not the difference between life and death. You’ll find the damage dealt by spikes and such to be so little that the I conclude the developers were forgiving the player for not being perfect.
The enemy types are varied by level/chapter and you also have to watch out for obstructions that can be traps. Such as exploding barrels and falling spikes. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference between a harmful obstruction and one that is innocuous; particularly in the heat of battle. Sometimes enemies really pile up and I struggled to manage fighting them simultaneously. in CoH, too many enemies is really more than 2 at once. Typically you’ll see a single enemy on the ground and one on a ledge up high, throwing javelins at you.
CoH sounds really hard - and it looks really hard (that Dark Souls vibe). But, really, it’s not. The checkpoint system is frequent and you always get a full health recharge. The segments between checkpoints are challenging, but not impossible. When I conquered the most challenging segments, I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment.
What I Wish It Had
CoH is brutal, but not impossible. It would be less brutal and more fun if there was an RPG element to the game. For example, you lose health slowly over time, even when you haven’t taken damage. After defeating a boss, it would be great if one gave you an item, blessing or removed a portion of your curse so your health loss over time were slower. Another boss could add double jump which would be amazing for replaying chapters to find the collectible heart fragments. In fact, the entire story could be built around the 5 bosses each contributing to the power of the wizard and, ultimately, the power of the curse that has befallen the knight and the townspeople. Adding this twist would add life to the world and provide more dialogue options.
- You’ll be tempted to destroy every barrel you find. But sometimes you’ll need to stand on those barrels in order to grab a collectible or power up that is above it. Keep your eyes open and break those barrels after you’ve exploited them!
- You don’t have to fight every enemy. You will have the option to jump over and outrun enemies, but when your health is low, and you see an easy foe, fight! You’ll want the health drop that comes with the victory.
- The secondary weapons you can wield in your off hand vary in power and use. Some are for ranged attacks and others are for dealing more damage and more easily destroying shields. Get to know what you have and adjust your battle style accordingly.
- By pressing L and A together, the knight performs a power attack. This is great for knocking down walls marked with yellow ink. Otherwise, don’t attempt it. Instead, if you’re struggling in battle, learn the enemy attack patterns and get great at blocking.
Who is this For?
Castle of Heart is beautiful, well balanced and a to of fun to play. While it is difficult, it’s not as difficult as similar games such as Volgarr and Slain. So, if you have interest in the genre or are attracted to the game’s visuals, you’ll be very happy with Castle of Heart.