By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on July 20th, 2016 on Xbox One
Developer: Abylight Studios Publisher: Abylight Studios
Maldita Castilla EX takes place in the cursed land of Tolomera. One day, a young witch by the name of Moura is crying over the loss of her beloved when a demon appears. Turning her tears into a magical key, the demon opens up a gateway to spew forth evil across the land. Now demons, zombies, and all kinds of unspeakable horrors roam the kingdom of Tolomera. King Alfonso VI of Leon summons his most loyal knights, Don Ramiro and his friends Quesada, Don Diego, and Mendoza. The king implores them to set forth and put an end to the evil threat and bring peace to Tolomera. This sets the stage for a fast-paced action arcade game heavily influenced by classic titles like Rygar, Shinobi, and especially Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins. The game features retro pixel graphics that perfectly emulate the style of the eighties arcade cabinet titles it was inspired by, even down to an old monitor screen effect that can be toggled on or off through the options menu if you prefer. Even the music was created with the YM2203 sound chip in mind, a chip manufactured by Yamaha that was commonly found in many videogame and computer systems throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. Like most old-school arcade games, it can be quite hard and there is no option to change the difficulty. Playing a game like this every once in a while serves to remind myself how truly terrible I am at sidescrollers. When I was a kid, I would play games similar to Maldita and die over and over again eventually getting so frustrated that I would throw the controller, or in some extreme cases, throw a punch at the offending console. Now that I’m older, however, I realize how expensive consoles and controllers can be so I do the proper adult thing. By which I mean I lock myself in the bathroom, crying silently while venting my frustrations on Twitter. Seriously though, I died so many times that I don’t feel comfortable writing it down here in print, forever immortalizing my shame. The difficulty is an important part of the package, though, and I feel a key ingredient to the nostalgic feel of the era Maldita emulates quite successfully.
They just don’t make games like Maldita Castilla anymore. Playing this labor of love transported me back to an era where arcades were the best place to play games and interact with like-minded people, back before all the fancy online console networks and social media platforms. Back when games were much simpler, requiring precision, timing, and learning the patterns, instead of nonstop grinding and endless collection quests. Nothing matches the satisfaction of finally getting past a particularly difficult set of obstacles, or an especially nasty boss because you got better at the game, not just because you found an overpowered piece of equipment or a special ability. That’s the kind of experience that Maldita delivers, and one that I highly recommend whether you are looking for a challenging action sidescroller or a nostalgia-filled trip down memory lane. Currently only available on Xbox One, Maldita Castilla EX has been recently Greenlit on Steam and is slated for release on Playstation 4 sometime in the near future.
3DS NOTES (UPDATED JULY 2017):
First and foremost, the Nintendo 3DS version of Cursed Castilla (as it is known on 3DS) is a perfect port of the console versions. There was nothing lost in the transition and there aren't any new gameplay additions in terms of mechanics or story content. So everything I critiqued in the console version stills holds true here.
However, there are a few differences that set it apart from the console version.
Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly, since it IS on the 3DS) Cursed Castilla supports the use of the 3D feature. There isn't much that 3D can do to improve the visuals since the game uses 8-bit retro style graphics, but it separates the background scenery from the foreground to give it a nice little pop. And while I'm on the subject of visuals, I found that it was too hard to see the action while having the screen border option activated (that's the nifty arcade-style static picture that borders the actual gameplay screen). This can be fixed in the option menu by stretching the video to fit the screen, so it's not that big of a deal in the end. I guess they wanted to keep the option in for people who like seeing the border art, but personally, I don't think it is worth it to sacrifice that much of an already small 3DS screen.
The second screen of the 3DS is also used in a way that is cool but doesn't add much useful functionality to the experience. While all the action takes place on the top screen, the bottom touch screen is modeled after the lower half of an arcade machine. You can tap on the panel of said machine to open it up, displaying a circuit board with a few switches to play around with. Using the switches activates features that can also be found in the options menu, such as screen size and the speedrun timer. There is also a tiny little reset button that you can tap to reset the game back to the main menu. An interestingly enough, the arcade stick and buttons are more than just idle decorations: you can use them to control your character. It's really impractical, but still a cool addition.
Other than the few cosmetic additions I mentioned, Cursed Castilla is very much a straight-up port of the console version released last year. I find a title like this with its simple controls and straightforward gameplay perfectly suited for a handheld console. If you want tough-as-nails old school action on the go then Cursed Castilla will make a great addition to your library.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8/10
+Great retro feel +Challenging gameplay
-Not much replayability