Review: Castle of Heart
Published by Jack Taylor July 16, 2018
Join a knight of stone in a platformer that's solid, if a little cracked in places.
About this game: Action platforming game, developed and published by 7Levels
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch (version 1.1.0)
7Levels has provided a copy of the game for review purposes.
Nintendo Switch is already home to a huge variety of games and genres, and with plenty of action platformers having already made their way to the system, it takes something pretty unique to stand out from the crowd. Castle of Heart is the first original project from Polish developer 7Levels, and is a Nintendo Switch exclusive to boot; since its launch in March 2018, it's already received a substantial update with a considerable number of fixes and improvements. It takes little bits of inspiration from series such as Trine while keeping its own identity, making for an enjoyable experience right off the bat.
Castle of Heart follows a knight whose village is at the command of an evil sorcerer, demanding more and more from the villagers until they have nothing left to give. Upon being challenged by the knight, the sorcerer turns him and all of the villagers to stone; the only person saved from the curse is the knight's lover, though she is captured by the sorcerer and taken back to his castle. The knight is saved by a tear from the woman, which restores his heart, and this is where the story begins as he ventures out to save the woman and defeat the sorcerer.
If you've played practically any 2D platformers, the makeup of Castle of Heart is likely to be fairly recognisable, with each level scattered with enemies, obstacles, and items to be collected. You have a health bar to keep an eye on, and - apparently because the knight is now effectively a walking statue - this depletes steadily over time, though you can restore lost health with pickups found throughout levels and obtained by defeating enemies. At your disposal is a sword and a second weapon slot, as you can pick up an additional weapon such as a crossbow or spear that's been dropped by an enemy; you can swap this for another weapon at any time, with a handy indicator showing you if a weapon is weaker or stronger than your current one. You can also pick up some other consumables, such as bombs, which can prove to be very useful when making progress and defeating enemies.
Once your health bar drops below a certain point, however, the knight will lose an arm, and your second weapon along with it; it's a slightly strange way of highlighting the knight's health, as it essentially renders you hopeless until you regain health or return to the previous checkpoint. On the tougher of the game's two difficulty levels, this normally leaves you doomed to fail until your health totally depletes and you wind up back at the last checkpoint; worse still, it can instil a sense of urgency in having to reach the next checkpoint while watching your health slowly drop away, and it's not great feeling as though you have to rush through levels rather than take your time with the game.
Each level features a number of enemies and obstacles for you to break through, all with the intention of knocking your health down as much as possible. Enemies can be a bit samey at times, although there's good variation with close-range and long-range fighters, as well as aerial creatures to contend with. In terms of strategy, there are a few beneficial tactics - knock over a lantern to burn enemies, or use arrows or spears to reach enemies you can't get close to - but it's mostly just a case of hitting an enemy until they fall over, and a bit more depth in terms of the combat would have been greatly appreciated. It's the same story with the first major boss, which is a shame, and not what you expect from a big fight.
We mentioned the game's difficulty earlier, and it provides two difficulty modes - Easy and Normal - which you can flick between at will. It's best to start off on the easy mode, which is far more bearable and poses a more balanced challenge for the most part; that's not to say the normal mode is unbalanced, but a lot of the time it feels difficult for the sake of being difficult, rather than being satisfying to play through. Starting off on the easier mode and switching if you feel up to it is likely to be the best way to get the most enjoyment out of Castle of Heart, although in its design, it can still cause a bit of frustration; for example, your timing when jumping and your placement when trying to land on small pillars and other surfaces have to be exact, because the knight won't grab onto ledges or anything like that. If you fall, you fall, and it can be a pain having to retry multiple times when you also have to keep an eye on your health bar.
All of that said, the game's presentation is certainly impressive throughout. Its gritty visuals fit the theme of the game really well, as do the character and level designs. Its controls are relatively easy to learn as well, and are always available to double-check in the pause menu. The screen always displays your health, experience, and current weapon, as well as the quantity when required for weapons and consumables. The opening cutscene explaining the game's story is also great, with impressive voice acting and with a storybook style to it. Each level is a good length and impressively constructed, running through the likes of a village and a swamp, and trying to find every nook and cranny with hidden items certainly adds to the experience - at least, when you're not struggling to land on those pesky pillars.
If you didn't know this was 7Levels' first offering, you wouldn't be able to tell. Castle of Heart provides an interesting and enjoyable campaign, with 20 levels likely to last you between five and ten hours depending on whether you want to collect everything or just finish the story. Its 'normal' difficulty can be a bit brutal at times, but the easier option provides enough challenge to keep most players happy; if you're still after more of a challenge than that, the tougher option is definitely worth a try. More refining would have been appreciated around some of the finer points, such as landing on small surfaces and a little more depth to the combat; even so, while it might be a slightly tougher sell for anyone not acquainted with action platformers, Castle of Heart remains a satisfying experience likely to be enjoyed by fans of the genre.
Enjoyable and satisfying gameplay
Very impressive visuals and presentation
Level design allows for good progression
Depleting health can be frustrating at times
Combat can often feel a little too basic
Platforming aspects could do with more polishing