Fantasmas y Trasgos
As a 2D action platformer that features a sword-throwing knight and horror-themed enemies, Cursed Castilla EX takes clear inspiration from Capcom’s old-school arcade game Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Despite the obvious similarities, the sole developer “Locomalito” has refined Capcom’s punishing classic into an experience that is both contemporary and forgiving. Instead of playing as Sir Arthur, you control Don Ramiro, who sets out to rid evil from the lands of Castile, a world inspired by the 16th century Spanish novel, Amadis of Gaul. Although Cursed Castilla has previously launched as a freeware title, this EX version adds two extra levels along with bonus weapons, enemies, and bosses. The added cost is well worth it for any gamers who grew up with arcade cabinets.
Don Ramiro runs and jumps identically to Sir Arthur. He throws his sword in four cardinal directions, even sporting a similar throw animation to the good knight. The only difference is that he isn’t goofily reduced to his undergarments when he gets hit. You can collect various weapon power-ups that while stronger, come with their own set of rules – like the arcing axe or the boomerang-like sickle. A collectible subweapon provides additional assistance, such as the shield that grants you an extra heart and the winged boots that offer a double jump. Even without these upgrades, movement is smooth and never once felt clunky.
The level design pleasantly surprised me. Though the first level mimics that of Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins, subsequent levels take you on wagon rides, elevator shafts, mazelike dungeons, and dark caverns. Gameplay always felt novel thanks to the variety. The enemies were also varied, posing big threats in droves but never overly menacing. The boss fights were a different story and gave me a run for my money. The impressively animated bosses all have unique attack patterns and weak spots, and provide that perfect old-school thrill and pattern recognition that the classics had in bulk.
While clever enemy placement and bottomless pits ensure that Cursed Castilla is as difficult as the old-school games, it is also much more forgiving. Don Ramiro takes three hits before dying as opposed to Arthur’s two. There are numerous checkpoints throughout the decently lengthy stages. Most importantly, there are unlimited continues, and using one places you back at the checkpoint, not at the beginning of the stage like other more devious games. The only penalty is that you lose any upgraded weapons and subweapons, and your score resets to zero – a small price to pay for infinite lives. These design decisions ensure the game is always fair and rarely frustrating, even if you die often, which will happen if you’re like me.
As a result, it’s likely that you’ll reach the credits within two or three hours even if you struggle. Though it sounds short by modern standards, hidden endings artificially extend the game’s length, albeit in an annoying fashion. Getting the best ending requires you to find certain items that may either be hidden in obscure locations or locked behind a gate that you only have one chance to open. Since you cannot select levels, you’ll have to restart the game if you’ve missed even one of these valuable items. As much as I said the game is forgiving, fully completing it will test even the best. Otherwise, with its built-in speedrun timer and score system that punishes souls who dare to use continues, the game was designed for the hardcore arcade players in mind.
In fact, the 16-bit visual style resembles the games you might have found in early arcades. Composer Gryzor87’s synthesized horror chiptunes are similar to the great music you’d find in games like Castlevania and, of course, Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
Cursed Castilla EX embraces in the arcade games that inspired it, simultaneously differentiating itself as a modern, more forgiving take on the old-school quarter-munchers. The only major drawback is how getting the true ending forces you to locate obscurely hidden items, often giving you only one chance to obtain each one. Otherwise, it’s a short platformer that delivers solid level design and delightfully entertaining projectile-throwing gameplay.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally posted on DarkStation in August 2017 for the Nintendo 3DS version of Cursed Castilla EX.