Review

The Eternal Castle Remastered Review - Vivid Flashbacks

  • First Released Jan 5, 2019
    released
  • PC

You keep me hanging on.

Memories are notoriously unreliable. We frequently forget things that have happened or embellish our experiences with new details that never actually occurred. The conceit of The Eternal Castle is that it's a remaster of a long-lost classic from the late 1980s. The developers claim, with a nod and a wink, that they wished to preserve the "feel" of the original and keep its memory alive. When I first heard about it there was a moment when I thought, "This looks vaguely familiar. I think maybe I played it on my old 286?"

I should have known better than to trust my memory. The Eternal Castle isn't a remaster at all. There was no game with that name released in 1987--nor, indeed, in any other year of the late '80s and early '90s. Instead, The Eternal Castle, as a brand new game in 2019, is a retro throwback that's at once deeply indebted to the likes of Flashback and Another World while at the same time recognizant of how much game design has evolved over the past 30 years. The result is a cinematic platformer that doesn't quite play as those games actually did but rather feels like our hazy, unreliable memory of them. Cinematic platformers have come a long way since the '80s, but the genre's core tenets of prioritizing animation over input (that is, when you commit to pressing the jump button you have to wait for the complete jump animation to play out before you input another action) and populating its levels with novel set-pieces can be seen running through games as otherwise diverse as the original Prince of Persia in 1989 right up to Limbo, Deadlight and Inside.

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The Eternal Castle sees you play as the pilot of a crashlanded spacecraft, exploring a strange planet to recover the items required to fix your ship. The three levels that comprise the meat of the game--there's a fourth and final level unlocked later--transition through some remarkably varied scenarios. One moment you'll be sneaking past horrible creatures in a cemetery as flashes of lightning illuminate the night, the next you'll be climbing up and down the tattered framework of a bombed-out skyscraper. Each of the three levels has a broad theme linking one area to the next, but they don't rigidly adhere to any one setting. Indeed, one of the drawcards is the thrill of discovering what outlandish or perhaps utterly mundane (which I usually found even more memorable) situation you encounter next.

On a mechanical level, these stages are distinguished in terms of the type of experience they offer. One promises "low ammo" while another warns of "poor visibility," thus giving you some idea of what to expect and, crucially, what gear you might need to take with you. You can only carry two weapons at once, ammo is scarce, and clips can't be refilled. Deplete the six-bullet clip on your pistol and you'll have to swap it out for the next weapon you find, and if that's a shotgun with two shells then that's going to have to do the job. Every bullet counts.

This isn't a run-and-gun shooter, but in its weaker moments it can turn into a bit of a mash-heavy brawler. Some areas, and at least one boss fight, favor use of close-range melee weapons like the club, hand-axe or sword. Your moves are limited to a regular attack, block and charge and further constrained by a stamina meter, thus theoretically offering some sort of considered nuance to the combat. But in any instance where I was fighting more than one enemy I found it easiest to simply mash attack until everyone was dead.

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However, there were the odd occasions where my progress was blocked by a particularly tricky section, always combat-related whether it was being outnumbered by a group of thugs in a nightclub or being mowed down by some persistent gunners as I attempted to charge across the no man's land of a battlefield. Here I took advantage of the game's structure and backed out of the level to return to the hub and try one of the other two levels. This is effective because throughout the three levels are permanent gear upgrades--a backpack, for example, that allows you to carry more ammo or a bandana that somehow increases your strength and ups melee damage--so you may well find the assistance you need is in another castle.

Indeed, the game's structure is a good example of how this is very much a modern cinematic platformer. Not only can you choose which level to play, thus reducing the likelihood of getting stuck, but your loadout carries over from level to level and any major items you collect stay with you regardless of how many times you die or restart. Of course, if you return to a previously visited level you do have to start from its beginning, but there are convenient checkpoints throughout and you'll rarely lose more than a couple of screens' progress when you die as long as you stay in the level. Similar games of the '80s and '90s could be extremely punitive, forcing you to replay entire levels over and over until you nailed the perfect run. All of that frustration is completely alleviated here, thankfully, and if you're after a stern challenge then the New Game+ mode will provide it in spades.

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Part of the reason for my initial confusion over whether I had in fact played the "original" Eternal Castle is that this "remaster" apes the visual aesthetic of a late '80s PC game so well. Every scene is depicted in no more than four colors (black, white and just two others, typically a variation of blue and red) and each character or object within is composed of a collection of chunky pixels, mostly seen only in silhouette. It's not an exact match with the capabilities of CGA at the time--while plenty of games allowed you to boot up into one of the various four-colour modes I certainly don't recall any that switched palettes in-game and from scene-to-scene. And the quality of animation here is inarguably superior, in terms of the number of frames, than even something as revered as Prince of Persia. But the overall effect is uncanny. I felt like I had been transported back in time to a simpler, noticeably more cyan and magenta world.

The Eternal Castle is more than a mere nostalgia trip for aging gamers still hanging on to their 5.25-inch floppy drives. In many ways, it's just as modern as it is retro and more than capable of holding its own against its more illustrious contemporary peers. Luckily it's just my memory that isn't as good as it used to be.

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The Good
An excellent tribute to the best cinematic platformers of yesteryear
Stunning use of the CGA palette to create a beautiful, evocative alien world
Level design is varied and mysterious, leaving you wanting to know what's around the next corner
An appropriately warped synthwave soundtrack
The Bad
Occasional combat sections boil down to button mashing
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

When he was a kid David Wildgoose mapped out every screen from the original Prince of Persia on graph paper in order to beat the game within its time limit. A couple of years later he wrote a trial review of the same game to land his first paid job as a game reviewer. It's fair to say the cinematic platformer has had a profound effect on his career. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
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AdrianWerner

I really like this recent trend of devs exploring different styles of retro asthetics than 8/16-bit console ones.

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cjtopspin

""This looks vaguely familiar. I think maybe I played it on my old 286?""

I wonder how many of these readers were even alive when the 286s were state of the art? AMD and Intel were even battling back then:

"Intel's first 80286 chips were specified for a maximum clockrate of 4, 6 or 8 MHz and later releases for 12.5 MHz. AMD and Harris later produced 16 MHz, 20 MHz and 25 MHz parts, respectively."

Turbo button anyone?

Avatar image for loveblanket
Loveblanket

Gotta love the little kiddies here complaining about the graphics. It's like hating the pyramids because they're just so old. It's an art style. Those don't get dated and if you don't like it then why are you here? Do you walk into a restaurant you don't like and tell them you don't want their food and it sucks? That's just as dumb as commenting that you don't like the art style of a game you don't have any interest in. The irony is that people like that are too dumb to understand why they're dumb.

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ChrisAnetkaC

@loveblanket: Things sure look different from atop the high horse. "The Eternal Castle Remastered" may be an art style but indeed who would doubt all of those game developers back in the day would have opted for CGA rather than go for 4K had they been given the choice.

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Tarnalia

This kind of nostalgic gaming always ends up being over rated. Dated graphics is just not appealing.

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Loveblanket

@tarnalia That's your opinion. It's obviously not the majority opinion because these games sell. And art styles don't date, they're just different.:

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Gelugon_baat

The text looks terrible. The "t" in "can't" is barely readable as a "t", for example.

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KyleADOlson

"I certainly don't recall any that switched palettes in-game and from scene-to-scene."

It wasn't common, because if draw the sprites you expected them to be in one color. Or later on you just expected the old CGA users to get whatever four colors they got. There are cases where there would be switched, though. Here's a random example I found:
https://www.mobygames.com/game/amazon/screenshots

Avatar image for magnus303
Magnus303

I don't get this type of "nostalgia".

CGA at the time was far, far worse than anything even 10 years before it. 4 colors (3 really since 1 was background) and from the worst possible palette. It wasn't with gaming in mind, just probably for some business graphs. But I can't see why these colors were chosen for that either.

What makes this worse is that at the time of the original game, VGA-graphics modes were already established for a long time as the "default" mode. The ones who had to play in CGA or EGA were just the people who had really old PC:s and hadn't/couldn't upgrade the graphics card.

A prime example of this is the aforementioned "Prince of Persia", which looked absolutely great in VGA but must have stinked to high heaven in CGA-mode. That was the first game (in VGA-mode) that surprised me in the way that a PC could actually be used to play some decent games. It was even on level (or even beyond) the Amiga for that particular game.

The animation in this game resembles it a lot, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a VGA-mode for it as well, which makes this version even more strange.

Nobody in their right mind would choose to play in CGA at the time if they had VGA.

I get it that some old 8-bit games like for the Atari or C-64 or some arcade machines makes some people to feel nostalgic.

At the time they were cool and considered the best thing available.

Not the same with CGA-games, which never were someting that anybody longed for or desired. Just something they were stuck with due to the old hardware they owned.

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KyleADOlson

@magnus303:

In the year 1987 where this game is fictionally from VGA was new. EGA and Tandy both had compatibility issues, so creating a game in CGA would be the least risky option. So, yes, CGA would make sense.

If you don't appreciate the nostaligia, fine, either you didn't live through it or you just don't feel it. Some people love old TV and old art for the techniques available at the the time and some don't.

But you're not a very reasonable person if you can't appreciate the effort to recreate someone else's youth.

Avatar image for magnus303
Magnus303

@KyleADOlson:

Problem is that it is said to be from 1987, but everything besides the CGA-graphics is taken from later games. I immediately thought of Prince of Persia in the beginning. The animations almost seemed like a copy from it. And that was in 89 with VGA making it looking great. I also played Another World on the Amiga a couple of years later.

The point is, this experience couldn't take place in 1987, it had at least be around 89 for the level of animation that was like in Prince of Persia.

And when it comes to the nostalgia part, besides the "time disconnect" there were very few people around playing games on a PC at the time. Very few owned them at all since they were very expensive and anybody in their right mind would have chosen a monochrome monitor giving you 80 characters per line, i.e a useable PC for what it was used for at the time : Entering text and numbers and processing them in some type of way.

If they could afford this expensive PC, they could surely afford something like an Amiga or even a C64 at the same time and just hook them up to the TV for a much better experience that the PC couldn't match even with a VGA-card until the 90:s!

So the "target group" for this "nostalgic trip" must be extremely small!

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KyleADOlson

@magnus303:1st, you don't understand what the computers were like back then.

There were a lot of cheap 5150 clones on the market in late 1980's, even into the 1990's when these machines were real cheap. These machines did not have VGA, EGA, or Tandy. They had CGA, maybe a Hercules compatible CGA/MGA combo. For example check out the "Laser XT" from vTech (technically a 5160 clone)

The C64 was cheaper than the PC with CGA. People had the PC because they wanted to do business. I didn't know anybody with an Amiga. It wasn't popular around me. I knew plenty of people with PCs. This isn't some weird bubble. There's a reason why the Amiga didn't last.

This game is clearly a fantastic version of a CGA game. It's running in HD and the disk could hardly hold the number of animations they have.

You're right it's impossible. You win a prize. Did you know that Batman's toolbelt couldn't work either?

I'm being snarky, but that's what you're doing here, about something you think you understand, whether you were alive or just read about it. You're just wrong.

I spent a lot of time gaming in CGA from 1981 to 1990, and even after my family got a machine with VGA in 1990, I was still using the hand me down machine. If you want to take a look I can send you a photo. I can't run it at the moment, but I'll never give it up.

This means something to me. I'm sorry if it doesn't for you, but don't presume to know what means something to others.

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Magnus303

@KyleADOlson: Maybe it's the difference in where we live (or lived at the time). I live in Sweden and at the time I owned an Amiga and knew plenty of people who owned one Amiga or the Atari ST but no one who owned a PC in the 80:s. Yeah, they could be seen at schools in the late 80:s and libraries in the early 90:s. And it was always some type of VGA/super VGA affair.

I have read that the Amiga and C64:s weren't nearly as popular in the states as they were in Europe at the time and maybe PC usage was more popular where maybe some felt that it was the only option to play some games...

The PC really didn't become more common in Sweden in normal homes until, at least, Windows 3 came out in 1990 and even then in very few homes. Most people didn't own one until the Web became popular in the mid to late 90:s.

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Loveblanket

@magnus303 That's a completely different experience than America had. I had PC's from the early 80's on, Apple's were also popular, and there were games out for years on CGA, then EGA long before there was VGA. You got the technology much later than us if gaming on a PC didn't happen until the late 80s and early 90's.:

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MashedBuddha

@loveblanket:

PCs in the early 80s? Maybe you mean C64 - or to me anyways I always consider PCs to be IBM compatibles and on (late 80s and forward). Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Anyways I was a C64 kid, and I'm just curious - it was 16 colors wasn't?

I also spent way too much time playing Prince of Persia on a 486 ( I think).

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KyleADOlson

@magnus303: Ok, that makes sense (Say hi to my dad's family back in Sweden!). I was going to ask if you were in Europe, because the perspective is different.

Amigas were far more popular in Europe, PCs were more popular in the US. It was weird for me to find out later that Amigas had been so much more in use over there.

Even in America, though, Windows 3.0 spiked the usage of PCs. That's the point that finished off all the computers other than Macs

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lonewolf1044

@magnus303: I agree with you and for me I am sorry I have no intentions on getting this game because of the palette that was used I hated CGA back in the day and still do. EGA was my choice before VGA came about. It is not about the game itself as it is more about the type of graphics used.

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Loveblanket

@lonewolf1044 So you've taken all this time to argue about a game you're not interested in and aren't going to buy? Sounds like people in Sweden have too much free time on their hands. I should come to your work for no other reason than to tell you that I hate what you do and have no intention of giving you money for your work. That's just as dumb as your posts here.:

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Byshop

@magnus303: I'm with ya. This game looks like they've done some interesting stuff artistically but CGA was never something I ever wanted to return to. I had a PCjr when I was a kid, and the games it could actually run in 16 color were few and far between because the PCjr didn't support standard EGA, only it's own 16 color graphics version. I -hated- having to play games in CGA when I knew how much better they looked on everyone else's computer.

Moderator
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GirlUSoCrazy

Both CGA palettes? Awesome. I love the look of this game, and the animation is great.

The combat and character motion when getting around looks badass. I have to try this.

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Setho10

There are certain things that no amount of rose tinted glasses can help. Pre-VGA computer graphics were awful in the 80's and remain awful. Sorry, but this just looks ugly. The purple and baby blue that permeated the DOS games of the CGA era did not need to be revived. Ever.

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Loveblanket

@Setho10 They weren't awful when there was nothing else. They were amazing at the time. I'll never forget playing Ultima 3 for the first time on my PC and being blown away by an open world rpg. I didn't care if it was CGA at all.:

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GirlUSoCrazy

@Setho10: They were aweful but if it's what you had then you loved it. I have fond memories of playing Space Quest 3, Prince of Persia, Alleycat, and making my own games in BASIC while being jealous of sweet VGA everyone else had, I was playing well into the 90s because I was too poor (computers weren't $200 back then, maybe only your sound card cost that much) and even though I had consoles to play on they didn't share a library with PC, and with shareware you had tons of free entertainment as opposed to the $60-$80 console games. /End of cool story

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doorselfin

@girlusocrazy: My gosh I played so much Alleycat as a kid. I remember it being a frustrating game but it was all I had for a little while.

Staff
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GirlUSoCrazy

@doorselfin: Cheers!

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mdinger

As an old school gamer (as in the original Apple II) I didn't think any game would break my rock-bottom low standards for acceptable graphics in a video game, but I now stand corrected. There is utterly horrendous ugly, and here is The Eternal Castle doing a "hold my beer".

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salty101

Migraine: The Game

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lionheartssj1

This certainly does remind me of gaming on the 5in floppies. I will probably have to check this out.

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xantufrog

I love the bold colors and use of lighting. I'm sure this will get flooded with critiques of the graphics, but I think this, like Hyperlight Drifter, looks striking

Moderator
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GirlUSoCrazy

@xantufrog: Yes. Games are allowed to have style, nothing wrong with that. I approve.

The Eternal Castle Remastered More Info

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  • First Released Jan 5, 2019
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    7
    Average Rating1 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Leonard Menchiari
    Published by:
    Playsaurus
    Genre(s):
    Adventure