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Dark Castle

Genre: Action Developer: Three-Sixty Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1 Released: 1991

E.A thought that they were too good for Sega. When they released a game on their system, not only did they create horrible flipside manuals and a defiant box design with the horrible Electronic Arts logo, but they also had really ugly carts. These cartridges were twice the size as normal Mega Drive carts and had that awful yellow tab sticking out. The reasons why E.A had to be so stubborn are unknown but they seemed to be so busy being different that they actually forgot to put the quality into the games they were making. It’s true!

Dark Castle is the best example of E.A’s laziness in the 16-bit years. Dark Castle isn’t just the worst E.A game, but I believe it to be the worst Genesis game of all. Based on a cheesy medieval story involving the Black Knight hanging around inside his castle- which is very dark- you play the role of a blonde-haired, scrawny peasant, who sounds like a perfect candidate to go and fight the forces of evil. Armed with a sack filled with rocks he goes forth to destroy the forces of evil. Our hero will have to find keys lying around the Dark Castles to access new areas and avoid countless beasts.

Your quest begins in the hallway of the Dark Castle and you can pick a door to go through. Each is an entry way to a phenomenally hard level through which you will have to “controlâ€? (baha) this wimp. This is a challenge in itself, because after playing the game for a minute you’ll notice how poor the controls are. Firstly, when want to attack an incoming enemy- like a bat that swoops down from the rafters- you’ll have to throw a rock at it. This may sound easy but you have to use the D-pad to slowly raise your arm in the right direction in order to aim. It really isn’t so simple, mainly because the guy takes too long to raise his arm, leaving himself open to attacks from faster enemies.

It gets a lot worse. The Black Knight has nothing to worry about because the hero is more of a threat to himself. Firstly, you’ll notice that the room has stairs, so it seems logical enough to take your guy up them. After a few steps there is at least an eighty percent chance that the guy will just keel over and roll down the stairs. You’ll be scanning the screen for the bat that probably flew down or the rat that hit your leg but you’ll find nothing. Your character will fall down the stairs by himself and lose a life. Some areas of the floor are uneven but the difference is miniscule. A normal hero would stride over it with no problem but yours falls down every time.

Our man will eventually manage to conquer the terrifying obstacles of the stairs and the floor and go on to something more daring. Some rooms have large gaps in them, and to cross them you have to grab the swinging ropes. Most heroes could manage this in a snap but not this guy. When you try to jump, you’ll end up grabbing onto the rope (or so it seems) but fall to your death anyway.

These will be the words in your mind as you try to overcome the deadly inanimate objects and tiny enemies in Dark Castle, the most common moving hazards being rats and bats. Rats lurk on the ground and are impossible to hit because of the up-down control scheme that EA brilliantly cooked up. Bats are even worse, as they can fly right over you. Just when you’ve managed to aim your hand at the bat it’ll attack you from behind. Even worse, there are these eyeball creatures with little arms and legs hopping around, usually hiding on the overhead rafters. It takes ages to kill them and when you get to them the mixture of your stress and the rusty controls will result in a sure death. You can only take one hit before dying, so if an enemy even strokes you you’ll die instantaneously and will have to start form the beginning of the room again.

Everything is small, really small, and all of the sprites move like rusty robots. Our hero is just a set of coloured squares which looks remotely like a human and with very choppy animation. Enemies follow this trend of looking very choppy and are so poorly drawn that they look like sprites from an SG-1000 game. Smaller enemies are a nightmare- rats are basically little brown balls and bats are black balls with wings. It’s a disgrace as you can fairly say that I’ve seen Master System games with better graphics than this. The backgrounds are just gray outlines of the castle walls and a few outside levels have a few green and black colors that laughably attempt to create a spooky feeling outside, but the lack of detail and bland design is pitiful.

You’ll probably be astounded to discover that Dark Castle has poor sound as well! It has one song which loops for the entire game. It’s something that everyone has heard, the familiar organ music that made Dracula famous. It does sound okay the first time you hear it but after the third time it gets really irritating.

Dark Castle isn’t just a bad game, it is THE bad game. As a collector, I bought it because I knew that was doing to suck and I wanted to experience it firsthand. The gameplay could have been fun if EA had decided to actually work on the game, as the concept was reasonably sound. The controls are pathetic and the fact that you control a complete muppet who can barely walk up steps is just ridiculous. This game is great as a paperweight, a doorstop, or something to prop up a broken table leg, but as a game it’s the poorest of the poor.

SCORE: 1 out of 10

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2 Comments

  1. kukuro says:

    Maybe the best Megadrive/Genesis game I’ve ever played (and trust me I’ve played a LOT of them). The atrocious Dark Castle is one reason why EA is often considered as a sport games-only publisher. Horrible gameplay with laggy and bad mapping controls, no explanations of whatever is going on the screen (numerous cheap deaths included) and no replay value AT ALL. CONCLUSION: 1/10

  2. goldenband says:

    I’ve recently beaten this on all three difficulty levels, and personally, I’d give it 2/10. As a product, it’s essentially a complete failure: it never should have been ported to the Genesis to begin with, and they messed up many things in the process. The game is inexcusably short, terribly outdated, and — especially at first — incredibly frustrating.

    But the thing is, the original source material was pretty good for its time, and that shines through somewhat. Once you get the hang of the game’s horrible jumping algorithm, and learn a few other tricks, it opens up a little bit and the frustration factor drops dramatically. Honestly I had a lot of fun beating it, though obviously the game’s reputation contributed to that — when you know you’re taking down one of the most reviled and (allegedly) ball-bustingly difficult games in the Genesis library, it’s kind of a rush.

    Anyway, 2/10. But not quite 1/10, because no game I actually enjoyed gets 1/10 from me.

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