Creatures & Castles VX – Review



Title   Creatures & Castles VX
Developer  Hiive
Publisher  Hiive
Platform  PlayStation Vita
Genre  Arcade puzzler
Release Date  February 12, 2014

For the uninitiated, Creatures & Castles may appear to be another indie game to suddenly crack the Vita market but the truth is that it has actually been around for quite some time, with the original release being on iOS back in 2011.  This updated version has a number of changes from the original, with the most notable being that the object of the game is no longer to get through each level by drawing a path for your hero in advance, and then letting them loose to pick up the treasure and head for the exit without stopping or hesitating.  The basic premise remains but, thankfully, it’s far less touchy-feely and more hands-on than before.

There are so many nods to the arcade cabs of old with Creatures & Castles, from selecting between two characters at the beginning, choosing which of two scenarios to explore, right down to the fact that you don’t have infinite respawns and dying mid-level will mean having to start that particular scene from scratch.  While many new-school gamers may end up being put off by the latter of the aforementioned examples, there are those who see this process as being a necessary, and welcomed, evil.  As a puzzler, very few scenes are as straightforward as they’d have you believe from the outset and all too often death will come at the point where you suddenly realise the best route, so your next life will be spent attempting this new-found route… only to realise that there’s a better way to go about it.  Just as you die.

The premise of the game is very simple – you start at one end of each level, and have to reach the exit, picking up various coloured gems en route.  In your way, however, are all manner of nasty creatures who will stop at nothing to ensure that you can’t achieve your goal… except that’s not strictly true, because some of these creatures will actually stop moving if you travel too far from their position and only start moving along their preset path once again when you bring yourself within range.  These particular creatures are essentially moving obstacles, and if you forget for a second that they are ‘creatures’, you’ll realise that they’re glamourised environment objects.  In order to leave each screen, you must first pick up a golden key which is then used to unlock a chest, and once you empty the chest of its treasures, the exit will make itself known.

Invariably, the keys will be closely guarded by one of the many foul beings within the level, as will the chest, and so the puzzler/platformer favourite of watching movement patterns comes into play very quickly as you calculate the best way to get from the starting point to the key, then on to the chest, while avoiding being eaten by zombies and the like.  All of this takes place within a timer which, once it reaches zero, unleashes a Grim Reaper who will then run wild throughout the scene, trying to catch and kill you.  While he can be avoided by paying careful attention, the speed at which he moves coupled with the presence of all other enemies, does ramp up the difficulty of each level considerably.

In the true tradition of puzzlers, these scenes are rarely as straightforward as I may have led you to believe.  Sometimes there’ll be an area which appears to be impassable, or you’ll be trapped in a small area with walls all around you, in which case you’ll likely notice a bomb pick-up and an area of the wall with cracks showing.  Once you’ve picked up a bomb, it’ll show within your one-item inventory box and can be dropped at any point using the shoulder buttons, allowing you to quickly run for cover as the explosion takes down the cracked wall.  Similarly, areas which appear to be overrun with enemies can often be overcome by picking up a poison bottle and dropping it nearby so that any creatures in close proximity are temporarily thrown out of sorts, allowing you to sneak through them.  The poison does come with a time limit, however, so if you drop it and find that you have to pick something up from beyond the enemies before heading back through them, you need to make sure that you do so before the effect wears off or you’ll have instant death if they recover while you’re passing through.

Other environmental hazards also come into play, such as floor tiles which crumble as you pass over them to reveal a drop, so if you don’t think far enough ahead and have to double back the way you came, it may not always be possible and your only option in that case would be suicide to restart the level and make a mental note to take a different approach.  In some levels you’ll notice that certain tiles are coloured in a very specific way and passing over them will affect similarly coloured obelisks so getting through an area which is obscured by green obelisks will require you to seek out a green floor tile and trigger it to drop the obelisk to the floor.  In some cases, the drop is permanent until such times as you pass over another green tile to raise it once again, and sometimes it’ll rise of its own accord after a certain period of time.

The quicker you get through each level, the more chance you have of never getting to see that dastardly Grim Reaper fellow, and the higher your reward will be for early completion.  After each level has been completed, a summary screen displays your statistics, including how many of each gem you were able to collect, how quickly you managed to get through, your remaining lives, and how much you managed to score.  For that added ‘one more try’ value, not only does your final score taunt you but you’re given a shield rating out of three, so if you only manage one or two shields (based on a combination of your overall time and how many gems you picked up), you have the choice of either moving on or replaying the level to save face.

It may sound complicated, but the truth is that Creatures & Castles is one of those ridiculously simple games from days gone by.  There’s no story to follow, no levelling up or selecting how you want to progress your character as you go, and there’s no infinite respawns.  It’s a very simple case of ‘get the loot and get out of there’, with a modernised retro arcade-style and a difficulty level which ramps nicely as you progress and a limited number of lives to keep you going until you make that final, fatal mistake.

Creatures & Castles is yet another one of those great pick-up-and-play titles that we’re seeing so often with the Vita where you don’t need an entire evening to devote to gaming and can very easily drop in and out as the mood takes you.  Ultimately, it’s all about thinking ahead, taking mental notes of where you went wrong before, and just enjoying yourself while the rest of the world shoot the shit out of each other in Call of Duty or Battlefield.

Pros
  • Addictive as hell
  • Harks back to the arcade puzzlers of old
  • Simple enough not to annoy, but difficult enough to force you to strategise
  • Quirky
Cons
  • A lot of trial and error required due to lack of instructions
  • Earlier levels are probably far too easy, which means that the less patient player may get bored and move on, missing out on the better levels
Summary

If you're looking for a game which rides the fence of being ridiculously simple yet needing a bit of brain power, then Creatures & Castles is a good choice. The retro-style graphics are pleasant enough, the gameplay is straightforward, and there's enough of an addictive quality to steal an entire evening without you giving it a second thought. At the same time, however, the levels are short enough that you can also pick up and play without worrying too much about setting time aside. Ultimately, it's just a bit of fun and it handles that very well.


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One Comment

  1. Lorna says:

    I love that this looks and sounds like a very modern, spruced up Speccy or arcade game. The ‘you’re fucked if you do this’ thing may well enrage gamers now used to modern conveniences and no ‘dead-ending’, but it’s interesting to see it present here.

    Sometimes stripped back games can be just as enjoyable as ones with a ton of frills and features, and it sounds like a nice title, the likes of which seem to be thriving on the Vita at the moment.

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