Lost Castle is a roguelike beat-em-up from Hunter Studio. At first blush, the game appears to be poorly made, but exploring the game reveals more fun than I’d expected to find. Although Hunter Studio has not created a game since Lost Castle, I would pay attention to whatever they create next.
The story of Lost Castle, or what passes for one, is more than you’d find in most roguelikes. An evil warlock has summoned demons in an attempt to rule the world, but as you’d expect, the demons have no desire to be controlled and immediately kill the warlock, gaining control of the titular castle. This is told largely through in game cutscenes, using the same 2D models and movement from the rest of the game. The player, an adventurer, invades the castle to find treasures and glory, but is immediately defeated and imprisoned, as part of the story. This is where players gain control of their character; each game starts in a cell and a staging area – which serves as a lobby for multiplayer games – and then marches on to tackle the horrors of the castle.
Although the game certainly gives more story than I’m accustomed to, it feels largely unnecessary. Starting the game without any of the information about the warlock or the demons would have given the game a more mysterious tone, allowing players to uncover the secrets of the demon-infested castle themselves. To make matters worse, the “demons” of the earlier stages are hardly what one would call demonic: slimes, goblins, and rock-monsters are scattered throughout the first two stages, of which there are five. Understandably, the harder and more intimidating opponents are waiting in the upper echelons of the castle, but this only drives home the point that the story skews the player’s expectations.
The combat, and the weapons by extension, are the shining point of Lost Castle. Each character is randomly assigned a weapon, and can earn more chances at different starting weapons. So far, I’ve encountered pistols, a pair of axes, staves, broadswords and more. Hunter Studios boasts over a hundred weapons in the game and they deliver. An important note, however, is that many weapons will fall into one of a few archetypes. I found several different broadswords, all of which possessed the same basic combo, although their stats and special attack can differ. Lost Castle is a game which, although the story and music paint a grim picture, can be silly; I once found a broadsword type weapon which was actually a large fish.
Although there are a variety of weapons, both individually and in regards to weapon types, the game is imbalanced in a way that may not be a problem for players. Broadswords are strong but slow weapons, requiring thoughtful combat instead of mindless button-mashing. Dual axes are the opposite, with faster, weaker attacks, which allow newer players to play without much foresight. Staves, however, are the reigning supreme champion weapon of all time. Using the basic weapon combo, staves create six damaging orbs in a short amount of time, allowing the player to quickly reposition. In my time with the game, it became apparent that staves were far stronger and more useful than any other weapon in the game. Melee weapons constantly kept you in a dangerous area, susceptible to attack, and bows and muskets didn’t fire quickly enough to be worth the ranged advantage. If I didn’t spawn in with a staff, or receive one from the blacksmith, I would simply start over until I did, which illustrates how overpowered the staff was. Again, this is not a problem if you don’t mind imbalance or using the same weapon each time, but in a game that promotes over a hundred weapons, it’s a shame to only want three or four of the bunch.
Lost Castle includes elements from both the roguelike and beat-em-up genres, but the underlying mechanic is heavily RPG-influenced. As players mow down enemies and destroy bosses, they drop coins and souls. Coins act much as they do in any other game, usable at shops or with NPC’s that promise vague rewards for money. Souls, however, are much more important in the long run; after every run, players are taken to a screen which resembles a tech tree with three paths. Here, players can spend their souls to unlock a blacksmith, a rogue, and a pharmacist, which all give the player more gear or weapons to start with. Investing more in each of the three trees will give players starting bonuses and eventually passive abilities which will help players progress further through the game. These bonuses become more expensive to unlock with each additional upgrade purchased, however, and even a longer run through the five stages will only yield enough souls for a few upgrades. Worse still, the earlier upgrades give barely noticeable rewards, like a single percent increase in your critical attack chance, or a single point of attack or defense. Given enough hours, a dedicated player can unlock everything on the upgrade tree, but the game doesn’t give enough incentive to push through that effort.
In addition to the weak story, the game’s art style leaves something to be desired. Characters are all portrayed as 2D, flimsy-looking cartoons, and the environments are all similar in aesthetic. The player character is spawned with random hair, eyes, and skin color, leaving nothing up to the player. Allowing the player to choose their appearance would have allowed them to connect with the character more, especially in multiplayer games with four randomly generated avatars running about. Despite the flat aesthetic, Hunter Studio did a great job of designing the five stages, each level has a definite theme, both visually and musically, and the monsters found within accentuate those positive aspects. Spending more time with the game has allowed the art style to grow on me, but it can definitely feel grating to a fresh pair of eyes.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing Lost Castle and other similar games, it’s that roguelikes seem to excel in their soundtracks. This makes a good deal of sense; having to replay the first few levels or areas of any roguelike would be much more difficult and annoying if the music wasn’t pleasant. Lost Castle is no exception, the first aspect of the game I noticed upon starting it was the song, which sounded appropriately haunting, almost straight out of Castlevania. Every boss fought and stage explored was accompanied by the perfect music for the occasion, leaving me with the impression that the music was absolutely the highlight of this game.
Hunter Studio has not yet abandoned the title however, they recently added voice chat in online play. The problem is that, although I was playing for hours, I only ever found a single online lobby, and nobody joined when I created my own. Lost Castle is a fun game when the stars align, but the lack of a playerbase for co-op really hinders its success. Unless you have friends to play local or online co-op, your 9.99 USD is better spent elsewhere. You can buy the soundtrack for 1.99 USD though.
- Tight Controls
- A Large Variety of Items and Weapons
- Weapons are imbalanced
- Inactive community; hard to find lobby
- Weak Story