Can you save the princess ? Will you get to the end of Castle Pain ? As an heavily armored knight you must succeed in various challenging platform goodness: Slalom between bird droppings, avoid giant fireballs, flee from the ghost, escape a giant octopus, brave blood thirsty bats and much more... Let the quest begin!
While I wonder if Platformance: Castle Pain was inspired by the trailers for the upcoming Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, this Xbox Indie manages to dash out the gate first and deliver all of the zooming 2-D sprite action before Konami. Magiko Gaming has fashioned a small gauntlet of traps and obstacles for its knighted hero to overcome in order to save the stock Video game princess locked away deep inside Castle Pain, a journey which will have players wondering if she's really worth the headache a la Dan the Man.
The knight enters the framed arena on the bottom-left corner and must work his way around the castle with jumping being his only means to avoid all threats in the game. Perhaps our hero wears the armor solely to weigh down his leap height to avoid ceiling concussions because it certainly provides no protection from the buzz saws, bats, arrows, and other entities which will take him out in a single strike. Platformance is a game a game of avoidance where dying a lot is a way of life -- the princess will even lightly admonish the hero for dying to much on his way to save her. Even with all of the deaths, check points and infinite lives keep things from getting too frustrating, and although a game over situation can still occur via contact with the large ghost which trails slowly behind the player, Platformance is a short enough game which should take no more than a few minutes to get through.
Castle Pain is chock full of excellent sprite art, and the chiptune soundtrack compliments the retro feel. Platformance is a great old school platformer, and despite its abbreviated length, multiple playthroughs and the added challenges which come from the higher difficulty settings are sure to extend the game's life. As the player cranks up the difficulty, one sickle becomes two and then four. The crab in the water section on Easy is joined by a seahorse on Normal and even a octopus on Hardcore. Obstacles become faster, patterns more challenging and strenuous to avoid, and the new additions and behaviors can go a great ways into keeping Castle Pain an involving experience so long as the player scales the difficulty accordingly. The person who abuses the infinite tries and checkpoints playing Castle Pain simply to complete it may find it lacking, but it is designed to be completed without dying, and those who understand this will enjoy the title while others disregard it as simply candy.
Still, Platformance would make for some sweet candy thanks to its imaginative visuals and detailed artwork. Although the individual sprite artwork would not seem amazing alone, the game is really something to behold fully zoomed out. The frame itself as exquisitely molded, and watching the entirely of Platformance: Castle Pain run within its confines and still be playable is quite impressive. The game feels akin to a notebook sketch come alive, a wanna-be level designer's dreams fulfilled well beyond the paper's pink margin lines. The coloring and seemless transistions between the "rooms" are superbly done, and the sparse animation still manages to convey personality. The expressions on the defecating birds and shifting octopus tentacles are nice touches, and I love how the same fireballs rocketing from the geyser early on in the game are made into yet another challenge later on. There are a few spots in Castle Pain where single elements such as the fireballs are revisited during the quest, and it goes a way way into tying everything together.
Platformance: Castle Pain isn't all lollipops and rainbows as it does suffer from somewhat looser control than I'd like along with some minor glitches which keep the game from feeling perfect. The hero tends to slide to a stop when at rest, and sometimes he'll collide into a ceiling corner which appears he should have cleared. Occasionally the knight will continue sliding along a platform he has leapt to without every stopping -- particularly annoying on the blade-lined platform in Hardcore mode -- and there's a large moving block in the lower righthand corner of the map which reacts unpredictably at times, going so far as to shoot the knight up straight through it. Nonetheless, these control issues in no way stop the game from being playable and enjoyable, and players will adapt to such in short order.
In addition, the lack of leaderboards or statistics of any kind, local or otherwise, is sad for a game of this sort. The game saves nothing; I'd like to see it remember how many times I died and how fast it took me to get through each of the difficulty settings. I'd like to think we're beyond having to take a picture of a game and submit it to Nintendo Power for bragging rights. That said, it's nothing that'll stop me from enjoying Magiko Gaming's Platformance: Castle Pain, the first entry in what I hope becomes a series of similar, excellent indie platformers. I truly love the design and style, and the game is a fun and challenging bite-sized experience which deserves all the purchases it can get.