Mystery Castle is a surprisingly awesome throwback to classic puzzlers and it certainly deserves your attention.
Game – Mystery Castle
Platform – Xbox One
Developer/Publisher – Runestone Games
Release date – May 6, 2016
Price – $9.99
Meet Monty, the “Wizard-in-training and fancy hat owner”. The main character immediately runs into Stumpi, a treasure grubbing dwarf and survivor of a vicious attack on the castle. He is willing to pay to have Monty clear out his dungeon (spoiler… he never pays). Stumpi is harboring a treasure chest with the most valuable treasure that dwarves can possess: an artifact of unmentionable magical power (or not). He’s one of the several story arc characters that are placed at the locations where Monty has to defeat powerful enemies through puzzle and strategy.
The premise in Mystery Castle is quite simple. Monster Barons, embodiments of pure evil, threaten to destroy everything sacred, spreading chaos and terror across the land. Collect the five items in each level to unlock the dungeon door and progress to the next area. These items are area specific and are always scattered through the level’s puzzle obstacles. Unlock all levels in a ‘world’ and unlock the boss. It’s a basic premise rife with off-beat humor and well-crafted puzzles.
The jokes in the game are pretty humorous. At one point, Monty asks Stumpi, “Can I push two boxes together?” Stumpi replies, “The boxes are pretty heavy… and you’re pretty fat, so no, you cannot.” They go with tubby jokes throughout for Monty on the victory screen and tutorials (it gets a bit old), but it’s all light-hearted and definitely funnier if you’re 12 or younger. But as immature as some of the jokes are in Mystery Castle, the game is going to be pretty challenging for a younger crowd.
The game is mostly a block-pusher platformer (remember Shove It!?), and the player controls Monty through trial and error puzzle solutions. Right away, without being overtly difficult, the player will recognize that Mystery Castle is designed to challenge. The puzzles are intricate, and they generate pit the player in situations that lead them to their own demise. Since most bricks can either fall off the map or get stuck against walls, there will be a lot of restarts until the player gets the hang of the level. One gripe is that Monty is a magician without any real powers (transmogrification aside). Mystery Castle would have benefited so greatly from a rewind feature that didn’t require the player to restart an entire level because of one mistake. Alas, some levels become much longer than necessary after the grind. Lastly, some levels are purposely designed to require a punch of leg work, and it sort of diminishes the entertainment value. Sure, the puzzles are a challenge, why should Monty suffer a back and forth walk across the level at an excruciatingly slow pace (Monty is fat so he slowly walks.
Mystery Castle is a great emulation of classic games. Down to the smooth and detailed sprite work all the way through the 8-bit score, it feels like a throwback to old school gaming. It’s challenging puzzles make for a great onetime playthrough, and it definitely has enough puzzles (over 150) to keep a player busy. Xbox One owners who love puzzle platformers should definitely try this one out. It’s not the biggest magical experience on the console, but it’s definitely robust… Just like Monty.