I love playing old video games, and I doubt I’m in the minority. With old games making a comeback through remakes or virtual console, it’s really a great time to be a retro gamer. My problem is that I’ve played so many of them that there doesn’t seem to be much that I haven’t played. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll watch just about any youtube top ten list or retro game reviewer just so I can get an idea for something retro to play. There are some people out there that feel the same way as I do, though, that are capable of making new games that play like the old ones I loved. Locomalito is one such developer, one with the talent to distill the challenge and spirit of retro games into Maldita Castilla.
I was very hesitant to say that this game was a must-play this year, seeing as I only played it a few weeks ago. It hasn’t had the time to see if it stands up a couple of months down the road when its novelty has worn off. Just the same, when I look back at the games I’ve played this year I can see that Maldita Castilla stands out as something unique and special. As far as pure, fun gameplay goes, I haven’t played anything that could touch it.
Many of the games I’ve liked have dealt with strong storylines, or they’ve taken gameplay and turned it on its head. I like games that challenge what can be done with a video game, and I am always looking for new experiences. Maldita Castilla does neither of those things. It’s a straight action game, one that has a few screens of basic NES-era story before moving right into platforming and fighting monsters. It has no interest in furthering the medium or in telling a sweeping story, and therefore comes across as so strong and sure of itself that it’s impossible to put down. It just strives to be the most solid game it can be and it absolutely succeeds.
If you’ve been looking to experience what retro games were like or just have a craving to play one, this game is what you’re looking for. It has absolutely refused to give in to the pressures of modern gaming, and is hard in the way that all older games were hard. If you are willing to practice until your thumbs bleed, then there is a chance that you’ll get to see the end of the game. If you wear those thumbs down to the bone, you may see the hidden last level you get for finding all of the secrets. You will have to work for every single inch you move forward, but you will savor every step you take. Every bit of progress you make will feel like a victory against a stubborn, vicious opponent. Maldita Castilla will give you a feeling that no Xbox 360 achievement or PS3 trophy could ever hope to match: genuine accomplishment.
That won’t come from bad controls or unfair gameplay, though. Rather than create difficulty through cheap hits and deaths, Locomalito has balanced the game to perfection. This isn’t the kind of balancing where a small amount of persistence will get you through. I’m not talking about having to make an extra attempt or two at hard spots that occur every once in a while. Maldita Castilla demands that you play at your best on every single screen. You can’t get lazy, and there are rarely lulls in the action where you can take a break. Beyond the first few areas, there are only places that you’ve played so many times that you can coast through them and the hard spots. Like I said in my review not too long ago, this is the sort of game you can actually brag about your progress and findings to your friends.
It looks fantastic, too. I’ve seen a lot of work done with pixel art over the past couple of years, but few people seem to be able to make those pixels dance like Locomalito. Many of his backgrounds and characters show an amount of detail I’d expect of professional developers working at the height of the SNES. This game looks fantastic, and is full of hundreds of different details and elements. Very few enemies and locales are ever repeated for more than one screen, something that keeps the game from getting familiar but also provides the player with a visible reward for hard work. If you do well, you get to see the next crazy place that’s been cooked up to kill you.
Those graphics are just built to enhance the gameplay, though. Everything about Maldita Castilla serves the gameplay in some way. If it isn’t directly improving or helping the game, it isn’t there. Many game developers seem to have forgotten this one important aspect of game development, stuffing in clunky stories or useless mechanics to make the game seem bigger or more important. Few developers seem to be asking whether what they’re doing serves the core gameplay and makes it more fun, but Locomalito does.
Every aspect of Maldita Castilla has been honed and tightened up to keep the gameplay flowing and interesting. There are only a handful of moves because anything more would have needlessly complicated the game. There isn’t a huge story because it would take away from the time you have to play the game. Here you get a focused, secret-filled platformer that you can learn in seconds but take months to master. It’s a pure, fun game without any of the fat that would make it seem longer. It really is a great game, and given that I paid exactly $0 to get it, it spits in the face of all the bloated $60 messes that I’ve played this year. It is a testament to what you can create if you love the medium, and it should be played by anyone with any interest in games or the industry.
Maldita Castilla can be downloaded for free from Locomalito’s site.