The indie gaming scene is currently going through somewhat of a revival for the graphic point and click adventure game. In what has been a steep decline for nearly the past two decades, the genre is now seeing an outpouring of titles thanks to successful Kickstarter appeals and most recently ‘The Walking Dead’ winning multiple game of the year titles. It seems then that Gondefire have picked the perfect time to introduce fans and newcomers alike to their debut graphic adventure title, 'Castle Dracula'.
The question then is have these developers managed to adapt this granddad of the adventure genre to a modern age of teabagging and mobile gaming; or have they shunned the complexity of modern gaming to remind us of a simpler time of story and puzzle based adventuring?
Castle Dracula sees you take control of a nameless husband in search of his abducted and heavily pregnant wife. While not breaking any new ground in narrative storytelling; it proves adequate in quickly placing you uninvited, outside Dracula’s castle. The game manages to capture the tone of a Stoker-esq vampire tale with an impressive art direction and an appropriately haunting soundtrack to accompany your footsteps through Count Dracula’s Castle.
The gameplay is straight forward enough. There are no tutorials and you are placed directly into the action. Controls reside primarily on the point and click premise with three separate icons to determine your actions; movement, utility and loot. These work well enough and you will soon be raiding Dracula’s cellar for mop buckets and encountering all the usual suspects, determined to hinder you in your attempt at rescuing your family.
Don't come between a man and his mop bucket...
The writing is not quite up to par, solely because certain words just seem to break the mood. As the narrator opens with a description of Castle Dracula's villages being ‘bothered’ by the sight of it, I couldn't help but think of Little Britain. This choice of inappropriate lexicon continues to pop up during dialogue, but the script is rescued by a superb voice acting cast. The lead actor really sold me with a dramatic and emotive performance that fits quite well into the style of the game. The visuals are perhaps Castle Dracula’s most redeeming feature.
The rustic stylised artwork contains a level of detail that makes the environments seem believable, which is required as there are no animations in this game, just pure artwork. This makes it all the more important that these visuals convey a sense of atmosphere and terror, while the soundtrack always seems appropriate and provides a sense of urgency during static boss battles. There is always a danger of falling into the realm of cliché and unintentional parody when dealing in a genre as abused as the gothic vampire. However the material resides within a safe distance of not venturing too far into territory outside what we expect with a Transylvanian vampire tale and doesn't take itself too seriously (campy butler I'm looking at you). The result is a title that is comfortable with its rather simplistic design.
Gorgeous artwork is favoured over animation in this title.
While there are many things this game does right, however I feel there are equal areas where it falls short on from a design and practical viewpoint. Firstly the bossfights lack any sort of urgency, as there is no penalty for running away when you realise you have stumbled into them unprepared. This was also a major area for glitches in this early pre release build (which hopefully is fixed by final release), whereby I would use items incorrectly, thus losing them, while still needing them to progress. The game also lacks any sort of penalty for dying. The developers have placed traps for those (like me) who click on everything on screen in the hope of finding useful items. This might have increased the difficulty, but since you instantly restart to the point when you died, the fear of making a mistake by clicking everything on screen is lost. This could be rectified by either revising the save feature to a hardcore mode whereby each death would restart the game, or having a limited number of continues. This would add a sense of trepidation in a game that so far relies on the player struggling with the game's puzzles to progress, rather than the fear of dying. The absence of tool tips for items received was another minor gripe that would help eliminate some player confusion about how to progress, while also adding a layer of interactive detail that the game sorely needs.
Castle Dracula is incredibly short, due to the lack of difficulty and also being fairly simple to complete. I would estimate it taking no more than an hour or two to fully complete. Side missions would have been a nice diversion along with a few extra items to slow down progression. However at what I believe will be a retail price of around $2.99, these criticisms become a lot more bearable and with this episodic format, I'm hopeful for improvements in the next instalment.
Gondefire have released an impressive debut title in Castle Dracula, managing to create an entertaining and enjoyable experience. Not a perfect first release, its gothic charm and inexpensive price make it a very appealing and attractive buy for those interested in the horror genre of point and click adventure games.
A pre-release version of this game was provided for review purposes by Gondefire.
The game will soon be available for PC/Mac/iOS/Android devices, with console versions apparently in the works.