Back-tracking with purpose in Cuckoo Castle

cuckoo castle gbjam4 impressions gd

I’m not exactly sure what it is about these GameBoy Jams that brings about games involving animals and mysterious castles, but Cuckoo Castle is now the second I’ve encountered. The previous one was Meowgical Tower. It’s not that I’m anti-animals or mysterious castles, but I’d like to see a castle exploring a mysterious animal next year to mix things up when the inevitable GameBoy Jam 5 drops.

That said, the protagonist of Cuckoo Castle isn’t ultimately an animal, but the castle you explore is filled with an assortment of antagonistic critters, like sewer rats and swooping bats, as well as spirits of the undead. Eventually, you get to decide between controlling three different adventurers: a lonely knight with a massively huge sword, a fireball-tossing witch accompanied by the cutest pixel kitty cat ever, and some kind of bug thing that likes to dig. Overall, it’s a bite-sized Metroidvania that, when it comes to the boss battles, can be difficult in spots, but moves like hot butter off bread and feels massive despite being relatively contained.

Gameplay is as follows: leave the empty village and enter the castle in search of villagers while also killing monsters and opening up more of the map. You can recover your HP at pig statues, as well as teleport back to the village to speak with those you saved. Some will offer clues, and you can also switch between protagonists in the village. The lonely knight reminds me greatly of how your warrior moved in Rogue Legacy, with his mighty sword held aloft. The witch can jump higher, but her attacks deal less damage and it takes some learning to grok how her fireballs move with a curved trajectory. I did not try out the bug thing. As you get further through the castle, you can hit levers to open up shortcuts, which makes back-tracking to the village not so bad.

Once again, I’m astounded at the tech here. I don’t remember actual GameBoy games looking this good, moving this fast, and that might be because nothing back then is as solid as the stuff being produced these days to resemble the age-old adventures. The animations in Cuckoo Castle–which I’ve seen hilariously mispronounced in a few YouTube vids–are clean and full of character, and the lighting, much like with The Night That Speaks, helps hide things in the shadows like how things in shadows should be hidden. Plus, pixel kitty cats abound back in the village. But seriously, give it up for the developers, especially when you consider the time-crunch this was produced under

I was hoping to kick Cuckoo Castle‘s butt and put it on my growing list of games completed for the year, but alas, no. The second boss–or it could be the last boss for all I know–is Dracula, and I just couldn’t best him. Granted, I only tried with the kitty-loving witch and not the warrior, but I already removed the game from my laptop. Oops. I tried looking up online to see if anyone gotten further than me in video form, but it’s fairly barren out there. In the end, I rescued six villagers and eviscerated a giant sewer rat. You can try and do better than me by grabbing a free copy of Cuckoo Castle or playing it in your browser over this way.

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