The art of remastering is something that is often taken for granted. It’s a practice that is known across most forms of media we enjoy, with the process becoming ever more prominent within the world of video games. As diverse as the term can be when it comes to gaming, there’s always one thing that happens as a result – preservation.
Since the dawn of the conventional computer game, tens of thousands of titles have found their way onto screens, bewildering us as they grow ever more complex. Whether we like it or not, remembering every video game in existence, especially at the rate we receive them, is a futile task.
Just like our memories, video games are volatile to the relentless passing of time, with many falling into the same obsolete abyss as the media they’re stored on, or the machine that brought them to life. Besides perhaps finding some of your old floppy disks in the attic, it’s often remastered versions of games that relink our memories, making their existence relevant again.
It’s for this reason that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d merely forgotten about The Eternal Castle after seeing the words ‘REMASTERED’ in its title – even though it didn’t actually exist in the first place.
The Eternal Castle is a video game with some clear historical artefacts, such as its primitive 2-bit CGA graphics, yet it wasn’t born during a time when this could be deemed impressive.
In fact, The Eternal Castle Remastered isn’t here to look impressive, it’s here to remind you of an ever-fading form of video game storytelling.
Claims that there was an original version of this game back in ‘87 might lead to some confused Google searches, but that’s all part of the point this game is trying to make.
There’s no doubt that The Eternal Castle Remastered is going to pull on the nostalgic heart-strings of many ‘80s PC gamers, with little quirks like the game booting up in DOS before reaching the main menu.
For others, however, this is going to be a strange journey through a high contrast landscape of unnerving calamity.
Regardless of your prior gaming experience, this tale begins with a resoundingly ominous note, asking players to pick between either ‘Adam’ or ‘Eve’, of which then leads to being gunned down as we attempt to land on a hostile planet.
While the game does provide some precursor text to the events about to unfold, it uses its retro stylisation in order to obscure readability, with the exception of one statement – “No matter what, I’m going to save her”.
Despite the fact that The Eternal Castle has an unconventional premise, its gameplay stays within the confines of the genre.
If you’re familiar with Éric Chahi’s cinematic platformers, Another World and Heart of Darkness, then you’ll feel right at home with this game’s mechanics.
Every step is perilous, with every death via a trap or ambush serving as a cautionary tale. In contrast to other similar games, The Eternal Castle provides various means of self-defence, with guns, axes, swords and enhancement items littering your path into the unknown.
After freeing your tangled parachute from a tree and dusting yourself off, the game provides players with a brief opportunity to get acquainted with your silhouette.
Savour these moments, as a monstrous encounter stands before you and the title screen, making an objective beginning to your quest.
As you probably guessed, the titular castle is where this adventure terminates, with most of the journey compromising of collecting scattered parts of the ship we arrived in.
Each area holding our glider parts hostage has bosses to fight, traps to avoid and a story to tell. From a civil war against fascism to unholy experiments within an eerie church, you’ll have to get involved in strange affairs if you want to reach that castle.
Running from left to right might be simple in theory, but each level’s vivid use of 4 colours can make interpreting what you see on screen into part of the challenge.
Just like when gazing into a dark room, it’ll take your eye’s some time to adjust to your surroundings, with any gaps in visual information being filled by the players own imagination.
Weirdly, less is more in this instance, as this inherent lack of clarity makes the world feel more mysterious. Of course, this won’t be for everyone, as things like traps can be admittedly annoying to perceive.
Each level accommodates checkpoints through meditation shrines, which are mandatory considering progression will rely on the hindsight of a previous fatality.
The Eternal Castle uses the same techniques to convey trap solutions as the like of Another World, having the player learn the hard way before knowing what danger to expect. Some might view this as cheap deaths that slow down the pace, personally I think it adds to the suspense.
Presentation is key within The Eternal Castle, with its endeavours to be a ‘cinematic platformer adventure’ being prioritised.
The visuals, while harsh and primitive, are a gorgeous example of what can be achieved through limitation.
The game’s soundtrack is also a masterclass in atmospheric sound design, with synth voices that send chills up your spine.
That being said, the very nature of this game might be the reason it fails to resonate with some potential players.
Clocking in at just around a couple of hours, The Eternal Castle may feel like a brief experience.
For those who instantly love this platformer, this is going to hurt, especially since the final boss in itself is slightly anti-climatic.
While there’s always the option to play the game again, picking up on anything you may have missed, or even having a go at the bonus ‘Lost Tales’ levels, you’ll still be longing for more.
Other than the game’s heartbreakingly short length, its only other flaws revolve round stability on the Nintendo Switch.
Whether or not these issues are user-specific, the game seems to have a tendency to crash during loading cycles, causing the game to close.
Additionally, there appear to be some occasional issues with slow down, which also lead to some audio issues.
These issues may be patched before the majority of players get their hands on The Eternal Castle, but they did impact the well-crafted immersion on display.
Unless you’re willing to cobble together an old DOS PC, or set up some kind of emulator, you’re unlikely to experience anything quite like The Eternal Castle.
Brief it may be, but this journey into a fictionally forgotten digital world is both a statement on game preservation and a love letter to development styles that have long since been forgotten.
THE VERDICT – 5/5
– Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
If you’re willing to let it, The Eternal Castle will take you on an experimental ride through time, conveying the potential thrills that someone might have had with this game over 30 years ago, if it actually existed. Providing that the bugs are patched, The Eternal Castle is a must-have for your Switch library, especially since there’s an option for cooperative play. This might be the remastering of a concept, rather than an actual game, but the end result is as clear as day, this game needs a sequel, now!
- Unique visuals and design
- Outstanding synth-wave soundtrack
- Intriguing and atmospheric levels
- Leaves you longing for more
- Occasional bugs and glitches