I spent a large portion of my youth in dingy “gameshops”, pumping “two-bop” after ‘two-bop” into one arcade game after the other. And there were very few games that could gobble up your precious coins quite like Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Infamously unforgiving, the classic side-scrolling platformer required precision gameplay or it would punish you terribly as it ravenously consumed all your pocket money. If for some reason you crave some more of that vintage masochism – now luckily minus the real world change-chugging – then I have just the game for you.
Cursed Castilla EX (a remake of 2012’s freeware Maldita Castilla, with additional levels and content) is a 16-bit retro platformer by Spanish developer Locomalito that sees you as the loyal knight Don Ramiro, sent on a quest by the King of Castile to slay the demon horde that have invaded the kingdom. A demon has tricked the mourning Moura into transforming her tears into a key which unlocks a portal to the demon realm, and its up to you to send the demons back where they came from. And really you can ignore most of those previous two sentence as narrative is completely secondary to gameplay here (Heck, I genuinely did not even know my knight’s name until the King addressed him again at the end of the game).
This approach is of course extremely fitting as Cursed Castilla EX offers a pixel-perfect recreation of the vintage arcade game experience. There’s the aforementioned threadbare storytelling, the simplistic two button control scheme of just jump and attack, the “ROM OK” loading screen, the scanlines on the pixel graphics and the 8-bit synth music score, the “Continue?” screen asking you to insert more credits, and even the classic three-character high-score chart. As far as just the pure act of evoking retro arcade nostalgia goes, Cursed Castilla EX excels amazingly.
That being said, I almost felt this game to be more of a trip down meh-mory lane, as its opening level wasn’t so much a Ghost ‘n Goblins homage as it actually was Ghost ‘n Goblins minus the heart-decorated underwear. The knight tossing lances at undead that rise from the ground and the in-between levels progress map just felt a little too on the nose. Luckily Cursed Castilla EX soon finds its own groove, spicing things up with varied weapons choices (even if I could not see the value in some of them at all), bonus power-ups and unique levels filed with various monsters and ghouls all presenting their own challenges. And it will challenge you!
I definitely found Cursed Castilla EX easier and more forgiving than its inspiration, but that didn’t stop the occasional controller from coming dangerously close to being hurled through my TV as I died yet again due to just a pixel-small slip in judgement. A few of the bosses end-capping each of Cursed Castilla EX ‘s seven chapters will sometimes feel physically impossible to beat without divine intervention… until you take a moment to pause, study their attack pattern and then exploit that hole in their game. For casual gamers, this may prove too frustrating an exercise, compounded by the fact that if you stop playing while not having completed a level, the game will spawn you at the start of that level instead of where you were the next time you play. If you have the patience and hand-eye coordination though, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience to finally see that f$%ing spinning metal Don Quixote motherf*$%er piece of s#*t monster finally go up in goddamn flames… Sorry, I may still be holding in some frustrated rage.
And if you feel up to willingly putting yourself through that torture again, the game also offers some replay value in there being numerous secrets to find. [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] It also has multiple gameplay dependent endings, with one requiring you to find all five of Moura’s tears over the course of the game. Pull off this feat and you’ll be greeted by an additional chapter/ending. Finding all five of these tears is no easy task though and would possibly result in a couple of controller homicides.
But even without that unlocked final chapter, Cursed Castilla EX still offers about 3-4 hours of retro gameplay goodness, depending on how many times you die (I died A LOT!). And with an illustrated bestiary providing detailed histories of Cursed Castilla’s monsters and eight different graphical modes to play around with, the EX version offers even more content. Not that you’ll have much time to study the mythology behind these beasts as you’ll be too busy screaming your rage at the heavens as they kill you yet again.