Wot I Think: Castle – Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

By John Walker on June 25th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Oh Richard, you're so smooth.

I am not here. I’m back to full-time on RPS in a month, in the meantime up to all manner of secret projects the likes of which would make you far too excited. And in my time away, I’ve not had cause to worry one bit about my co-owned business, in the hands of my phenomenally talented colleagues. Well, until I noticed something pretty serious had happened. A Castle-based PC game had been released on Steam, and not A SINGLE WORD has been written about it. WHAT IN THE?

Castle is, without doubt, a television programme on the television. But more importantly, it’s utterly, wonderfully daft. The tale of Nathan Fillian’s millionaire Richard Castle, crime writer turned crime solver, teaming up with New York’s finest via his connections through the mayor. Each week they solve a murder, and have hijinks along the way! Earlier series were fun, funny, and packed with references to Firefly, and it muddled along in a pleasantly gentle way. But last/this year’s season six has taken things to a whole new level, that means anything tangentially related to it deserves a look. Except for, it turns out, this game.

Season six of Castle didn’t so much jump the shark, as line up miles of rows of the aquatic beasts, and then fly over them in a rocket ship. Whereas previous series had seen Castle always suggesting an outlandish and unrealistic means or motive, the most recent run saw those things actually being the case. One episode genuinely confirmed within their universe the existence of time travel. I imagine you are now checking to see if Castle is on Netflix. It is not. Now you are torrenting Castle.

Sadly the game possesses none of this. In fact, throughout what is a thinly embellished hidden object game, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Castle: Never Judge A Book By Its Cover might not even be an officially licensed game. (I’m sure it is, I stress for legal reasons, but it sure as heck goes a long way to looking like it’s not.) There’s no actual appearance of the cast, either in film, photograph or even audio form. Instead it’s pretty crudely rendered drawings of people who look a bit like the Castle cast, their words silently written on screen. It doesn’t even have the theme tune! Seriously, that’s pretty much why I installed the thing – to enjoy the moment where it cut from the game to have a fountain pen fall past the New York skyline and stab the ground to form an A, DUR DUR DURRR DURR DUR DURRRRR.

Okay, I admit, I was assuming the game was going to be shit, and was hoping to write about how shit it was for comic effect. But then it was a hidden object game, and, well, shut up, I like them. Not this one, not very much, but I can’t help being drawn in to the nonsense of trying to find the bowling pin in the mess on screen. Fortunately, Castle: Blah De Blah is a very bad hidden object game, so I shall still yet write about how shit it is.

I argued a few years back that the evolving nature of the hidden object game was likely to herald a return for the point and click adventure. I think you can crown me King Right Of Rightland, and bow before me. But this silly old rubbish from whoever Gunnar Games are is very much stuck in that missing-link phase, the ugly, malformed mess of a game struggling to crawl on land, its weak lungs dragging air in through barely adapted gills, neither elegant swimming fish nor gaily leaping lizard. Hidden object screens are tied together by scrappy old bits of string in the form of murder mysteriarising. There’s a murderer about, killing off authors and critics and publishers or something, and you’re off to find out who before the credits don’t roll and it snaps abruptly back to the intro screen.

Unlike EVERY SINGLE episode of Castle, the killer isn’t the slightly-too-famous-for-that-tiny-role person we met in the first ten minutes who then wasn’t mentioned again for a while, so points for originality there. Instead, it’s the person it would have been in an episode of The Mentalist (before The Mentalist went its own direction of stark raving mad this year, I should specify). It’s a subtle distinction. You won’t care.

So you have to gather objects for your inventory (a word I’ve realised that after fifteen years of writing about adventure games, I still don’t know how to say out loud), and then click them on a thing elsewhere. At which point they will be thrown from your inventory, because what are the chances you’re going to need a screwdriver again? Oh, one hundred percent. Every chapter.

There’s some vague stab at laboratory work, and interrogating suspects, but these don’t even manage to match the heady heights of the execrable CSI games, and for the most part you’re clicking the air conditioning dial on the washing machine, or adding a type writer key to a door lock combination which opens up a puzzle so tedious it’s far more entertaining to sit still and watch the “Skip” timer fill up than actually try to solve.

WAIT, WAHHH?!

But I love the world this game is in! It’s so fantastically strange, a universe that only exists in these casual proto adventures, where ordinary people hide keys for their sock drawers in elaborate puzzle boxes buried at the bottom of the sea. In one scene you need to go into a bar’s toilet, because a suspect is in there. So you’ll need the key. But the barman, he doesn’t have one. It’s in the basement. He gives you a special lever to open the basement door.

The restroom key, it turns out, is kept behind a metal door embedded into the wall, sealed by a mechanism that requires you to slot in a metallic family crest. The crest is hidden in two parts, one behind an intricately complex drawer-opening puzzle, the other secreted in the back of a clock, stapled in place on the inside of the backboard.

At another point, for barely comprehensible reasons, you need to get a can of fizzy pop from a soda machine. It costs two dollars. The only way to get two dollar bills is to dig one out of a flower bed, and recover another from a inside broken washing machine in a locked basement in a different part of town, missing both its dial and drainage hose.

So yes, it’s awful. But the sort of awful I played straight through in four hours, on a day that provided me with stomach ache. Because it’s compelling. Not to find out who the murderer was – that felt wholly irrelevant. And, it turned out, not because it was Castle – the game may as well have been about the cast of Balamory for all it added to the canon. But simply because it was there, and there were trowels to find.

Don’t buy Castle: Thing-A-Me-Do, because it doesn’t deserve it. But do check out some properly decent casual adventures, like Big Fish’s wonderful Drawn series, or any of SpinTop’s eight billion equally great no-frills hidden object games. Right, I’m going back to my secret projects. Which today is grumbling about stomach ache. Sorry for the interruption.

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42 Comments »

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  1. Imbecile says:

    Actually Castle is on Netflix – albeit only series 1 and 2. And yeah, its hokum – but fun, easy watching.

    • sweetjer says:

      you may not know this buy Netflix streaming library is region-specific. That is to say, the UK doesn’t get the same titles as the US. That’s because licensing is country-specific.

      • Imbecile says:

        Yeah – I know. I assumed John was talking about the UK … which is where I live

        • sweetjer says:

          well it’s not in the U.S. — where I live. Perhaps we’ve narrowed down John’s location?

  2. Baines says:

    Why isn’t the corpse looking at the screen like every other person?

    And does the game have only one head shot for each person?

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    distantlurker says:

    But does it have this scene?

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      c-Row says:

      Most funny and most sad at the same time.

    • frightlever says:

      Yeah that was funny. I tried to like Castle but there’re just too many other shows out there.

    • John Walker says:

      I’ve watched that clip, and shown it to other people, maybe 200 billion times over the years. It is, without question, the Best Thing.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    Wait, is that Buffy’s mom on the couch in the header image?

    • bhauck says:

      I certainly hope not; sitting on couches has gone very poorly for her in the past.

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        I should not have been drinking tea while reading this comment. Thank you for the giggle fit and infused beverage in my nose.

      • Ben Barrett says:

        This might be the best RPS comment of all time.

        • Imbecile says:

          Unless of course, that was Mungruls gag all along, and it was just a little bit too subtle…

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            Mungrul says:

            Something like that. I just got off of a Netflix binge of Buffy, and seeing Caleb smirking in the foreground with Joyce sat on a couch in the background set alarm bells ringing.

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        ffordesoon says:

        Snerk. Well done.

  5. Napoleon15 says:

    I am impressed with the way the characters look like 2d stickers that have been pasted onto the background. I am also going to pretend that I proof read my comments and do not make mistakes with my wording.

  6. Robmonster says:

    So then, what GOOD Hidden Object games are there? I used to love Pure Hidden, but it’s now completed and there is no sign of “Pure Hidden 2- The Hiddenning”

  7. Michael Fogg says:

    Nice John could drop in between all the diaper-changing.

    • Dozer says:

      True that. Bit they’re his own diapers. Baby Walker isn’t here yet :-)

      • Michael Fogg says:

        No? I thought he was on paternal leave. turns out he’s just plain old lazy.

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          gnodab says:

          It’s prenatal leave.
          So you get to spend the time doing sensible things, like writing a novel, instead of having to deal with stinky sticky babies.

        • Dozer says:

          I forget where it was writ. But the RPS staff get a 3-month sabbatical every several years. Alec I think used his as paternity leave, which didn’t really work, because the idea is to be able to focus on something creative other than vidjagames writing. So the consensus is now to take the sabbatical before the arrival of howling infants.

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        Bluerps says:

        Still nice to see an article by John Walker! I hope there will be more soon.

  8. rocktart says:

    Season 1 &2 are on Netflix.

    I clearly picked up on the most important message in this post.

  9. Haplo says:

    That bloody header image. I feel like I’ve just walked into a passive-aggressive wax museum.

    • Dozer says:

      Are there any hospitals which keep patient notes on an open clipboard attached to the end of the bed? Everywhere I’ve worked the notes stay in elaborate ring binders which are marginally better at not losing odd sheets of legally important paper. Except the ones with burrs on the ring binder clasp which just saw holes through the paper.

    • Baines says:

      I get a velvet painting vibe from it, rather than wax museum.

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      Jackablade says:

      Nathan Fillion does look to be in the early stages of melting.

  10. Scurra says:

    In passing (and as I have said on other threads), it’s worth noting that the Hidden Object genre is especially notable for its blatant sexism – in that pretty much all the protagonists are women, and all the men are generally helpless idiots. (Having said that, there are occasionally ones with male protagonists, although normally they are ones based around known “properties”.)

  11. timzania says:

    I think “inventory” is one of the more unusual linguistic evolutions in gaming. Recall that, as originally implemented in text adventures, it was more being used as a verb, as a command: INVENTORY. In this usage it just meant “make me a list of what you have” and so the game produced a list of what you had, aka an inventory; this is what the dictionary says the word actually means.
    Pretty soon though, given the notion of abstract items with no physical existence, there still seemed to be a need for a place where the items were stored, especially for games that had a pretty loose concept of how much stuff you could carry around (and, later, games that played pretty loose with the idea of what an “item” was in the first place). So it came to be said that we had our stuff actually inside our inventory, as if it was some kind of virtual bucket. Like the list of things becomes the things.
    What we really need is a game where someone likes to carry around a list of what they have

    • Lukasz says:

      In a way we do have just lists of what our characters carry aka inventories.

      kotor, skyrim, dragon age. they just show list of what we have. they do not show that virtual bucket like diablo does.

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    caff says:

    I have missed reviews like this, particularly the line about the gills.

  13. iainl says:

    OK, I’m definitely not playing this. You do NOT put Alexis in the hospital; I cannot handle that sort of thing.

  14. Ianuarius says:

    Nathan……. Fillian?

  15. gwathdring says:

    Those are pretty good illustrations of the characters. It’s in that weird romance-novel-or-certain-kinds-of-pulp-fantasy-novel-cover art style, but the renderings are certainly accurate.

    Not sure why you would say they’re poor imitations.