The Eternal Castle claims to be a remastering of a lost 1987 DOS game – a cinematic platformer in the vein of Another World or Flashback, but with a harsh CGA palette. That lost 80s game probably never existed, but from the little I’ve played (and the many deaths I’ve suffered already) it feels archaic in a multitude of intentional ways, and I’m eager to dig deeper into it. Launching Saturday, January 5th and developed by a small team without a name (but credited in full on their official page here) it feels like a dream of the games I grew up with. Give the trailer a look below.
This game is a big ball of anachronisms. The CGA aesthetic (cleverly switching between multiple sets of four colours) is pure early DOS, but the animation far outstrips anything seen in the famously rotoscoped Prince of Persia or beyond. The music is brooding modern synthwave with a movie soundtrack bent, but the effects are a mixture of harsh noise and wildly over-compressed digital samples. It feels less like a game from the 80s and more one from the peak of the DOS CD-ROM era, left out to rot until its bytes start to slough off, leaving only raw and harsh angles, lurid cyans and brooding shades of pink.
Despite its cinematic aspirations, there should be some replay value to The Eternal Castle. You choose what order to tackle each level in (after an initial tutorial segment) and the developers say there’s enough random events and possible room placements to keep it fresh, although it’s still mostly scripted. The story is pointedly vague – a grungy apocalyptic world, a traveller from space on a rescue mission gone wrong, and a variety of strange infested and/or haunted locations to explore before you reach your target. It’s a jagged-edged thing, but it’s clearly trying to evoke feelings of a time when videogames were these strange, thorny things.
From the little bit I’ve played (the tutorial and a chunk each of two of the three worlds open at the start), it feels a lot like Another World – it’s a game of trial and error, and sometimes you’ll just run headlong into a deadly trap. Still, there’s a semi-generous health bar, and resources are restocked between deaths. Checkpoints are quite spaced out, but I soon found an item telling me how far it is to the next, so you’ve always got a goal to work towards. This is a game that wants to feel harsh and uninviting, while not being quite as mean as it looks. I’m hoping to get to know this one better over the weekend – definitely one for those with childhood memories of DOS gaming to look at when it launches this Saturday.