Castle of the Pixel Skulls
October 29, 2011 17 Comments
At first glance, one might mistake Castle of the Pixel Skulls for an entry in the Platformance series of games. It’s got the same punishment-platformer gameplay in an 8-bit suit of armor vibe going for it. The controls even feel similar. There’s three very prominent differences. The first is you have an attack button. Second, the game has multiple levels. And third, Castle of the Pixel Skulls is fucking impossible.
You play as this skeleton-knight-thingie that has to jump over spikes, avoid other spikes, hop across platforms, and occasionally fight baddies while making your way to the exit of a stage. The level design is reminiscent of the Platformance games as well, so you know what to expect. While in a stage, you have an infinite amount of lives at your disposal. If they just left it at that, I would be okay with the game. Instead, the developer Josep Monzonis decided to pull a king-sized dick move supreme by having every level run on an outrageous sixty-second timer. If the timer runs out, there’s no continues or level select option. You have to start the entire game over from the beginning.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling that the game was designed in this way. I’m sure the argument is “well back in the old days games like Donkey Kong didn’t let you start from where you died at.” If that was the point, it’s still fucking ridiculous. This isn’t 1981. We’re thirty years into the future, and games have come a long way from those days. There are no incentives to keep playing. There are no high scores, but hell, there are no other game modes or even options to choose from either. The only thing you can do is press start to begin the game.
The far-fetched game design extends to the levels themselves. Starting with the fourth level, the check-points become further apart. If you die, you’ll have to start a ways back. As the levels get more sprawling, the time limit seems more and more impossible to accomplish. If you die once, you might as well start over because you can’t possibly hope to make up the ten seconds you just lost. And because Castle of the Pixel Skulls is a punishment-platformer, it relies on trial-and-error gameplay. That system can produce fun games (see Aban Hawkins), but being forced to start from the beginning every time you do the “error” part of trial-and-error is bullshit.
I put well over an hour into Castle of the Pixel Skulls and only made it to the fifth board. I briefly thought about carrying on just to retain whatever integrity I have left as a gamer. But then I decided that I would lose dignity playing this mess any longer. It’s not fun or original. It’s just insanely difficult. Big deal. There are lots of things I could do that qualify as that. I could try to run the Boston Marathon wearing a suit of armor. I could try to fly off the Golden Gate Bridge using a grand piano as a hang glider. Of course, people would say I’ve gone insane if I tried those things. And they would be right. So it’s my duty as a gamer to tell you that if you devote any length of time to try and beat Castle of the Pixel Skulls, you’re a raving lunatic who should be put in a padded cell.
80 Microsoft Points could try to ski down K2 using discarded egg cartons as skis in the making of this review.
Geoff, whom I hear smells like teen spirit, also reviewed this for the wickedly awesome Two Fedoras.