Castle of Pixel Skulls

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.

Castle of the Pixel Skulls was developed by 2KSomnis

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. 

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

17 Responses to Castle of Pixel Skulls

  1. stargliderx says:

    I couldn’t even finish the trailer because the endlessly repeating four second music loop was driving me insane. Does the actual game have that?

  2. Do you know why it had no level select? Because the xna platformer starter kit doesn’t have a starter screen. But this game does have a timer, like the xna platformer starter kit. But wait! Moving platforms aren’t part of the starter kit and neither is attacking, but it’s part of a popular set of tutorials for the platformer starter kit made by robot foot games. Do you know the best part? I have a game exactly the same on my computer and the only difference is the art. Oh, it also doesn’t have that horribly repetitive tune. Why release a reskin of someone else’s game? That’s a question that bugs me because I know the awnser. It’s for the money, not for the fun of making games. It’s sad really, I hope XBLIG doesn’t turn out to be a reskin fest.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      Part of me wants to get an XNA kit. NOT to make games with. That’s a huge conflict of interest. But just to have a look and see what the “starter games” are like. Because recently I’ve been getting a lot of people telling me that Game X is a reskinned version of Sample Game Y from the XNA kit.

      • That’s because X > Y by a million times over. I don’t care if people use a starter kit as a starting point for there game as long as they build on it and IMPROVE it with there own code, which doesn’t include taking away a feature of the game you don’t want. Add a new feature to it, even just a single feature, that is not a tutorial, not some other persons code but YOUR own code.

        • stargliderx says:

          Absolutely not. ‘Your’ code is the code you either write, or rewrite enough to be structurally unique. Changing 5% of the starter code produces a game that is 5% yours and 95% freeloading, just as if you contribute 5% of an open source application you are credited as ‘a contributor’ not ‘this is all her code’.

          • Your opinion. I’m not the sort of person that starts caring about how much code was made by myself and how much was some other persons code. Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough. I don’t have anything against copy and pasted sorce code from another game, I’m not going to get programmer pride in the way of getting my game out quicker if someone else already made the exact same feature. As any programmer has probably heard, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. What I do care about is that if someone does use someone else’s code, they learn from it. They decide they want to add X or Y to it and learn from the process of adding a feature not readily available on the internet and hopefully they will become better at programming in the long run. No need for foolish programmer pride, absolutely not.

            • John Getty says:

              Who cares if they didn’t add a level select menu or all they did was take the starter kit/tutorials and put out a reskinned game.

              One, this is XBLIG, not XBLA/PSN/WiiWare or even retail. If you expect the level of polish that those games bring, then you are dreaming.

              Two, ever think this dev doesn’t really know how to code, but is more of an artist learning to code? Maybe this was the best he could put out with his/her current level of expertise in programming. I would say bravo for putting out a game with some decent artistic polish and challenge (though I think the timer should’ve been removed altogether). This game looks 100x better than 90% of the crap that comes out on XBLIG and it plays better too. Sure it has its faults (music, and again timer), but it’s not bad.

              Third, and lastly, and this goes more to IGC, Super Meat Boy was exactly like this game. It had no checkpoints, so if you suck or the level is just painstakingly hard (which some were), then you just had to deal with the level starting over and push yourself to learn the nooks, crannies, and timing to finish it. Do high scores really matter to you so much that not having them will make you quit the game? How many games do you have a top 10 score on? Honestly. And of those games, how many did you spend a significant amount of time earning? I bet it’s pretty low.

              While I won’t say this game is perfect, as I do think it could’ve had a bit easier of beginner levels, it is by no means a bad game for XBLIG.

            • stargliderx says:

              Reusing code is a good thing as long as you have permission, credit the original author and don’t try to fool yourself or others into thinking it was all your own work.

          • I mostly agree with Ivatrix here. I don’t mind someone heavily using starter kit code, so long as they produce something unique and fun. I mean seriously, how many games on the service are just modified versions of the GameStateManagement starter kit? I’ve even noticed lots of games when I’m deploying to the xbox for review or playtest haven’t even bothered changing the name of the project. But as long as it doesn’t look exactly like the menus from that sample I really couldn’t care less.

            Likewise if someone make a platformer that’s unique but uses the platformer starter kit as the base I don’t care. The problem comes when their idea of “unique” is just re-skinned with custom levels. It needs to have unique mechanics, controls, art, sound, and music, not just one of those things.

      • Makes sense. It might be interesting to see first hand which games are lifted straight from the XNA kit. It would add an extra layer of scorn beyond simply “this game is rubbish”.

      • stargliderx says:

        The platform starter kit is the most popular one by far :

        Probably hundreds of XBLIGs started as that code. I’ve also seen quite a lot of reskins of the racing game starter kit;

        The other big ones are the ship game and the robots game , they seem less common though probably because doing 3D without a pre-made engine is hard.

  3. Pingback: Programmer Pride vs Freeloader « Ivatrix Games

  4. Pingback: Review: Castle of Pixel Skulls » Two Fedoras

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