It’s serendipitous that Cursed Castilla EX should make its way to me so soon after the publication of my video feature on Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, because the new 3DS game is a dead ringer for Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. Its protagonist, Don Ramiro, is a bearded knight forced to fight all manner of undead or demonic creatures, with a default weapon that is thrown like Arthur’s lance. Its 11th-century Spanish landscape is bathed in darkness—a mixture of blacks, greens, browns, and grays that very much resembles GnG’s demonic world. Don Ramiro moves like Arthur, too (though the double-jump is now an optional powerup.) The game’s name even shares that alliterative, sing-song quality of the names of Capcom’s games.
It’s clear that locomalito, the one-man Spanish developer behind the Cursed Castilla, has a lot of affection for the GnG series.
But he’s obviously put a lot of thought into ways that dated design might be improved, and it’s those improvements that make Cursed Castilla arguably more enjoyable than the games that inspired it. Gone, for the most part, are enemies that respawn endlessly in no discernible pattern: baddies always show up in the same spots, and once you wipe them out, you’re free to explore to your heart’s content until you’re ready to move on to the next area. Weapon drops, so frustratingly random in the GnG series (and often so difficult to avoid downgrading to because of the chaotic nature of the games), cycle through every available option in locomalito’s game, so you’re free to choose the weapon that best suits your preferred play style. The power-up system is also a welcome addition to the formula, with a great variety of options that enhance the experience in distinct ways: a fairy companion, for instance, adds a second projectile for players having trouble defeating enemies, while a 2x multiplier doubles the value of loot drops for players who like to chase high scores.
Cursed Castilla is definitely more player friendly than Capcom’s games, but don’t expect the new game to be a cakewalk: while it starts out almost laughably easy, the difficulty ramps up gently—and considerably—as players progress. The hazard and platform placement in later stages is deliberately cruel, and if you’re the kind of player who likes to power through each area on your way to the next, you’re going to taking multiple return trips to the game over screen. But if you slow down, learn from your mistakes, and follow the game’s design cues, you should be able to push through to the “end” by taking advantage of the endless supply of continues. You won’t see the best ending that way—you’ll also need to collect five specific objects hidden throughout the game in order to unlock the final challenge, of which I only located two in my initial playthrough—but Cursed Castilla maintains a level of generosity toward less-experienced players that is often lacking in modern throwbacks, while at the same time encouraging thicker-skinned players to tackle its more demanding challenges.
Cursed Castilla plays well to the expectations of Ghosts ‘n Goblins fans, but what I find most commendable about it is the way its developer has infused it with his own cultural identity. Sure, you’ll face the typical zombies, evil crows, and demons you’d expect to see in an homage to Capcom’s series (not to mention at least one nod to Sega classics Golden Axe and Altered Beast), but you’ll also meet mythical creatures and figures from Spanish folklore that I don’t recall ever seeing in a game before: the three-eyed Cuegle and crook-nosed Malismo; the Spanish cyclops known as an Ojanco; even a twisted version of Don Quixote makes an appearance. There are clear religious undertones, as well—the game unabashedly declares its dedication to Martin of Tours, the Christian Saint who is revered for having preached God’s love for all people, regardless of their choice of faith—and Cursed Castilla’s narrative is based on the 15th century chivalric epic Amadís de Gaula, which I’d honestly never even heard of before playing, and have enjoyed diving into this past week.
It says a lot about our perspectives as gamers that, while Cursed Castilla blends elements of a landmark piece of literature and a beloved series of classic Capcom games, those classic games were themselves inspired by their creator’s favorite childhood cartoons. Ultimately Adamís de Gaula boils down to an adventure story, and that obviously makes great fodder for a side-scrolling action game. But the point remains: there are more stories to tell than the ones we’ve heard time and time again. And in that regard, Cursed Castilla is a breath of fresh air, because it serves as a gateway for players, like myself, who’d like to engage with a culture they’re unfamiliar with.
It’s also a fine substitute for—and a fitting homage to—the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. It might not have the marketing muscle or cultural cachet of games like Shovel Knight or Cave Story, but it stands tall alongside them as an excellent example of classic design improved with modern insights. For those of you who’ve already played the original freeware release (PC, 2012), Cursed Castilla EX shines as a 3DS game: its stereoscopic layering and chunky FM synth-style audio make it feel right at home alongside the now-abandoned SEGA 3D Classics line, while the extra levels and weapons and refined enemy arrangement make this the definitive version of the game. If you’re looking for something that is as familiar as it is different, Cursed Castilla is an adventure worth undertaking.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Cursed Castilla EX is based on final review code provided to us by Abylight, the Spanish developer that ported it to consoles. The game launched on Thursday, July 13th, 2017.