Castle of Heart (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 22.03.2018

Review for Castle of Heart on Nintendo Switch

7Levels, although you may not have heard of them, is a Polish developer that has been at work for the past four years, taking part in various developments for other publishers and developers. However, the game at hand, Castle of Heart, is its first big, ambitious project. In fact, it has always wanted to develop their own IP for a Nintendo platform right from the start of the studio's existence and they have now finally delivered on that with this one. More than that, Castle of Heart turns out to be one of the very few Nintendo Switch indie games to be exclusive to the platform, amidst a world where pretty much all indie games come out on all platforms under the sun. This alone sets Castle of Heart apart from the rest, since it was built specifically for this platform. It's only natural then to dive in expecting to find something optimised for the platform and that's what Cubed3 sets out to do!

The premise of Castle of Heart is fairly simple. An evil sorcerer ruling from his keep over a village of poor peasants, demanding constantly increasing offerings and tributes to be paid to him in exchange for safety, attacked said village when the poor people couldn't meet the tyrant's demands. A brave knight, however, stood his ground in the face of the danger, trying to protect the woman he loved... only to be struck by the sorcerer, along with all the other villagers, with a curse that turned them all to stone. Before the sorcerer left with the crying woman in tow, though, her tears fell upon the knight whose heart started to beat anew with a desire for revenge... and to save the woman he loved. From thereon in, it's up to the player to tell the rest of the story by taking control of the knight himself, now bestowed with peculiar powers. The knight has to fight off bandits and other foul creatures on his way to the sorcerer's castle, through 20 stages distributed amongst four different environments, each typically ending with a boss fight against some local terrible fellow. Each stage also contains five hidden crystals that the player has to collect, but this is easier said than done, because of this one particular aspect of the game: the knight's body of stone is not invulnerable and health management is at the very core of the experience.

Indeed, finding health refills within breakable objects or upon defeating enemies will be of the utmost importance since the knight's health is constantly decreasing, because of the curse that was cast upon him. It is indeed not recommended to remain idle without pausing the game, because the health bar can be visibly seen counting down the rest of the hero's life. Dying can be pretty punishing, too, if a checkpoint hasn't been reached in quite a while.

Screenshot for Castle of Heart on Nintendo Switch

Moreover, on low health, the knight will lose the arm that would otherwise be used to cast inventory items or sub weapons, making it hard not to die when the hero is already in a pretty bad situation. It is part of the challenge and takes some getting used to, especially when surrounded by waves of enemies coming from both sides of the screen, but, thankfully, items and mostly sub-weapons are there to make things more manageable. Typically, swords and axes increase the hero's attack power, while other throwable objects, like spears and clubs, deal either massive damage or incapacitate an enemy temporarily, respectively. Lastly, crossbows allow the player to inflict long range damage on enemies; however, the latter also usually have the same long range weapons at their disposal, so it is not such an easy task to survive between two checkpoints.

It is otherwise a pretty standard side-scrolling 2.5D action platformer. The protagonist is controlled exclusively using the control stick and most buttons, while the d-pad is used solely for inventory management. It controls well enough using a Pro Controller but the tinier sticks of the Joy-Con may make it a bit harder to land perfectly on some of the very narrow platforms that have to be used to reach certain secrets in some stages, in particular landing right onto a beam without falling off. Indeed, despite the use of the analogue controls for movement, there are no proper analogue controls to be found here. It is rather like d-pad controls were mapped to the control stick, so players may try to gently move the knight forward by barely touching the stick to make smaller jumps and more easily land on narrow ledges, only to find that any amount of input on the joystick equals maximum movement speed.

Screenshot for Castle of Heart on Nintendo Switch

There is, sadly, no way to remap the controls to personal preference, but, other than for this aforementioned reason, there shouldn't be any need to. It is just that the d-pad should have been allowed to control the knight, at least as an option, while inventory management could be remapped to unused shoulder buttons instead. Considering the fact that time is of the essence and the hero is constantly losing health, as per this game's story, it can be an exercise in frustration to have lost so much time trying to reach a certain ledge that might not even yield anything interesting to find, only to not have enough time to make it to the next checkpoint that will replenish the knight's health bar. In such cases, it may well mean going back a long way, since checkpoints can, and will, be sparse, even more so towards the end.

When things work well, however, and the player is allowed to make good progress, it feels nice to hop around, destroying the scenery and finding secrets. The knight has a proper feel of weight to it that makes it enjoyable enough to control, although Castle of Heart remains decidedly challenging to play through. It feels good to travel around, taking in the lush surroundings. It is indeed a properly decent game on both a technical and artistic level. It seems to run at 1080p 30 frames per second while docked, and 720p 30 frames per second in handheld mode, all while sporting some truly nice visuals with high production values, even if perhaps some elements of the scenery within the same environment tend to be reused a bit too often. It is hard to tell but the game may well have a kind of anti-aliasing used to smooth over the edges of most elements, at least in docked mode, that works well to make all of the scenery nice to look at.

Screenshot for Castle of Heart on Nintendo Switch

At any rate, it is certainly a pretty title, both docked and undocked, and the action never really becomes so hectic or fast that it should display dips in frame-rate. Environments range from a village to a forest, a cave and the sorcerer's own titular castle, and visual effects take good advantage of the system's horsepower. In fact, most surrounding elements can either be moved, like smaller wooden boxes, or otherwise destroyed, making everything very interactive, which, for an indie game, is even more impressive.

Overall, Castle of Heart turns out to be rather impressive to look at, although perhaps more could have been done in the sound department, since music does feel a bit repetitive and not too memorable. However, it fits the atmosphere and is not otherwise unpleasant to listen to while exploring each stage and, this not being a very long game to begin with at only 20 stages, it shouldn't have time to reach a point where it starts getting old. This has no major issues, but maybe just some imperfections in terms of difficulty balance and playability at times. In the midst of battle, it's hard not to take hits from enemies while trying to land one on them and crows in particular are, in classic side-scrolling fashion, amongst the worst offenders since they swoop down so fast on the night that taking one out without him taking a hit also is practically impossible. These small annoyances are hard to not mention because they do affect the overall feel, but still they are not enough to take away from the dominant impression that a lot of effort and love went into making this exclusive Switch title well worth checking out. That alone is a commendable effort indeed.

Screenshot for Castle of Heart on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Castle of Heart is a pleasing concept at its core, but is held back only by a few minor annoyances in the gameplay department. The most original aspect - the hero being turned to stone and losing health progressively - ends up also being a hindrance at times, which gets almost frustrating after replaying through the same section multiple times. Overall, though, it feels good to play and is an all-round pleasant experience with production values so high that it's worthy of applause. It feels perhaps a bit too linear at times, when some environments could have probably benefited from being more open to exploration but, nevertheless, it is well worth checking out. Its price is a bit steep for the amount of content currently, but those who strive to complete it 100%, finding all the crystals, should get their money's worth.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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