As a videogames critic, I come into contact with games of radically differing quality. Every reviewer wants to gush about the next big AAA release from a trusted developer with a proven track record, but sometimes you’re given a game that makes you hate yourself for having to play it. Return To Castlerama is one of those games, and seems to almost want to make me hate the medium I love so much.
In a yawn-some fantasy romp, you play as the silent protagonist, David, as he discovers that his adopted father is actually his real father and he is of noble heritage, as well as being destined to rid the land of an evil presence. Of course, you wouldn’t gather any of this from the game itself, as R2C’s narrative presentation is nothing short of anaemic, save for the many scrolls you find on your travels (usually on the floor), that provide you with uninteresting walls of text that are full of pretence.
So, off you trundle to seek your destiny in a first person adventure with some of the clunkiest on-screen controls I’ve ever experienced on a mobile platform, with no options to change sensitivity or control placement onscreen. Quite regularly, these controls will simply refuse to respond, adding further frustration. David moves at such a slow pace that I’m convinced my fiancée’s two-legged tortoise, Gordon, could outrun him in a straight race – even after a head start. There is a button that allows you sprint at walking pace for a few short seconds, and you’ll be constantly tapping it because everything is just too slow-paced otherwise.
Sometimes, after walking through one of eight equally empty environments, you may well start asking yourself what you’re supposed to be doing, because R2C gives you no prompting or explanation of what you are meant to do next. It’s telling that Codenrama sent us a full walkthrough with the review code, because without it I would have no idea that to steal a boat from a fisherman, I would need to first distract him by finding a knife cutting a bunch of chickens free from their hen house.
Each environment is practically empty, with a couple of NPCs dotted around, many of whom you have no interaction with whatsoever. In terms of collectables you have the scrolls I mentioned earlier, plus tarot cards, and most of these items are conveniently located on the floor, meaning you spend most of your playtime looking at your feet like a downtrodden teenager. When you do stumble upon these items, it can become an absolute chore to try and pick them up – nine times out of ten, I would spend about 20 seconds trying to tap an item to pick it up, because the controls were that fickle. The same goes for interacting with some of the game’s objects, such as levers.
This constant view of the floor is quite amusing, considering that Codenrama themselves hail this game as one that “expands the boundaries of photorealism on mobile”. In reality, this game is only photorealistic if we’re going by circa-2000 standards, with clunky animation and terribly designed environments that lack anything to make them seem like more than just wide, empty spaces. Even on my shiny iPhone 5, slowdown is a regular occurrence, even when there is nothing on screen except the sparse, barren landscape. The most grindingly bad stock sound effects and standard medieval tunes will ensure that players will leave their headphones at home and the sound constantly switched off.
VERDICT: Sadly, Return to Castlerama is one of the worst games I have played this year. There was clearly a desire to create a rich fantasy mythos and a world in which to explore that mythos, but the execution is poor, and the fact that this is the first of a planned trilogy brings little excitement for future instalments.
If the game were free to play or 69p at most, maybe I would have been more lenient, but this is a £2.99 app. To expect people to pay for this is just unthinkable. At best, it plays and feels like an incredibly unpolished demo. With a sizeable patch, it might be just about playable, but I’m not sure it would be any more enjoyable. Don’t even think about buying this to see how bad it really is; there are thousands of apps out there that will give you far more amusement than this one, and you can get them for free.
DIABOLICAL. An absolute travesty and a crime against video games. This title will have no redeeming qualities whatsoever and doesn’t deserve to be seen by anyone, let alone played. If we’ve score it 1/10, it’s pretty much unplayable and should be avoided like a ticking briefcase.