This is the first screen of the game. I died several times here.
DEVELOPER: Bits Studios
RELEASE DATE: June 1991
What’s a Castelian, you ask? At first I thought it sounded like a top-secret Italian dish; like, if you were Italian, you would enter into a restaurant, pull the waiter down to your ear, whisper “Casteliano.” He would nod, a grim, knowing look on his face. Twenty minutes later, he would present said Italian with the best Italian food you’ve never heard of. If only Castelian was a succulent secret and not an attempt at making a game. After having engaged myself in Castelian‘s world for more than twenty minutes, I’ve decided that it is not a game. It is a cartridge-shaped mass that contains all of the known and unknown evil in the world, programmed by one man, Duncan Meech. Whether Mr. Meech knew what he was creating or whether the project got out of hand and overpowered him, is unknown. It doesn’t matter. May God have mercy on the souls who have played this game, and on those who have yet to venture unknowingly down its nightmarish path.
You play a frog-ish creature whose goal is to progress up several flights of stairs. You avoid eyeballs, bouncing balls – any manner of ball that you can think of, really. Once you ascend as many flights of stairs as Duncan Meech thinks you should, you enter a door and progress to the next tower where, yes, several more flights of stairs await for you to climb them. Remember those old RPGs where you ascend insanely large towers with hundreds of floors, grind until your eyes bleed, acquire cool items and weaponry, only to die and have to start all the way back at the beginning? I think Castelian was trying to go for that style of gameplay in an action format. It’s not a bad idea, in theory, but the incentive for progression just doesn’t exist like it does in an RPG.
Let’s get to why I, and several others like me, believe this game is an abomination from the pit: the controls. When I first started playing, I noticed that the “A” button shot out white pellets from my frog-ish creature’s mouth. I pressed the “B” button and nothing happened. My conclusion from this was that the developers made a game that didn’t require a jump function. I moved forward and when I ran into my first eyeball enemy, I tried shooting white pellets at him. It didn’t seem to be hurting him, but I continued to move forward and hit him. As I did, I jumped into him, effectively killing myself. I did this several times without knowing why, until I discovered that pressing left or right and the “A” button at the same time makes you jump. Unfortunately, jumping is essential to moving forward in this game. You need to make precise jumps to land on elevators or to move up flights of stairs. One misstep (and there will be more than one) and you could land all the way back at the beginning. This will make you hate your own life, the “game,” and/or Duncan Meech.
In all my months of reviewing NES games, never have I encountered a game where I died several times on the first two screens. Even in other terrible games like Beetlejuice, or my favorite, Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt, I’ve been able to move forward even if I didn’t want to. Castelian‘s problem is that it hides behind the facade of cuteness and simplicity. In truth, if you wanted to make a friend think they suck at video games, you could recommend Castelian by saying, “Yeah, you play this cute frog and all you have to do is get to the top of the tower in every level. Pretty simple stuff, really.” Set up a hidden camera in their room and laugh as they try to tackle one diabolical level after the next. Once you realize that you’re a voyeuristic psychopath who wants to harm his own friends, it is already too late: the evil of Castelian has entered you.