#121 – Castlequest

Where have all the castles gone?
There’s a lot of dandy and Balrog in this illustration.
The keys beckon you.



DEVELOPER: ASCII Entertainment

GENRE: Action-Adventure

RELEASE DATE: September 1989

“Spare a key, mister? Any color will do – pink, brown, yellow, green, blue. I’m gonna need ’em all at some point.” If a random person approaches you and ever says these words or something similar, don’t smack them right away. They’ve just gone mad trying to beat Castlequest. Yes, there is a quest behind the castle – save the princess from a dark lord, gasp upon gasp! – but the one and only goal of the game lies in collecting keys to open doors to rooms with more keys and more doors to open. Any satisfaction you get from opening a door to a new area instantly vanishes when you see that the new area has five keys to collect. You get fifty lives to start with (downright generous in 2013, and unthinkable in the “three lives and it’s over” days of the mid-to-late 80s) and you’re gonna need every one of them, thanks to the horrid controls. Simple enemies become a burden when you have to press ‘Left’ and ‘B’ to attack. Your jump allows you to float briefly in mid-air, but the main character moves so slow as a whole that it can still be hard to avoid fast-moving enemies or barrels. I think I understand what Castlequest was trying to accomplish – construct an entire game within one large environment, with every room having a unique set of challenges to overcome – but there’s never any motivation to collect the keys because you know what’s behind any and all doors: more keys and many deaths. Castlequest, may your foundation rot swiftly into the earth.


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