How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Structurally it’s VERY Metroidvania, but the lack of combat and focus on block pushing puzzles sets it apart from the two genre progenitors a bit.
Primary Challenge: Spatial-Reasoning Puzzles
Time to beat: ~2 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Alchemist's Castle was provided by the developer.
Buy Alchemist's Castle if you like…
- Games without a Combat Focus
- Block Pushing Puzzles
- Finding Lore Pages in the Environment
- Unfolding Level Design
▼ Review continues below ▼
For being a $1 mini-metroidvania, expectations for Alchemist’s Castle aren’t particularly high. Indeed, I had to mess around with Joy2Key to get my controls setup in a manner that was comfortable to me, and there certainly could be a lot more polish in the sprite animations and general presentation. But it’s got heart, and if you go into it with the mindset that it’s not trying to be the next Hollow Knight or La-Mulana, you’ll find a mostly enjoyable one to two hour experience.
Alchemist’s Castle lists Castlevania and Metroid as some of its inspirations on the store page, but something that sets it apart from those games is its non-combat focus. You eventually get an attack that lets you clear enemies away, but enemies are basically just destructible spikes – simple obstacles that happen to deal damage to you. Your primary challenge in Alchemist’s Castle is simply finding where you go next, with the occasional block pushing puzzle mixed in. These block puzzles range from super simple to some real headscratchers, and to me that’s where the game’s primary value comes in. Wandering the map can have you lost for several potentially frustrating minutes, but that final “aha” always comes, rewarding the player for their powers of observation and diligence. As a Mini-Metroidvania, it serves up what you’d expect quite nicely, providing some of the most flavorful points of the genre while trimming all the fat.
As mentioned though, it could use a little more polish. Combat-wise things are a little wonky. There are a few enemy types that pass through walls that can get you into some frustrating situations. The trouble of dealing with these monsters is compounded by how your weapon is an exploding flask that deals damage back to you if you get caught in the blast – so you can’t just spam the weapon against the wall hoping it hits the enemy before it connects with you. In tighter quarters this splash also proves to be more of a liability than an asset – but in most cases you can simply ignore the option and platform around the situation instead.
One of the game’s other selling points – the “Intriguing Story” – could also use some adjusting. It starts out pretty clever, with the Apprentice finding notes that explain his situation as things are happening. I especially like how you lose some of your powers early on in a very realistic way. Once you get into the meat of the game however, these notes start to feel a little disjointed, because you aren’t necessarily finding the pieces of the story in the proper order. It’s sort of like skipping around pages of a book randomly – it caused me to lose interest pretty quickly. The story itself really isn’t anything more than you’d expect either. As is often the case in video games it boils down to “This guy needs a bomb thrown at his face” – and so you do.
If a few cutscenes were added, maybe some CG portraits, or anything that might add a little more character to the presentation, the story might be worthwhile. As-is, the text-only scrolls don’t detract from the experience per se, it just presents a somewhat disappointing feature.
Story and Combat though should be considered side-features; Alchemist’s Castle is enjoyable overall. If you like powering up your movement capabilities and filling up Metroidvania maps, for just $1 and a small time commitment, you’ll find a game that does its job quite nicely.
Not really a focus at all. Some enemies are a bit troublesome to deal with since they pass through walls and your attacks hurt you
No real platforming ''Challenges'' per se. Controls are a bit sensitive which makes configuration a little fussy
Castle as a whole has a nice unfolding feel to it as you get new power-ups, and provides that nice ''Ahhh'' when you finally have the power to conquer it all
While the game overall is a little short, there are a few good headscratchers to solve
The rather simple plot is presented in kind of a disjointed and verbose manner, making it hard to follow, but it doesn't detract
The pixel graphics look rather nice, though the animations are a bit quick - not deliberate enough
Music sounds like stock tracks, but they're very nice tracks
Not a whole lot to bring you back to the experience unless you want to speedrun
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All Time: Very Positive
(83% of 56 Reviews)