Developer: Baroque Decay & Ratalaika Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Adventure & Role-Playing
Release Date: 18th of October, 2017 (EU & NA)
To state the obvious, October is here and when this month ends, Halloween will be knocking on our doors, much like a trick-or-treater but before the candy starts getting handed out then, first up the eShop has candy of its own to offer up on the 18th of October.
Initially developed by Baroque Games and now published by Merge Games with the help of Ratalaika Games who handled the porting, The Count Lucanor is a horror adventure game about a boy named Hans, that first arrived on Steam in 2016 but now it is coming to Switch and let’s just say I’m no longer as excited about it as I once was. For a game that has the ambiance of a horror movie and one heck of a soundtrack to it that includes eerie whispering intended to unnerve those playing it, I found it incredibly boring. Every time I should have been cowering with fear or running with my tail between my legs in a bid to escape from the bizarre red-eyed wraith-like monsters, it was like I wasn’t fussed in the slightest.
If they got me and I died, it didn’t matter because I’d already saved about 5 minutes previously, so it’s not like I’d lose much progress. But the beasties who are deadly, especially the Red Camerlengo who can kill you instantly and knows both the player’s name and the fact that they are sneaking around Tenebre Castle, they were just more of a hindrance than an actual threat, especially when you’re close enough to see them via candlelight. Had The Count Lucanor been designed with a more modern design, the monsters that serve the Count could have been truly terrifying, but instead The Count Lucanor opts for full on retro and it does not work.
For a game that was hailed as being a beautifully designed 8-bit adventure, having gone hands on with it, I can say with certainty that it isn’t. The cut-scenes and dialogue boxes are really good, but the actual game itself actually looks a bit sub-par and too retro for its own good, as the graphics don’t do the game the justice. Yes the graphics are detailed to the point that you can work out what most things are, and that there are things like blood splatters to indicate deadly spike traps, but they are not as textured as previous reviews for Lucanor would have us believe.
In fact, I hate to say it, but for a game that draws inspiration from the earlier Zelda games and Silent Hill, The Count Lucanor is ugly and yet if it was made with 16-bit, I would be singing its praises as 16-bit would have done it a world of good, but it’s too late for it now, The Count Lucanor’s design is what it is and there is no changing it, much like how there is no changing how dull it is. I understand Lucanor isn’t all that long, as it is something that can be completed in a handful of hours, but Hans could move with a little more haste, I wouldn’t have spent as much time as I did scrutinising every little thing I could see and not see. Plus if he could move a little bit faster, than the game wouldn’t have been as dull as it is and feel like it drags on forever.
Still, just because I am not a fan of it whatsoever, it doesn’t mean some of you reading this are ready to give up on it just yet, so let’s talk more about the game, starting with its story. The Count Lucanor revolves around the life of Hans, a boy whose dad has gone off to fight in a war and is disheartened at being so poor. For a time he was able to not let it bother him, but then came the day of his 10th birthday and his family is so poor that while all the other kids get sweets and presents on his birthday, the best his mum can do is give him a normal day as cash is tight.
Dissatisfied with his current situation and his mum, an argument ensues and Hans decides he is his own man now and opts to leave home, but not before his mum gives him a cane that belonged to her father, all the money they possess (3 gold coins) and some cheese for when he gets hungry. After that she retreats inside their cottage, as Hans makes his farewell to his pooch Spittle and the adventure can begin. Now while things may start off all rosy, with certain characters encounterable on the path in which you follow, with each one wanting something off you in exchange for nothing until later on in the game when they will suddenly give you something for helping them out earlier on, things soon turn bloody.
Night arrives, goats turn on the one who sits with them all day and kills him and there’s a mysterious creature that is referred to as a Kobold, which you feel compelled to follow and when you do, it’s not long before you find yourself in Tenebre Castle, home to The Count Lucanor, a man of immersive wealth and if Hans can prove himself worthy by accomplishing the Count’s trials, the fortune and lofty title which comes with it, can be Han’s. Now as someone who craves adventure and future, Hans is all too eager to jump at the chance, but once he does, his nightmare can begin as all of a sudden, Hans can no longer leave the castle.
From that point on, the events of The Count Lucanor can truly begin Hans has just a single night to accomplish the trial, but luckily for him, he is not alone, as those he encountered outside the castle are now present in the garden and are ready to help him when he needs it buy selling him items and keys when he needs them, getting certain characters killed and a raven sitting on a fountain, which every time a coin is thrown into it, allows you to save your soul, aka save your game. And if your curious as to what those keys you can get do, they allow you to open doors the same colour of the keys, which is important as there are many rooms to explore and unless you explore every nook and cranny over and over again, and constantly interact with everyone you meet, it is very easy to lose your bearings and find it difficult to advance.
With regards to the game’s puzzles, they mostly consist of fire traps, spikes and blocks that need to be pushed, but while most are very basically and require almost no skill and intelligence to figure them out, there are some puzzles that stand out, such as the one that requires you to use the 8 letters you are able to find in the various rooms and figure out what the Kobold’s actual name is, and even when you do that right, more “horrors” await in the form of a bloody cellar, giant worms, a demonic daughter and a whole lot of lies and deception and even if you do everything right and make choices that have consequences you can happily live with, even when you’ve reached the end and think you’re done at last, there’s still more to do as The Count Lucanor has 5 different endings and if you’re going to play the game right, you’ve got to at least achieve 3 of them. But remember, Hans is slow, so if completing the game at a snail’s pace the first time round doesn’t grate on you immediately, it has every chance of doing so in your second playthrough!
However, because I have been very negative about The Count Lucanor, one positive I will talk about is the candle system at play. Candles can be found everywhere and burn indefinitely, so while you only need one, the spares can be used to be placed all over Tenebre castle Hans in a bid to place markers that can both show off where you’ve been before and reveal an monsters that happen to step into the light. It’s not the smartest idea in the world, but it is something that made The Count Lucanor a tad more bearable.
The Count Lucanor isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s really not that good either, as the monsters fail to live up to ambiance the game’s soundtrack and whispers creates. It’s also a short game, which normally isn’t a bad thing, but it is when the game is The Count Lucanor and Hans is just too slow a moving protagonist that his turtle crawl literally bored me from start to finish. Now I hate to be the guy who says “give this game a miss,” but with the likes of Don’t Knock Twice and Super Mario Odyssey coming soon to Switch, there really is no point in picking it up now as it might make for a better purchase later on down the line, but if you do feel like picking up one Merge Games Switch title, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is out now and a huge step on from the lesser work that is showing its age that is The Count Lucanor.
THE VERDICT: 4/10
*Review Key Provided by Merge Games