Developer: Big Heart Productions
Steam / GOG / Switch / Xbox / PlayStation
Reviewed on PC (Amazon Games)
The Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for a relaxing afternoon of exploration, this colorful collectathon platformer will not disappoint.
I love it when a game drops me into a world and just lets me do my thing. No dialogue, no direction, no problem. As long as I can run and jump and explore, I’ll find my way forward before long.
That’s how Castle on the Coast opens. After a very brief free-flowing tutorial, the game plops you down in front of a giant castle and gives you absolute free reign. Want to swim with the sharks? Go for it. (I hear only 1 in 4 giraffes become shark snacks.) Want to trapeze up the castle walls? You can do that to! Or you can step inside and learn the plight of the children that live within. Their dialogues are generally brief and provide general guidance instead of pinpoint quest markers. The absolute freedom on offer here is a wonderful change of pace from most modern games.
Tripping with Giraffes
But let’s take a step back. Castle on the Coast is an indie platformer. You play as George the giraffe, a silent protagonist who has come to the castle for reasons unknown. George controls like a typical 3D platforming mascot, albeit more floaty and forgiving than most. He jumps high and seems to defy gravity on the way down, drifting like a feather instead of the long-necked mammal he is. Springing off walls and leaping between platforms is a whole lot of fun, especially after you uncover a certain piece of equipment that lets George extend his airtime even further.
Visually speaking, the game is vaguely psychedelic. The main hub area, the library’s castle, is lined with shelves of cel-shaded books. Huge trees protrude up towards the roof, wooden platforms swing overhead, and light pours in through stained-glass windows. The entire space feels delightfully mystical. Later, as you delve deeper, the game will thrust you into linear platforming stages. Clouds undulate beneath George’s feet, quartz crystals swirl in the air, and every surface pulsates with life. It’s like a long-lost PS2 platformer reincarnated in HD.
Castle on the Coast is a collectathon platformer, and in this regard it doesn’t disappoint. While there is no overworld map, the game does have a compass that will point you to the nearest item of interest. Its top priority is to direct you towards the key items in an area; only after you’ve found all the most important collectibles does it shift to helping you mop up everything else. In this way, the compass strikes a delicate balance, gently guiding the player without coming off as overly insistent as map markers and HUD elements often do.
The Kids Are Alright
As for downsides, there are a few. The biggest issue for me is that there is no way to invert the camera controls. As a guy who grew up playing MechWarrior and flight sims with a joystick, I’m accustomed to inverting the y-axis, so the lack of that option was distressing. I managed to enjoy Castle on the Coast in spite of my struggles with the camera, although I must say that for the next week or so my muscle memory was very confused whenever I went to play other games. Up! Up! No, the other up! My only other grumble is that the experience starts to feel a bit stale towards the end, but in a game this short (about 3 or 4 hours if you aim to unlock everything), this fault is easy to forgive.
I’ll confess that when I fired up Castle on the Coast and saw that it was created as a charity project for children, I began feeling leery about the whole endeavor. Games specifically designed for kids don’t exactly have the best reputation. But I’m extremely happy to report that Castle on the Coast is an exception to this rule, and even this jaded gamer found plenty of enjoyment in it. When you’re in the mood for a charming game that will just let you do you, be sure to check it out.