Castle of Dragon review –

Developer: Athena Co.   Publisher: Seta   Release: 06/90   Genre: Action

Castle of Dragon is the type of unassuming game that ends up ruining your weekend. Back in the days when video game rentals were big you looked forward to the weekly trip to Blockbuster video. While you usually had an idea what game you wanted it wasn’t always a guarantee it would be there. And so you were left to take a chance on an unknown title more often than not. Which leads me to Castle of Dragon. I found myself in that unfortunate situation many years ago and figured how bad could it be? It has dragons and actually looks pretty good. Ah, the naivety of youth. This is a thoroughly terrible game and one that deserves to languish in obscurity.

For the uninitiated Castle of Dragon is a loose port of the arcade game. While the general theme and gameplay are the same the two games are vastly different. This was par for the course with the NES; Astyanax and Rygar are two more examples. Sadly unlike those two titles this was not for the better. Castle of Dragon was not the best game in the arcade but was certainly better than this.

The best way to describe the controls is clumsy. Every one of your actions is slow. You walk slow, jump slowly, and even attack slowly. The shield is practically useless. It merely reduces damage and considering the game’s balance is worthless. Only when crouching does it actually work and only against weak fodder. This is the lone improvement in this version, pressing down to crouch. None of that stupid button pressing nonsense of the arcade.

This NES version differs from the arcade game in a few more ways. Aside from armor and the sonic and lightning sword there are no other power-ups. Instead you earn new weapons after defeating bosses. Eventually you will have a throwing dagger and ball and chain. The dagger is more or less useless as it is insanely weak and you can only toss one at a time. The ball and chain is the most powerful but also randomly damages you. There is no rhyme or reason as to when it happens; I’ve swung it multiple times with no effect. Other times I lose large amounts of health consecutively. I’m baffled as to why this is even a “feature”.

Next to your life bar is a blue meter tracking your experience. Once it fills your life bar increases although honestly you will hardly notice. Your major means of survival is the blue armor, which effectively doubles your maximum health. Even with these features this is still a tough hill to climb.

Castle of Dragon 002 Castle of Dragon 003 Castle of Dragon 004

After the first few levels Castle of Dragon becomes nonlinear. You can visit any level of the castle as you seek the four relics needed to beat the final boss. Technically you can immediately go to the final battle but you will lose without those relics. While it sounds exciting Castle of Dragon is ultimately boring and frustrating. Because of the controls the only way to kill most enemies reliably is to stab once or twice and attempt to leap over them to repeat the process. But good luck doing that consistently with the rigid controls. Outside of the bosses every enemy simply bum rushes you which is lame. The arcade game may have been bad but it was at least entertaining, especially with its two-player coop.

The stiff controls and borked mechanics leads to extremely high difficulty. Every enemy can take large chunks of health if they slightly touch you. You would think this would be a simple game as you fight most enemies one on one but it is not. You have one chance to refill your health midway through each level but the fairy is easily missed due to the busted controls. I would not be surprised if most die on the first level repeatedly.

It is at this point Castle of Dragon gives the final middle finger to the player. You have one life to complete the game. There are no passwords, battery back-up, continues or even ways to earn extra lives. Technically you restart the game with all of the weapons and experience gained previously. But I doubt most will have the patience or fortitude to trudge through the game all over again. It is downright comical that they would release the game like this. Even limited continues would help.

In Closing

Castle of Dragon is a bad game and one that should be avoided. It isn’t often that a game gets almost everything wrong yet here we are. Activision’s Sword Master is a far better title that features most of the same gameplay and is technically amazing to boot. Buy that hidden gem instead.

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