As seems to be the current trend, another mobile game has made the transition to consoles and this one manages to offer both a reasonable price point and tons of content. Runestone's recently released puzzle/action game Mystery Castle promises a host of colourful characters, varied enemies and five environments to explore as well as a vast number of stages. Value for money indeed – but is it any good?
Mystery Castle casts you as Monty, a portly wizard who has to explore a series of castles, solve their puzzles and rid them of the evildoers that have encroached upon these kingdoms and are now causing mischief. To do so, you must complete up to a whopping 180 perplexing puzzle levels as you make your way through each castle to unlock the final boss battle. There are five castles in total, each of which was previously sold separately on in mobile, but come included as part of the package on Xbox One. Each castle has 36 stages and completing a percentage of these will open the boss stage and allow the player to take down the big bad boss that's been causing trouble for the inhabitants. Once a castle is unlocked, all stages (except the boss stage) are available to play so there's no fear of getting stuck on a level and thus no longer being able to progress. The only real reason to play the game linearly is in order to pick up gameplay tips and tutorials from the designated helper character in each stage - or because you are super smart and a completionist, of course.
Presented with colourful cartoon artwork, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a game aimed solely at kids. Things certainly start off simple enough but you'll soon encounter challenges that put this beyond the reach of younger children. Each stage is viewed from above and you must navigate it safely collect five items to unlock the exit. The items are loosely tied to the theme of the castle you are in (gems for the dwarf castle and snowflakes in the ice castle for example) and your task is to plot a path from your starting point to each of the collectibles, which will then open the door to freedom. At first, this means pushing blocks to create bridges over small gaps, or finding a key to unlock the room that a gem is hiding in, but the game soon ramps up the difficulty by adding new mechanics. Difficulty scales gradually and new concepts are introduced well, making items like the magic lamp (which allows you to see hidden paths) and using bombs (for blowing stuff up, obviously) easy to understand and master. There's a new concept introduced every few levels at first which shows that an effort has been made to keep things interesting. Things escalate fairly rapidly and this simple block pusher soon starts throwing in metamorphosis and possession to challenge your puzzling prowess even further. Each castle introduces its own special playing parameters as well and you may find yourself desperately trying to complete enough stages to unlock the next area if you don't get on too well with the current castle.
There's some semblance of a story tacked on for good measure. This is usually delivered by each castle's nominated plot exposition expert, who will sit in a level, tell you about the latest mechanic you're going to have to deal with and call you fat. There are so many fat jokes in this game that if they were cake, Monty would have eaten them all...or something…we're not too good at fat jokes here. With Monty being a wizard who seemingly has zero magic powers, as evidenced by his lack of spell casting and inability to pull rather than push blocks, there were plenty of other avenues of abuse open to the cast and the focus on this particular vein got tiring pretty quickly. Unless you're really into fat jokes that is – in which case, this game is hilarious.
As mentioned above there are 180 levels included in this complete edition of Mystery Castle, which actually starts to feel pretty overwhelming almost immediately. The five castles are shown on the main screen with an indication of how many more levels need to be completed to unlock them. Entering a castle shows the 36 available stages, with their completion indicated by a star. Weirdly, the levels don't all fit on the screen and you must scroll across to view them all. This could have been easily fixed by tweaking the layout and felt like an unnecessary oversight. Equally, when a level is completed, the cursor will stay on that level rather than moving to the next stage, meaning you will likely reload the level you just finished on more than one occasion if you aren't paying attention. These are minor annoyances, but as they seem so simple to fix, they become increasingly noticeable.
There's no real fanfare when completing a level or unlocking a new area as you'll get a congratulating message on completion and be kicked back to the level select area. The boss battles themselves also do not really differ from the normal levels, simply offering a further navigational puzzle to be solved while a slightly larger monster waits to be vanquished in the middle of the screen. There's no notification that the boss stage or new castle has been unlocked and it leaves the player feeling kind of flat. That's the downfall of Mystery Castle unfortunately. It works well and does its best to be challenging and full of character, but somehow (just like its protagonist) it just lacks the magic that would propel it to the next level.
The premise and complexity of the puzzles, mixed with the cheery art style, point to an interesting puzzle experience but you may find that Mystery Castle a bit of an unrewarding drudge if you aren't really into the types of puzzles on offer. It's challenging at points and allows enough flexibility for you to skip stages that prove too perplexing which makes it accessible for most, but there's such a flatness to the level completion that there's no real rush of excitement when you solve a particularly difficult puzzle. The vast number of levels available also acts as more of a demotivator than a blessing and it could be argued that just sometimes, less is more. There's certainly not much wrong with Mystery Castle, but it's not doing anything to make it stand out from the crowd either.