The Eternal Castle is an interesting proposition, a remastered release of a seemingly long-lost relic from the early days of PC-games. A time when monitors were defined by how many colours they could display at once – with CGA offering up four, and EGA 16. The Eternal Castle [Remastered] retains the four-colour CGA presentation of the original 1987 release, with more modern mechanics and features added to ensure it can still resonate today. Although primitive compared to the capability of modern hardware, The Eternal Castle is further proof of the idea that limitation breeds creativity.
As an action-adventure similar in look and feel to classic titles like the original Prince of Persia, with similar rotoscope-style animation, and later classics such as Flashback and Another World – The Eternal Castle has all the elements of a PC-game one might have experienced growing up. As it turns out though, The Eternal Castle isn’t actually a remastered release of an obscure almost-forgotten game. It’s a fascinating and often wonderful exercise in simple mechanics and style, wrapped up in a loving hoax.
At first glance it’s remarkably easy to buy into the idea that The Eternal Castle is an old PC game from the 1980s. The simplistic visuals immediately date the look by a few decades at least. But with the addition of modern rendering and improved animation you can begin to see the modern ‘remastered’ touches shine through. The heavily pixelized 2-bit look and minimal use of colour could be seen as a way to simplify the presentation and visual communication that takes place within a specific scene, but instead it opens the door for some truly impressive sequences and set pieces. Where the eye is drawn to simple shapes and objects, flickering lights, shadows, silhouettes, and strange structures.
Playing into this aspect is the mysterious story, a sci-fi tale about crash landing on a strange planet only to have to find the right bits to restore your ship so you can save, her. Coupled with the 1987 hoax, the sparse and minimal visuals, deciphering the hidden meaning behind it all takes on a quality that is very much of the early PC-game era. There are hints about it all being a dream, with locations that vary from dry desert-like war zones, temples, and haunted mansions home to strange experiments. After a brief opening section, you then get to choose which location to head to first with each offering a different approach to exploration, puzzle solving, and combat.
Not a long game truth be told, as you can complete the first run in a couple of hours or so – even this adds to the mystery when a new game plus style mode opens giving you only a single life to complete the journey.
A single life that lives up to the more challenging aspects of classic PC-titles like Prince of Persia. Die and you must begin again, from the beginning. A harsh relic of ye old game design sure, but also a reference to the generous checkpoints and respawn locations found throughout that first The Eternal Castle run. Where meditation points act as locations to keep dreaming, where each new life is simply another dream. This ambiguity, alongside the wonderful visuals, is The Eternal Castle’s greatest strength – pulling you deeper into its mystery. Where the experience feels completely modern though, is with the brilliant sound design and retro synthwave soundtrack. But even here, the minimalist approach can be found with long stretches of silence and ambience.
With mechanics and movement similar to the very first Prince of Persia or Another World, lining up jumps, pulling out your weapon, attacking, shooting, and so forth does feels a little off at times. It’s hard to say whether The Eternal Castle’s inspirations played better, or smoother than this, but we kind of remember them doing so. And this style of game being more responsive overall. Now, that might be based on fond memories and nothing more. Perhaps The Eternal Castle keeps its controls slightly off-key and a little janky to play up its supposed 1987 origins. Perhaps it’s another one of its mysteries that will go unsolved. In the end The Eternal Castle is a fascinating experience and one that you won’t soon forget. If like us, taking one look at a screenshot makes you immediately wanted to play it – be sure to check it out.