If it's one thing the DSiWare service needs more of it's platformers. The folks at Gameloft must have sensed this when they decided to port their iPhone platforming hit Castle of Magic over to the service. Since one of the main complaints about the original iPhone release was the lack of a true d-pad with which to play the game, it would seem a perfect fit for the DSi system. While the game obviously borrows many of the best gameplay ideas from past releases in the genre, it somehow combines them all together so seamlessly that you certainly won't mind that fact that you've likely experienced the majority of them before. But does this DSiWare release have enough platforming goodness to offer fans of the genre and is it really worth your 500 Nintendo Points?
At its core, Castle of Magic is much like any other 2D platformer you've played. You'll be able to run, jump, double-jump and use your magic wand to attack most enemies. You'll even be able to use certain power-ups that will increase these gameplay moves along the way. There are three levels in each of the game's five main worlds, and at the end of these three levels you'll have to face off with one of the game's bosses. These tend to be heavily pattern-based and offer up a good challenge to cap off the end of each world. Once you've defeated the boss you can then proceed to the next unlocked world. You'll play through everything from frozen ice levels to a land full of candies and other magical sweet treats.
To go along with your standard set of gameplay moves, there are also a number of special power-ups that can be found that will allow you to undergo a magical transformation complete with its own unique skills set. For instance, you can change into a Hunter that allows you to fire arrows from your bow that you can use to climb up to unreachable platforms. There's even an Obese Mage with a charge move as well as a Swordfish for better swimming through the various underwater levels. Sometimes you'll find these power-ups placed strategically around a level, whereas other times you'll have to enter the Photo Booth in order to get them. This will require you to snap a pic using the DSi's camera. If your picture contains at least 50% of the required color, you'll be awarded that power-up. It's a good idea to keep items of the various colors around for these times when you'll need to take snapshots of them during play.
There's also an option called Custom Photos that will allow you to snap pics of people or items that you can use in place of certain items, characters or bosses in the game. You can even snap a pic of yourself and use your face in place of your character's head. Of course you will have to unlock them all first, and this is normally done by beating various levels and bosses in the game. While this option is fun to toy around with, it tends to look a bit silly and out-of-place when you see these custom photos inside the actual game. They don't exactly blend in well with the other visuals, but they'll likely add a few minutes of fun to the experience if you're willing to give them a try.
It's really difficult to find much fault with Castle of Magic other than a few minor control issues and a slightly low level of difficulty. There are tons of gameplay moves to make use of, not to mention a host of special power-ups to experiment with as well. There's also some absolutely amazing boss fights at the end of each world that seem to perfectly complement the set of levels leading up to each of them. You can even go back to the individual levels and try to achieve a higher score by collecting more gems and other items you might have missed the first time through. Couple all of these things together with some very ingenious level designs and you have a platforming experience that should satisfy even the most ardent fan.
Castle of Magic is easily one of the best 2D DSiWare releases to date in terms of visuals. Each level is chock-full of visual delight with everything from beautiful enchanted forests to very unique outer space areas. Not only are the 2D visuals impressive in and of themselves, but there's also a huge amount of variety between the different worlds to keep things fresh and interesting, not to mention a few 3D graphical touches here and there. The characters and enemies all animate very smoothly and the bosses, even as large as some of them are, show a great deal of detail in their construction and animate just as smoothly as the other characters in the game. It's clear that the developers put some serious time and effort into the visuals of the game and it paid off in the finished product.
There's certainly no shortage of overly cutesy tunes throughout the game so you'll never be in short supply of catchy musical tracks to enjoy. Most of the orchestrated tunes are extremely well done and the sound effects are equally impressive. It's also nice that the songs themselves are lengthy enough as to not become overly repetitive during long playing sessions. There will be times when you'll wish that there were at least a little voiced dialog in the game, especially giving how wildly imaginative the theme of the game is, but it's a minor omission and with an audio experience that's this solid otherwise, it's difficult to complain much.
With a severe lack of good platformers available on the DSiWare service, Castle of Magic serves as quite a nice surprise. Not only is the game a virtual hodgepodge of platforming goodness that serves up influences from many of the other great 2D platformers that have come before it, it's also an extremely enjoyable video gaming experience to boot. Sure the play control could have used a tiny bit of tightening up in places and it might have been nice to have a few more levels to tackle, but at the end of the day, Castle of Magic is easily one of the more polished and playable titles to hit the DSiWare service to date. It also shows that the DSiWare service can be every bit as viable platform for game releases as retail when the proper time and effort is afforded its titles. If you love a good platformer, you definitely don't want to miss this little gem.