The original Castlevania game released on the Famicom in 1986 offered a dark and challenging action-platform adventure, the likes of which had not previously been seen before; to this day, Konami's classic continues to inspire developers. Citadale, by Ezekiel Rage and Nitrolic Games, is one of the latest releases on the Wii U eShop which attempts to recreate the magic of the famous Japanese series.
Players take on the role of a young woman named Sonja Dorleac, who has been trained in the art of combat by her husband, an immortal warrior. One night, under the glare of a crescent moon, Sonja's husband's deceased father - who once terrorised the lands - rises from his ancient tomb. With dark forces now released, Sonja's husband rushes off to scout the nearby citadel with an aim to put a stop to the evil forces. Sonja initially stays behind to protect the local village, and must now make her own way to the castle to locate her husband and help put an end to the darkness once and for all.
Armed with her trusty Shadow Blade - a sacred weapon given to her - players must navigate Sonja through classic action-platform levels fighting off hordes of enemies and slaughtering unsightly bosses. The game operates in a similar fashion to a retro Castlevania title. Players progress from screen to screen, fighting off skeletons, hordes of undead and other hideous monsters such as giant spiders and slugs. The action starts out on the edge of a graveyard, and from there Sonja must traverse various dangerous environments filled with deadly spikes and makeshift platforms.
The platform challenges aren't all that difficult, but when a couple of enemies shooting projectiles are thrown into the mix a certain level of caution must be exercised in order to survive the many perils. There is a high level of precision required to character movement and actions, much like in classics such as the source material (Castlevania) and even games like Mega Man. If you don't carefully observe the actions of enemies and especially bosses, expect to have a hard time progressing - the health meter will only offer so much protection. Some enemies require a few hits with the Shadow Blade, while bosses can take multiple hits for minutes at a time.
The main problem with Citadale is that the precise nature of gameplay is not as well refined as other games within this genre. The hit detection is mediocre at best, and the damage sapped from Sonja's health bar seems almost unfair at times due to poor placement of enemies, or an overwhelming amount on screen at once. The level design does not always help, with poor design choices. When you move from screen to screen, occasionally at the end of one screen will be a higher platform that can't easily be seen but is nevertheless blocking further progress; to overcome such barriers Sonja must jump as she exits the screen. Other occasionally ghastly design choices include falling platforms right at the end of a screen, which also must be jumped over or Sonja will fall to her death.
Fortunately, Citadale is made easier with the inclusion of useable and pick-up items. Only one usable item can be carried at a time, and each requires soul gems, which essentially act as mana. Holy water will burn enemies, throwing axes can take care of foes from above, throwing stars will slice through multiple enemies without stopping and the potion replenishes Sonja's health. These items aren't always the easiest to use in the heat of battle - with the player required to hit up on the control pad and the attack button at the same time, as per tradition with Konami's classics. Pick-up items include checkpoints - making progress a lot easier - food which restores health and soul gems which obviously power the usable items.
To further increase chances of survival, the developer of Citadale has been nice enough to add a selection of control options. Wii U Pro Controller support has been included, which comes as a massive relief as so many indie platform games often do not make the effort to add this control choice for platform games. The Wii U GamePad allows players to enjoy the action away from the television, or view a full map of each level either on the GamePad or the television screen. One notable issue is a glitch that distorts the image on the screen briefly when swapping the action from one screen to another. With one patch already issued at the time of review (we played version 1.1 for this assessment), hopefully more updates will fix this problem in the future.
Visually, Citadale looks exactly like a classic NES game. This design is very much intentional, and really captures the essence of nostalgic hits of yesteryear. The simple pixel graphics are still immersive and draw the player into the universe. The sound and music captures the sense of adventure, mystery and troubles that await. There have been accusations regarding re-used sprites in the game and the striking similarities to the Castlevania series, but the developer has stated that they wanted to be as close to the "real deal" as possible with its original assets, and is working towards a patch to make aspects of the game more unique.
With an additional patch or two, this title could be a lot better. If there are a few changes to hit detection, the level design and the art assets, Citadale may be able to step out of the shadow of the game series it has been inspired by. In its current state, however, Citadale mimics the iconic long-running Castlevania series while not reaching those standards. There's nothing terribly wrong with this game, as short-lived as it may be, but the full experience doesn't quite reach its potential - it's worth consideration, nevertheless.