Monday, June 11, 2007

Chocolate Castle Review

Chocolate Castle, developed and published by Lexaloffle Games.
The Good: Simple, original, and strategically deep gameplay, retro soundtrack
The Not So Good: Low resolution graphics
What say you? A very original and highly addictive puzzle game: 7/8

Everyone loves chocolate. Well, except for the lactose intolerant, of course (the world distribution of hypolactasia is interesting; did you know the ability to consume lactose beyond the age of four is actually a mutation?). But imagine, if you will, an entire castle made out of chocolate (no doubt located in The Land of Chocolate): wouldn’t that be yummy? Well, the next best thing to a real chocolate castle is a puzzle game about a chocolate castle named Chocolate Castle (the similarities are striking). In the game, you move mounds of chocolate and chocolate-eating creatures that eat the chocolate and complete the puzzle. It kind of makes me hungry. So please, read past this nonsensical introduction and see how the game fares in the ranks of the puzzle elite.

Chocolate Castle has some rudimentary graphics. Well, I don’t know if that’s the right word for it; “simplistic” might be more appropriate. Being developed by a small company and being a puzzle game, you wouldn’t expect cutting-edge graphics in Chocolate Castle, and you’d be right. The game runs at a fixed resolution of 640 by 480 pixels (ah, that takes me back) that can be switched to windowed mode. There is hardly any animation in the game: just the eating of the chocolate (it quickly disappears) and the balloon-filled celebration that takes place when you finish a level. Of course, the upside is that Chocolate Castle can run on pretty much any computer, including the ENIAC. When the download is under 1 MB and the complete install is around 4 MB, then you know a game won’t be a huge resource hog. The sound is minimal as well, although Chocolate Castle does have a pretty good retro 80’s soundtrack very reminiscent of games released during that time. The focus of Chocolate Castle is clearly not on the graphics or the sound but rather on the gameplay.

The object of Chocolate Castle is to eat all of the chocolate on each level. You do this by dragging little creatures that can each eat a specific type of chocolate onto their desired treat. Each creature disappears after they eat, so you can also drag the chocolate around and combine pieces to make giant blocks of chocolate goodness. This is an innovative mechanic that lets a relatively simple concept support a large variety of level designs.
There are walls that block your path, large blue blocks that can be moved but not eaten, magic walls that can be moved once before turning into a stationary wall, and “Turkish delight” that can be eaten by a cat that explodes (of course!). The varying amount of empty space and the relative freedom given to the user results in a very compelling puzzle game. There is usually more than one way to solve a puzzle, although there is a preferred solution. The gameplay is “turn-based” which allows you to think before you move things around, and Chocolate Castle also has an undo button if you make a mistake. The game features 120 puzzles in total, 40 at each difficulty level and you can play them in any order. The easy rooms are easy and the hard rooms are really hard. Amazing! This is one of the first games I’ve played in a while that’s gotten the difficulty settings generally correct. There is also a level editor if you want to make your own creations. Even with relatively limited puzzle components, the variety in Chocolate Castle is very high. Chocolate Castle doesn’t need twenty or thirty different puzzle pieces to create variety when the basic mechanics are this well designed. The game is easy to learn yet hard to master because of good level design; it’s one of those games that makes you come back for more, just to beat one additional level.

Chocolate Castle is a very well designed game that has simple mechanics but some advanced and difficult puzzles (along with very easy ones for beginners). While the graphics could be better, they do their job well enough and don’t hinder the gameplay. Chocolate Castle is an innovative puzzle game and it’s fun to play with the right amount of challenge once you get past the easy levels. The level editor adds even more replay value to the game. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, then you shouldn’t miss taking a bite out of Chocolate Castle. Yeah, I’m sorry for that pun, but it was too tasty to ignore! And I’m sorry for that one, too.