I think it’s safe to say that not every great puzzle game needs to reinvent the wheel. If we said that the only good games were ones that were just as innovative as Tetris, that would be silly, right? Still, that hasn’t stopped plenty of developers from trying their hand at crafting the next big puzzle sensation. Some are good (The Witness), others, not so much (I’m looking at you Minutes). Runestone Games prefers to stick to the beaten path, so to speak, which is why Mystery Castle feels familiar. As stated before, though, there’s nothing wrong with familiarity.
The star of our tale is a portly wizard, not a warlock, named Monty. Players step into his XL sized shoes, and are tasked with exploring the five Castles of Mystery. Despite his lacking magic skills, Monty is called upon by the denizens of each castle in order to rid them of the monster barons that have taken over each one. In order to properly save the day, our wizard will need to solve 180 rooms of increasingly devious puzzles.
Like with most puzzle games, the story takes a backseat to the action in Mystery Castle. I’ve come to expect zero plot from the genre, so even the barest of plot threads is enough to get me somewhat interested. Although there’s not a whole lot going on here, I did find the dialogue of the game humorous in parts. The people Monty is helping, whether it’s Stumpi the dwarf or Cassie the princess, seem less concerned with giving thanks than they do for consistently insulting the wizard. What I’m saying is get ready for way more fat jokes than you would expect from your puzzle game.
As mentioned, though, plot tends to matter very little in the puzzle genre. As long as the title can engage the mind, which is something Mystery Castle does, it’s good enough for me.
The main goal of almost all of the 180 levels here is to collect five castle-specific objects (diamonds, snowflakes, etc). In order to do this, Monty will need to navigate treacherous dungeons filled with golems, ghost, lava and bottomless pits. Luckily, each level has its fair share of boxes and bombs that can be used to cross chasms and blow up certain objects, respectively. After collecting all five pieces, the exit door opens and he is free to enter it, provided there is a path open to it. It’s easy to describe, but the levels are much more challenging than they appear to be.
On top of figuring out how to successfully navigate each level via box movement, each castle also introduces a new obstacle for Monty to overcome. For example, one castle introduces glide-inducing ice paths, while another lets our hero possess certain enemies. One of the things Runestone Games does well here is how they slowly escalate the difficulty level as more ingredients are added. Earlier levels are fairly straightforward, while a later level may have you figure how to incorporate animal transformation switches and disintegrating platforms into your solution. It can be quite a handful by the latter levels of the game, but there’s a great feeling of pride that comes when you finally crack the solution for a particularly challenging room.
Mystery Castle is at is best when it lets players take the time to plot their movements. Unfortunately, there are a few levels that rely more on speed than knowledge. While these levels are easy enough to solve, the sometimes-stiff movement of Monty made navigating them harder than they should have been. There are also some frustrating design choices Runestone Games put in that I feel artificially raise the difficulty. Not being able to pull objects is an odd decision, as is the fact that you can’t push objects if you are standing on ice. For as many fat jokes are in the game, you would think that Monty’s girth would be able to push something, regardless of where I was standing.
Considering this is a port of several Android games, the audio and visual component of Mystery Castle is not high-level. The 2D graphics are bright and colorful, and the character designs are pleasant enough to look at. The levels themselves are pretty dull, though, with most of them looking similar from room to room. The music is also wholly unmemorable, which I guess is better than being unpleasant. There’s no voice acting either, so the only noise you’ll hear out of Monty is the sound he makes when he dies.
Mystery Castle isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, and as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t need to. Runestone Games were going for a puzzle game reminiscent of the classics, and I think they did a solid job of capturing that feel. The levels strike a great balance between not too difficult and challenging enough, and while you’ll still need to mull over some of them, the solution never feels too obtuse to uncover. With 180 puzzles to solve, if you’re looking for a good way to kill a few hours, while also feeling smarter than usual, this game will more than suffice.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which we were provided with.
Annoying design decisions aside, Mystery Castle provides several hours worth of challenging and cleverly designed brainteasers for puzzle fiends to enjoy.