Since the console’s inception, the Nintendo Switch has welcomed the indie gaming boom with open ARMS (get it?). I mean it makes perfect sense given the console’s portability and screen size—in fact a lot of the indie games in it’s library play better handheld as opposed to docked. So it also makes perfect sense that Nintendo would want some exclusive indie titles to show the community that they are invested in the Switch being a platform that indie studios can thrive. This has resulted in Switch exclusive Castle of Heart. Unfortunately, this exclusive has a lot more bad going for it than good, especially when compared to some of the classic indie titles that are already on the console.
In Castle of Heart, you play as a knight made of stone on a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer before you crumble to dust. From menacing villagers to eerie swamps, the player will fight and avoid traps through linear stages. There really isn’t much more to it than that. Story-wise, Castle of Heart doesn’t have much to boast beyond this simple premise. It is an ultimately skippable story, you won’t miss out on anything incredible by skipping through what few cut-scenes and dialogue the game has to offer. Even if you choose to follow along, you’ll have a pretty hard time getting invested in it.
That’s not to say that every indie title worth its salt has an amazing story. Plenty of excellent indies have been able to get away with a bare-bones story in favour of excellent gameplay. This is not so, however, in Castle of Heart. In fact, when playing Castle of Heart I welcomed cut-scenes just because they were a break from the monotony that is its gameplay. Which, given how boring the story is, is really saying something. The entire first chapter of the game you just have to walk forward, mash the attack button and collect things as you go. You don’t even have to fight everybody, you can just run and jump over them and ignore most of the fights.
The most glaring issue with the gameplay is the lack of any unique game mechanics. It just never evolves beyond mashing the attack button and moving forward. There are platforming sequences, but they are utterly forgettable and at times frustrating due to the horrible, floaty control you have over your knight. Castle of Heart tries to mix up combat by giving you secondary weapons to pick up, but melee weapons all feel the same, and so do the ranged. I can only shoot the same trap and mash the same button for so long before becoming bored. None of this changes combat or gameplay in any significant way, and the game suffers for it.
The only real attempt at any original gameplay mechanics in Castle of Heart is the degrading health bar. Since you play as a soldier of stone, you are constantly coming apart at the seams, and can even lose limbs in the process. This sounds like a cool idea, in theory, it adds a lot more tension to each enemy encounter since you need to protect yourself as much as possible before falling apart. But in execution, it falls flat on it’s face. The degrading health bar is never a problem thanks to near constant checkpoints that heal you to full health, plus every enemy you defeat gives you health. The body degradation itself amounts to you just losing an arm at low health, which literally only hinders your ability to use a secondary weapon, which isn’t really a huge penalty when it comes down to it. It’s a shame because these two things combined could have given the game a lot more challenge and tactic to an otherwise bland combat system.
But the real shame here is the waste of a perfectly interesting setting. Castle of Heart has a dark fantasy theme which works better than it should. Even if you’re bored with a chapter, the background is always pretty to look at, and constantly moving. It makes the world feel alive, even though the character models themselves could use some work. The 3D style works and stands out among its contemporary indie titles which more often than not have an old-school pixelated style. Unfortunately, what little beauty the game has to offer is hard to enjoy when you’re just running through levels with little to no interest.
Castle of Heart really just feels like a missed opportunity for a great exclusive indie title on an insanely popular console. The game’s failures certainly don’t hurt the Switch’s viability as the best indie console, but it certainly doesn’t help when one of its first exclusive titles isn’t a good one. Castle of Heart feels like a few good ideas that just never really came to fruition, and it’s too bad because on paper a side-scrolling dark fantasy could have been a huge hit with the huge indie gaming community that the Switch already has.