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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5

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Castle in the Clouds DX   PC (Steam) 

THICC    4/5 stars

“Castle in the Clouds” (“CitC”) is the fourth entry in the loosely-titled ‘Succubus’ series of Japanese Indie (doujin) games, and the second featuring a collaboration between the original developer, Libra Heart, and kindred spirit developer, Pixel Teishoku. In the West, this series of nearly-invisible retro hentai games is localized and published by Critical Bliss.

Presentation
The entire ‘Succubus’ series began as an art project out of Indie developer, Libra Heart, stretching the capabilities of 8-bit graphics to convey eroticism. While the first two games in the series featured very basic gameplay visuals, but plenty of pixelated cheesecake, the third game largely relegated the animated sex scenes to an afterthought, earning its ‘erotic’ label primarily though the fact that all of the boss encounters took the form of sexy, busty, frequently-topless monster-girls. “CitC” brings back the animated sex scenes with a passion, and further ups the ante with the return of a super-sexy heroine, only this time it’s not just her profile picture that does her justice, but her entire character sprite, which is THICC in every sense of the term. Moreover, in upping the resolution from 8-bit retro styling to 16-bit retro styling, “CitC” managed to be the best-looking ‘Succubus’ game yet.

Audio is highly reminiscent of the ‘Castlevania’-inspired chiptunes from the third ‘Succubus’ game, and is the only part of the game’s presentation that came from people besides the two main developers. Once again, it’s good stuff.

Technically, though, “CitC” takes a couple of steps backwards from the near perfection of the third game in the series. I experienced one crash to desktop and two instances of the game locking up where I had to Alt+F4 out of it. Otherwise, the same old issues that have always been with the series persist, including the game’s refusal to launch full-screen and the fact that, in spite of native Xinput support and keybinding options, the UI only shows keyboard prompts. Fortunately, the game still allows the player to save anywhere, and frequently auto-saves, meaning that any technical snafus rarely result in wasted time or lost progress. Like it’s predecessor, “Midnight Castle Succubus,” “CitC” features a robust New Game+ mode, with bonus characters to change things up, but unlike the previous game, is structured in such a way that speedrunning through a second time for achievement cleanup is more arduous, as it’s impossible to skip most of the bosses.

Story
“CitC” tells the tale of Lilly, a THICC AF bounty hunter on the trail of a ridiculously buxom thief and her gang of enraptured men. Upon catching up to the thief, Lilly finds herself on the receiving end of a gang-rape before waking up in the mansion of the wealthy mayor of a nearby town. In order to continue her hunt for the thief, Lilly must do the mayor a (sexual) favor to receive a Bounty Hunter License, then sets out to get some well-earned revenge.

Lilly is not a single-minded heroine, however, as she learns of a local rumor about a flying castle that once was inhabited by the residents of Heaven, but which suffered some sort of catastrophe long ago and crashed so hard it penetrated all the way to the depths of Hell. Through her bounty hunting activities, Lilly gets wrapped up in the mystery of the titular Castle in the Clouds and, with nothing better to do with the thief brought to justice, decides to track it down… along with its legendary treasury filled with gold.

“CitC” doesn’t exactly break new narrative ground in any way, as the pursuit of an ancient mystery for fun and profit is as old as Fantasy and tabletop RPGs. Likewise, most of the characters Lilly interacts with are shallow, though there are enough minor twists to keep things interesting.

“CitC” took me about 7 hours for a blind completionist playthrough. I could have run through it again in New Game+ to get that last pesky achievement, but decided to leave well enough alone. It’s an entertaining experience from start to finish, to be sure, but I have plenty of other games to play instead of going all the way through this one again.

Gameplay
“CitC” is another ‘Classicvania’ clone, cribbing liberally from the blueprints Konami created when they developed the original ‘Castlevania’ trilogy on the NES. However, “CitC” expresses much more of its own identity, as Lilly is a far more nimble character than any of the Belmonts ever thought of being.

After a short introductory stage, the game shifts locations to a hub town, which can both be explored normally, or interacted with via a simple menu interface for things like visiting the weapon shop, the adventurer’s guild (for picking up new quests), and the inn (for recovering health and applying level-ups). From this hub town, the player will gain access to the games plethora of discrete stages, however, the next in sequence typically only becomes available after completing the previous stage and its associated guild quest, making the game feel much more forced and linear than it actually is. The player is free to go to any available stage from the town hub, and can teleport back to town using a magical map. Each stage is fully self-contained – unlike in “Midnight Castle Succubus” where each stage was actually connected – which makes fully exploring them and filling out the map quite a bit friendlier than the previous game.

Lilly’s moveset is a fairly large departure from Classicvania, however. While she can start the game with either a whip or sword (player’s choice), she quickly gains access to not just upgraded versions of those melee weapons, but magic wands that shoot projectiles. Lilly doesn’t have access to any subweapons, making her moveset in battle feel somewhat limited, though she is able to attack in any of the 8 directions by default. Throughout the game, the player will acquire a large number of relics that grand Lilly extra capabilities, ranging from the predictable double-jump and water-breathing to the ability to climb on any non-spike-covered walls and ceilings with impunity.

In general the stage designs are great, with well thought-out layouts and appropriate power-ups that make the stage they’re found in easier (or simply do-able). Enemies come in a fairly small number of varieties, while bosses are well designed, with unique mechanics that never feel particularly cheap or unpredictable.

“CitC” also tries to merge RPG mechanics with Action/Adventure mechanics in a way we haven’t seen since the first game in the series, “Tower of Succubus,” and with just as iffy results. Lilly gains both gold and experience for killing enemies. While the costs of things in the hub town’s shops seem ludicrous at first, the insane rewards for guild quests make progress through weapon upgrades a slick and linear experience. Leveling Lilly’s stats, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. While she does gain levels very quickly, and it’s trivial to earn the game’s Steam achievement for reaching level 200 (which is NOT the cap), the amount of stat points the player can apply to Lilly’s Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck doesn’t feel all that significant in the end. Strength increases the amount of damage Lilly does with physical weapons, Intelligence increases the damage she does with magic wands, constitution decreases the damage she takes and grants her extra hit points, while luck grants her extra experience points. Luck is, therefore, useless, while the other three stats don’t really feel like they contribute very much, especially when visually identical monsters deal and receive wildly different amounts of damage in different stages. No, the main way Lilly actually starts to ‘feel’ stronger and more capable is through the large stat increases tied to the better weapons and the magic heart power-ups hidden throughout the game’s stages, which give increasingly-huge boosts to Lilly’s maximum health, taking her from a measly 99 HP at the beginning of the game to 9999 HP with all of them. The iffy balance in these RPG elements are something of a stain upon the otherwise excellent stage, boss, and mechanical game design on display in “CitC.”

Overall
Unfortunately, the most recent entry in the ‘Succubus’ series published by Critical Bliss isn’t the best, thanks to a small number of annoying glitches and some questionably-executed RPG-like number crunching. It’s still very good, though, and well worth playing for fans of 8-bit or 16-bit Action/Adventure Platformers from the Golden Age who also wish we could get more THICC heroines in our modern games.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3.5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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