Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever. Day 24

Castlequest

Exactly how hard is Castlequest?  The developers give you 50 extra lives to start AND a complete map of the game that shows the location of ever single item and enemy, and the game is still in the top 10 of the Hardest NES Games.  That is one tough mother.


Castlequest is the last true puzzle game on our list and any puzzle game that is going to oust Solomon's Key had better bring its A game. Castlequest brings that and more. The game is the sum total of its design and that is the entire reason it ranks so high on this list.  Castlequest is the definition of a game that demands a perfect run because the game is designed around using exactly the right item at exactly the right time. Nothing can be wasted and nothing in the game is thrown away.  Even with the map, this game is going to take hours to figure out and complete.

If you are not familiar with Castlequest, you should be.  The game is super common and can be found in most second hand stores for around $5-8 (don't expect to get the map, though, you'll have to search the internet for that one.  Here's a hint: in your search window backspace over "porn" and type in "Castlequest map"). Assuming you don't have the time for all of that right now, let me give you a quick breakdown.  In Castlequest, you are a young prince determined to rescue a princess from an evil wizard.  Pretty standard stuff really.  The princess is trapped somewhere in one of the one hundred rooms of the evil wizard's castle.  You must search each room and seek out the princess, but your task will not be an easy one.  The wizard's castle is a treacherous maze filled with deadly traps, menacing minions, and many, many locked doors.  These doors are the source of your undoing, for each door is color coded and only the key of the correct color can unlock the door.  No big deal, right?  Wrong. For you see, the real difficulty lies in the fact that there are more doors than there are keys.  Open the wrong door and you have wasted a key you will need somewhere else in the castle later.  How do you know which doors to open?  There is no way to know apart from trial and error.  So prepare to start the game over and over and over.  A lot.

And right there is the cornerstone of Castlequest's difficulty.  There are a finite number of keys and more doors than keys to open them.  Furthermore, other helpful tools in the castle, like the aqualung that allows you to breathe underwater, do not regenerate once used. So when you use that aqualung to swim through the submerged part of the castle's lower depths, you better be sure you don't need to go back that way.  That aqualung is a one way trip.  This is what I mean when I say that Castlequest demands a perfect run.  There are no backsies.  Oh sure, you can afford to be crushed by an elevator or destroyed by a goblin here and there, the 50 extra lives help absorb some of that damage, but if you use that pink key now and find out there is nothing on the other side of that door worth a pink key, it doesn't matter if you have infinite lives, your game is over.
Gonna grab that aqualung and go swimming?  Better be sure...
 Now for the truly bizarre thing about Castlequest: in all honesty you can, and should, beat the game without ever turning on your NES.  Playing the game is more of a formality than a necessary part of beating it.  If you want to beat Castlequest, what you should do is spend about 8 hours pouring over the map, locating all of the necessary doors and the keys needed to open them.  Once you have done that, plot out your course so that you know the correct order to visit the rooms in.  After you have done all of that work, then you can plug in the game and execute your plan. The actual game itself is pretty simple once you know what you need to do.  Some of the enemies are a pain, but practice makes perfect in taking them out and once you get the hang of how to kill them you will start mowing through them with little trouble.

50 extra lives and a complete map means beating Castlequest is an exercise of planning and patience.  Needless to say there was no way to beat this game in 5 hours.  Heck, I would wager I didn't complete 20% of the game in 5 hours.  I have no doubt it can be done, if you use the method I detail above.  Beating it without the map is probably also possible, but only if you are willing and able to map out the castle on your own.  Without a map at all, I'll go so far as to say Castlequest is impossible.  You simply cannot luck into the solution.  Castlequest's difficulty has more to do with design than it does with the game play, but that does not mean it is any less worthy of its spot here at #7.

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