Citadale

You want to know something that I’m not done talking about yet? Wii U games. I probably should be, because there is basically nothing but garbage-lookin’ indie games coming out on it anymore. Maybe a Virtual console release here and there, and I guess there was that remastered version of Darksiders that came out last month (which I would love to purchase again on something more… portable). But mostly garbage-lookin’ indie games.

All that aside, today I have a whole lot of things to say about a garbage-lookin’ indie game that came out several months ago. And to be completely honest, it doesn’t actually look that bad if you’re just checking out screenshots. This game is Citadale: Gate of Souls, and I had literally zero interest in puchasing it until I heard about it on a podcast which I very much enjoy. It sounded like a miraculous garbage fire, and we all know how strongly I feel about garbage fires.

So I went right ahead and I plopped down my $5 or whatever it was, and I got me some Citadale. Much against my better judgement, but I think I may have been drunk at the time. I think I bought Wario: Master of Disguise at the same time, which is something I never would have done sober. That’s just a straight-up Bad Video Game. Citadale is, fortunately, entertainingly bad.

Okay, take a moment now and scroll back up a bit. Take a good, long gander at that logo. Remind you of anything? No? For shame. Citadale’s logo looks suspiciously like the logos of most of the Castlevania games on GBA/DS. Like, it’s just a font and differently stylized C away from being a complete rip-off. That’s a little bit gutsy, I’ve got to say. Wearing your inspiration on your sleeve is one thing, but copying it wholesale and then charging money for it is a whole different ballgame. Congratulations on your hubris, Nitrolic Games.

Then you will watch the slow story crawl. It’s actually not a terrible story, but the writing lacks refinement and man oh man does it ever drag on a lot longer than it ought to. Something about a lady falling in love with a half-vampire or something and… you know what? It’s not really worth trying to remember. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression, either.

Finally, at the end of the story crawl, you’re greeted with this artwork. In all honesty, I have no beef with the actual drawn version of this art. But rendered in pixels, it looks horrendous. And that crosshatched area? That’s not the image drawing in. That’s actually how they decided to render a “gradient” in the sky. It’s sooooo bad. I have drawn pictures in MS Paint that look more professional than this. Not a great foot to start off on, here.

Fortunately, that’s more or less where the terrible art ends. The in-game sprites and backgrounds aren’t excellent, but I’d say that they’re definitely above par for the look the team was going for. The animation is a little stiff, but it’s certainly passable. I think the worst part of the game from this point on, at least as far as graphical quality goes, are the character portraits, which look more than a little doofy.

Citadale’s visual style is obviously cribbed from Castlevania, and to nobody’s surprise, the gameplay follows suit. It’s your classic-style stage-by-stage progression from the wilderness to the exterior of a castle to the interior of the castle. Maybe like a sewer level in there somewhere, too. I’ll be honest here, it’s been months since I played this game and I really don’t remember exactly what all the stage themes were. It may have been a catacombs or a dungeon instead of a sewer. Some sort of annoying underground level, at any rate.

Anyway, you’ve got yourself a pretty stock-standard platformer here. Move forward, usually to the right, and slice away at any enemies that pop up in your path. While Castlevania’s heroes favoured the mythical Vampire Killer whip, our heroine, Sonja, prefers a good ol’ sword. Her sword in particular is sheathed in blood-red flame, but it doesn’t have any appreciable effect. You just swing that sword, and anything directly in front of you takes damage.

Stage layout is also incredibly reminiscent of Castlevania. You start out trodding through a spooky forest, continually heading to the right. As the game progresses, you’ll find yourself in vertically-scrolling stages, some that move to the left instead, and late in the game you’re able to somewhat freely explore the interior of the castle. The stage-to-stage progression has a nice touch of consistency too, as each new stage begins where you slayed the boss of the previous one.

There is some definite weirdness in how the game handles its second screen, however. As you can see above, the GamePad (or TV screen, if you so choose) will show a mini-map of the current stage, but it is teeny-tiny. Clearly what is happening here is that Nitrolic just put the maximum map size on the screen and then dummied out any sectors that weren’t used on the current stage. It’s totally understandable, but really weird to look at. At the very least, the map’s only usefulness in most situations is giving you a rough idea of what the stage looks like. It’s not as if you ever really need it for navigational purposes.

The one other thing the map is handy for is that it is a live representation of everything in the current stage. If you squint really hard, you can see any active enemies, but it’s not as if seeing where they are ahead of time is much of a boon. However, one boss’ gimmick is that it pops up and down from the bottom of the screen, and if you take a look at the map, you can see moving in real-time in the areas below, giving you a good indication of where not to stand when it reappears. It’s a nice little freebie in a moderately tough boss fight.

Something else completely inexplicable that the real-time map reveals is that the HUD is not a typical HUD, but is rather an in-game object that follows you around at all times. You can watch it move around with Sonja on the bottom screen, and it’s kind of baffling. I don’t know, maybe this is how it’s usually done? Games never had second-screen maps until the DS came around, and even then I can’t think of even one that showed everything moving in real-time. So this could be completely normal, and just not something that a player could ever perceive before. It’s really weird to see, though.

You know, usually when I start writing a thing, words will just keep pouring out of me and I usually have to make some cuts here or there to keep an article from being a rambly mess. I mean, a lot of them are rambly messes anyway, but they could have been so much moreso! Consider yourself lucky!

I think that the point I’m trying to get at here, is that I have no idea what the boss pictured above was supposed to be. Some hind of half-spider, half-peacock monstrosity? Even in motion it was no easier to ascertain the genus of the thing. There are a lot of monsters in this game, as you might imagine, but nothing quite as grotesquely mystifying as this particular creature. And it bugs me. I don’t know why, exactly. But it bothers me so much, that if I were a more proactive man, I would fire off an email or maybe even a tweet to Nitrolic games asking them to explain it to me.

I might do that anyway. But even if I do, I almost certainly won’t think to update this article with any answer I might receive.

I didn’t think that I had taken a screenshot of any of the terrible character portraits that I was talking about earlier. But lo and behold, there was one after all! So ugly!

If I hadn’t sold you on how much Citadale “pays homage” to Castlevania up until this point, I like to think that the screenshot above is about the hardest evidence that one could provide. Casltey background, bone-throwing skeleton monster, whippable swordable candles that may or may not drop helpful items, and last but not least, the obligatory deadly spikes. Yeah, I’d say that is a very clear picture of a Castlevania game if I didn’t already know better. Even the player character is somewhat androgynous-looking in the shot, so she could pass as your typical macho-man Castlevania protagonist, just with flowing, white hair.

The crystal somewhat off-centre of the screen is perhaps the most unique element, as it is a checkpoint marker that Sonja must touch to activate. Castlevania didn’t have those. If you died in those games, you just start from the beginning or an invisible checkpoint that activated automagically. I suppose I didn’t really need to point out that distinction, but it’s much too late to go back and erase all those words I just typed. Also this article is already about 70% filler by volume, so let’s keep it going!

Here’s a weird thing. Sometimes, during a screen transition, or when you flip the map between screens, everything will blow up to super-size and this is all you see on the screen for a couple seconds. It’s not overly common, but it’s just another really weird glitch to add to the already fairly long list of weird things about Citadale.

And perhaps I’ve been a little too focused on what makes Citadale odd. The fact of the matter is that when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s a solid game that could pass as a classic of the olden days. It doesn’t stand quite shoulder-to-shoulder with the games that it wants so desperately to be, but it’s a strong imitator where gameplay is concerned. I liked my time with it, but I’m definitely glad that I opted to wait for it to go on sale. It’s absolutely one of those games.

Between the time that I started planning this article and when I finished it (there was at least a three-month gap), an entire package of Citadale games called Citadale: The Legends Trilogy was released on the Wii U eShop. There is almost no information available on this game, but it apparently includes the original game and two more chapters of the Citadale story. It seemed like the first one wrapped itself up nicely, but then again, so did the first Castlevania. Will I buy this new trilogy? I’d give it a very strong maybe. It will definitely be another on-sale purchase, but I don’t watch the Wii U eShop sales as closely as I used to.

As far as how I would rank this (ostensibly) first chapter in the series? Ehh… maybe like a C+. It’s solid, but it’s nothing special, and it’s just too darned weird and glitchy to score any higher.

Also the three-page credit roll will just keep repeating forever until you make it stop. I must have let it go for four or five cycles before this fact finally clicked in my brain. Drakengard! Citadale!


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