The first thing you need to know about The Eternal Castle is it's a remaster of the 1987 original of the same name. Well... except it isn't. This ruse could easily be a gag or pretentious bullshit but the pretence it's a remaster of a game that came out decades ago is the first clue this game is about the past.
Set in the far flung future, The Eternal Castle has a deliberately vague plot but the key details aren't hard to unravel. An attempt to flee earth to other worlds ended with a load of colonists stuck in stasis on a ship in the Earth's orbit, all while the planet below fell into chaos. Playing as one of these colonists, Adam or Eve, your choice, your ship crashes on Earth. From there it's a romp through a mish mash of pulpy post-apocalyptic and science fiction vignettes; the mad scientist's lair, a set of war-torn ruins and an overgrown temple ruled by a cult.
The first thing anyone is going to notice is the visuals. This blown out 2-bit world is striking as all hell, entire landscapes stripped down to silhouettes and ghosts. While to play it will be familiar to anyone who's touched any modern cinematic platformer like Inside or Little Nightmares, its visuals make it clear it has roots in much older games like Another World and Flashback.
Stories in which our familiar earth is presented as ancient and forgotten, skyscrapers to be plundered like the ruins of other past civilisations, aren't new but The Eternal Castle uses video game history as the language to contextualise it. The past of our future won't be tied up in dusty tomes and tablet, it will be discs and hard-drives. The 2-bit lens through which we explore is a call to our own real world past to tell us we are rooting around history. Everything new will become old, even spaceships.
It's not just the aesthetics of those old titles that get borrowed though. The cinematic platformer genre is infamous for its trial and error approach, a trait carried all the way from Another World to Inside. The Eternal Castle has this too but it's not out of warm nostalgia. They don't lift it wholesale either - the game does allow in certain set pieces a variety of approaches and there are multiple routes through areas to stave off the repetition. The reloads and checkpoints are made a part of the story. As you live and die and repeat the game begins to drip feed the idea you are not in the real world.
A hidden challenge in the game is the tea master, an unassuming foe who sits drinking tea till challenged. He's tough as all hell but each time he wins, he recounts the number of attempts you've made. He acknowledges the player's continuity and canonises it within the game. Suddenly we have to question more about this world and its authenticity. Stuck in virtual reality is hardly a fresh trope of course but alongside the calls to the past, it's less about messing with your head and more about our relationship with our computer filled world.
'Cause retro here isn't used for cosy nostalgia. If anything it's discomforting. The minimalist visuals can be unsettling, disorientating. The technology depicted within is often deeply unpleasant. The teleport that brings us back to our crashed ship leaves our character puking up their guts, while computers are practically alien, inoperable. The eclectic mix of technologies and genres builds a world of chaos, like Another World and Flashback fed though a meat grinder.
So why pretend to be a remaster? Because it wants you to think of the past. Computers, software... these aren't our future any more. They're our history. The Eternal Castle wants us to root around in it and understand how alienated we can become from our culture within the space of a few years. How many born after the year 2000 could operate DOS? How easy is it to even go play the original versions of the games The Eternal Castle is inspired by? Technology moves so quickly that two generations of console back can feel like the distant past.
The Eternal Castle is about that strange, fraught relationship. These things we build that are destined to be obsolete well within our lifetime, maybe even within a few years. Our world is host to so many whole virtual worlds, lost to time. Entire stories and places on abandoned floppy disks or dusty hard-drives. With every new game we're forging entire universes that will inevitably be lost behind someone's sofa.
That's fascinating, scary and sad all at once but hey, cheer up, The Eternal Castle is also a game where you have a cool as hell punch up in the middle of a post-apocalyptic rave.
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