This 3D platformer has a storyline that’s sweeter than a sugar-coated kitten, creating a wholesome vibe from the outset. The titular castle was once a refuge for wizards seeking a quiet life, only for them to mysteriously vanish after sightings of a ferocious dragon. Shrouded in mystery, the castle still stands, only reachable to those willing to brave the seas. Fuelled by curiosity, George the giraffe sets sail, only to find the castle overrun with unruly children – the oldest two have had a petty falling out with the younger kids, prompting George to defuse the situation. But who’s bullying who, exactly?
The tutorial takes place in a dream-like realm, and you’ll soon discover Castle on the Coast is the polar opposite of a precision platformer. George has been blessed not just with a high floaty jump, but can also double-jump, a wall run and – eventually – use a jetpack. This makes it almost impossible to miscalculate jumps. Often, a single leap sees George overshoot desired platforms and land on the next, making traversal a sinch. One small step for man, one giant leap for kind George.
The jetpack also makes almost every area of each location easily reachable. And if you do somehow fall from a higher area, returning to that point takes mere seconds, requiring little effort.
George – based on a children’s hospital mascot, incidentally – can also attack enemies with a spin manoeuvre. Enemies only appear sporadically, though, retaining the focus on finding sparkly gems that unlock new areas of the castle. To reach the castle’s tower and confront the two troublesome tykes, George will also need to locate three keystones – your reward for beating end of stage bosses.
Usually, new 3D platformers can be linked to a certain era, commonly structured either like a classic N64 platformer or a more open PS2 era affair. Castle on the Coast escapes these comparisons by feeling considerably modern – you’re free to explore the castle, unlocking new areas in no particular order, and there’s no handholding. Guidance is still given, thankfully, delivered in a way that’s surprisingly easy to overlook. Simply, a compass at the bottom of the screen points to nearby gems, while glowing purple auras surround doorways leading to the next location. Initially, we were oblivious to both, leading us to wonder if we’d somehow strolled off the beaten path. So to speak.
Once learning to pay attention to the guidance given, progression became far more straightforward. A consistent and smooth difficulty level is also to thank. It is strange, however, that the three main locations – which include a stunt park with controllable vehicles – aren’t formally introduced, with the first two keystone locations seemingly being nameless outside of achievement descriptions. Because of this, it’s never clear which part of the castle you’re currently in. A minor grumble.
The first visit to the magical portal realm also confused, with its purpose not coming into light until much later. It takes a while to get your bearings and discover how the game’s structure works, certainly.
Even so, this is one of the more relaxed platformers out there, rarely frustrating. Although low poly it’s still pleasing to the eye, using bold colours, sharp texture patterns and busy backdrops. George is spritely and has a few silly animations; he’s mute, but still able to converse by nodding his head…which leads to a few amusing conversations. NPC dialogue is considerably twee – characters either spur George on or talk about their favourite hobbies. George can also change his look, with some new outfits being well hidden, making them ideal end-game fodder.
It’s clear Castle on the Coast was made with love; the small development team has put their heart and soul into this project, resulting in something fun and imaginative. They could’ve easily let that imagination run wild, yet there’s very little bloat or filler – it’s a condensed experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome, taking no more than an evening or two to beat.
For all its silliness and whimsy, there’s an underlying understanding of how platformers work, with a camera set-up that helps rather than hinders, and plenty of unique ways to get around that help keep things fresh.
Parents can rest easy knowing there’s nothing sinister lurking under the colourful exterior, and with a second player able to tag along – taking control of George’s squirrel chum – there will be no squabbling over the joypad either. Unless you’re expecting a stiff challenge or a quest of epic ongoing proportions, I don’t think anyone will be left wanting – it’s a pleasing little package that exists only to enlighten and delight. Giraffes have the largest hearts of all land mammals, after all.
Castle on the Coast is out now on PC and Switch. Coming 14th December to PS4 and Xbox One.