For the purpose of transparency, this review was completed using a review code provided by Baroque Decay. The use of a review code does not affect my judgement of this product.
The Count Lucanor brings another indie puzzle title to the table, but this one attempts to bring some horror with it. But, how does it hold up in a popular genre, which has some great games already?
The story of The Count Luncanor follows a young boy named Hans. Hans lives alone with his mother in a sort of hut, reminiscent of the medieval days, and is excited as it has hit his 10th birthday. However, that excitement soon dissipates because Hans family is in an impoverish state, and he does not receive the sort of gifts his friends have received for their birthdays. Due to this he decides to leave home to chase the riches of the world, and strangely without much of an argument or persuasion his mother lets him. Hans doesn’t get too far away from home before he is knocked out, but when he wakes up the world he is in has suddenly changed evil. Soon Hans is running away from goats (you walked past previously) that have now decapitated the farmer, he finds himself in a castle he has never seen before. This is where the game opens up, you need to complete the puzzles set about the castle – which for me brought to mind my favourite movie of all time Labyrinth.
As you enter this castle, you are greeted by the host, who you followed to the castle. He is the one who informs you that you need to complete the puzzles in the castle. The castle seems open to exploration, even though the story will lead you on a linear path towards the end. The puzzles are very similar to what you expect to find in point-and-click games, and where some puzzles can be satisfying, most of them are simple and don’t take much thought at all to resolve. But, this is not a bad thing as you want to move one and find out more of the very odd story that is unfolding around you.
There is no combat in the game, the only way to survive is putting candles down to protect yourself from the darkness or run and hide under tables and use other environmental items to starve the enemies that are trying to stop you progressing through the castle. Now some players might be annoyed by the slow nature in which Hans walks, but this becomes part of the difficulty of the gameplay. Many of Hans enemies have attacks that will draw him towards them, adding this to the limited mobility makes strategy a big thing, and also adds to the horror and tension. The final element that adds to the tension of the The Count Lucanor is the saving system. In order to save you need to use the in-game currency and save points are limited, so when you complete a harder and more dangerous puzzle the tension is there not to die before the next save point.
The Count Lucanor brings with it a visual style that is used by a number of indie games. The main game is the pixellated style, but in an interesting move, when speaking to characters it opens up an RPG style dialogue box with anime style designed characters in the corner. One thing the game does will despite its pixellated design is conveys the difference between the bright and happy world at the beginning, and the darker feel to the world that has gone to hell once you come around from being knocked out.
The atmosphere of the evil world is brought to life from the sound design. The game uses sounds really well. Firstly, the game includes an unsettling chip-tune soundtrack that is really unidentifiable to what it is trying to portray, which is joined by screams and sound of torture. Then suddenly there might be a part of silence, which is just as unsettling, but for me makes you feel for Hans and his mental state with what he is experiencing. I really think the use of the sound is artfully done, to add to the tension and make you feel for Hans. Lastly the dialogue with the characters is all about reading and it’s written like a fairy tale, but a proper Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Meaning the dialogue can be clever and funny but also carries a dark undertone.
Some games require a long playtime, some don’t and some outstay their welcome. The length of The Count Lucanor is something I feel the team Baroque Decay got right. The ending can change depending on how you handle puzzles near the end, and you might not always unlock the mystery of the story on your first playthrough. Given this and the fairy tale-esc feeling to the story it is worth playing through to get all the endings. It took me around 10 hours to see all endings. So, you will find a reason to go back and give the game another playthrough, even if you don’t do it straight away.
The Count Lucanor creates a world that is full of tension and is certainly memorable, mixing the horror feeling with some great puzzles. The overall presentation in the game brings the world to life, and gives you reasons to go back and experience it all again. Where the puzzle gameplay will engage a lot players, experienced puzzle gamers might find them all a bit familiar to what they have already experienced. But, for the £11.99 it costs I highly recommend giving this game a look, and personally hope the team revisit The Count Lucanor in the future.