Developer: Gameloft
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
User Interface Rating: ★★★★★

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Every now and then, you come across a game that completely obliterates all of its competition and sets a new standard for the genre—and for the platform. Firemint’s Real Racing, Gameloft’s Zenonia, and ngmoco’s Rolando franchise are all examples of must-have games that pushed the bar for App Store games higher and higher still.

Now enter Castle of Magic, a game that seeks to challenge the likes of Mario and Sonic and redefine platforming on the iPhone.

Castle of Magic by Gameloft is a delightful, creative romp through five lushly detailed worlds that will have old-school platformer fans drooling. The game opens with a familiar premise. The hero has broken his video console, and as a result has ventured into (gasp!) the outside world, along with his friend Jenny. They discover a treasure chest on the beach, and it opens a portal to a magical world…where Jenny gets kidnapped by a nefarious magician by the name of Nestafax. Fortunately, our hero has grabbed Nestafax’s spare hat and is now a magician himself. Pretty sweet, right?

Okay, so it’s nothing overly original, but it does allow for a light-hearted plot that quickly gets pushed aside by the gameplay. Castle of Magic is a 2D platformer with 3D graphics, and it has all of the best genre standbys: simple controls, a plethora of powerups, and creative levels that urge you to explore.

img_00881The controls follow a well-tested scheme. A virtual D-pad controls movement (you can also duck and ground-pound) and the buttons on the right control special actions like jumping and firing spells. As a normal wizard, you only have two buttons; however, power-ups and special circumstances alter the options available. If you’re standing by a doorway to a hidden level area, a Door button appears; if you’re a Swordfish, you can’t fire spells, but you can use a torpedo-like head-on attack. The controls occasionally feel unresponsive, but for the most part I thought that they worked well. If only we had a real D-pad!

Each level consists of a basic aim—starting at point A, make it to point B—but what differentiates Castle of Magic is the creativity packed into each level. There are all of the typical floating platforms, vanishing clouds, and hidden gems present here, but finding all of the goodies can be a real challenge, and all is not as it appears. My favorite example is the Pirate world, in which plummeting off of a ship doesn’t yield death, but instead opens up an entirely new, underwater area ripe for exploring. You can even get the special Swordfish powerup while submerged! The levels in Castle of Magic are always changing, and better yet, they’re actually difficult, at least if you’re planning to explore. The difficult curve is such that young kids will be able to get the hang of it easily, but even for gamers like myself, it’s challenging enough to keep you engaged. Gameloft struck a perfect balance here.

img_0099One thing that deserves mention is the neat array of powerups available in Castle of Magic; after all, who wants to remain a boring, basic wizard for long? Snagging a lightning bolt, the most basic of powerups, gives your spells extra power and range. Other powerups are more creative, such as the Hunter powerup (the hero bellows “Robin Hood!” upon getting it) which gives you a bow. Not only can your arrows fly farther, but they also stick to surfaces, meaning that you can use them to scale walls and reach previously out-of-bounds areas. Some powerups, such as the Fatty and Swordfish powerups, are world-specific or even location-specific. (You can’t be a fish out of water; that wouldn’t exactly be a boon…)

There are five worlds, each of which contains three regular levels and one boss level. The boss levels are a nice change of pace, though they were a bit repetitive for my tastes. Unfortunately, the twenty levels simply weren’t enough for me. I wanted more!

The production values in Castle of Magic are top-notch; the 3D graphics look great, despite a few rough edges; the background music fits the game well, and the sound effects are cute without being annoying. Even the tiny bits of voice acting sound great. (My favorite is still the shout of “Rrrobin Hoood!” that accompanies the Hunter powerup.) Sadly, you can tell that Gameloft was pushing the envelope; the framerate isn’t perfect and visuals sometimes lag a tiny bit.

img_00891Castle of Magic doesn’t have too many drawbacks. The length is the main issue; while 20 levels is a fantastic value for $4.99, I’d be more than willing to pay for more, or even for a sequel. The occasional drop in framerate is annoying, but it’s more than acceptable given the amount of eye candy.

So, is Castle of Magic every bit as magical as the name claims? You bet it is. If you’re a fan of classic video games or just plain fun games in general, make sure to check this spellbinding title out. (There’s even a lite version!) I love every inch of this fantastical romp, and it’s earned a spot on my front page. This is my idea of a 5-star game, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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