You really only have to glance at one of its sumptuous screenshots or give the trailer a quick viewing to get a sense of the care, love and attention that went into crafting Bulkypix and White Bird Productions’ latest iOS effort Cardboard Castle (out now, $0.99). It’s a shame then that while the game is a stylistic triumph and makes inventive use of its cardboard cut-out world setting, a string of samey puzzles fail to capture the imagination.
Proceedings get underway with a brief but beautiful cutscene that establishes Cardboard Castle’s whimsical, children’s storybook-esque tone and madcap sense of fun. The game then follows a valiant cardboard knight as he traverses a lavish 2D landscape – again made entirely of cardboard – atop his trusty steed in search of damsels in distress and dragons to slay.
Rather brilliantly, this everything and everyone’s a cardboard cut-out gimmick not only gives the game a charming visual style, reminiscent of other titles with a handmadey aesthetic like Little Big Planet or Scribblenauts, but also provides a logical basis for the puzzles which involve chopping and changing aspects of environments in order to clear our hero’s path of an array of pesky obstacles and enemies.
As little Knighty automatically trots from left to right through this kooky cut-out Kingdom, your job is to figure out which of the tools at your disposal (a pair of scissors, a glass of water, etc) and other environmental elements can be best used to help him smite his enemies and overcome a series of head-scratchers. So, for example, if he happens across a seemingly impassable ravine guarded by an axe-wielding goon, what you’ve got to do is 1) bung your glass of water over the baddie’s head, thus reducing him to soggy mulch 2) swipe his axe and 3) use it to fashion a nearby tree into a handy bridge.
On paper, that probably sounds like a really novel and amusing idea for a puzzle game, but sadly the execution is a bit scrappy. Finicky drag-and-drop controls aren’t always easy to use and irritatingly the game will often confuse what it is you want to do when swiping a finger across the screen, panning the camera instead of dragging an item. Also, the fact that you’re forced to adopt a tiresome trial and error style of play, given that problems must always be solved in a particular order, makes for rather stiff and rigid gameplay bereft of any sense of being free to experiment. Oh, and the introduction of some manner of an undo/rewind feature would be most welcome in a future update, because no one likes having to start re-levels from scratch every time they screw up (I did make a similar suggestion when reviewing Beyond Ynth, and that worked out pretty well).
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about Cardboard Castle: it looks and sounds absolutely amazing, is side-splittingly funny in parts, and boasts a solid and well implemented in-game hints system. But once the initial novelty factor wears off and those clunky controls render more complex puzzles a bit of a chore, you’re likely to lose patience with the game. To sum up, while White Bird might want to go back to the drawing board with certain aspects of the gameplay, Cardboard Castle is still a cut above your average puzzler and worth checking out, if only to ogle those utterly delightful visuals.
iFanzine Verdict: I’m kinda torn. As much as I loved Cardboard Castles’ lo-fi, arty aesthetic and clever concept, its simplistic puzzles soon get repetitive and the unbending logic needed to solve them means this great looking adventure isn’t half as fun as it could have been.