STAFF REVIEW of Count Lucanor, The (Xbox One)

Monday, March 26, 2018.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Count Lucanor, The Box art Age old fairy tales have been used as fodder and inspiration for many movies, TV shows and video games throughout the decades that these entertaining mediums have existed. Sometimes the stories are told almost verbatim, while other experiences only tie in loosely, using the source material as a backdrop for something else. Such is the case with the game The Count Lucanor from Baroque Decay Games.

Things begin in a colourful and very pixelated fantasy world, which is home to a sad boy named Hans and his cash strapped mother. It’s a special day too, because Hans has just turned 10 years of age. His excitement doesn’t last for long though, because once he returns home from playing with his best friend, the family dog, he discovers that not only does his mother not have a toy for him, but there won’t be any sweets for supper either.

Those two disappointments end up bringing our fairy tale character of a protagonist to a boiling point, upon which he lashes out at his poor mom (whose husband went off to war and never returned), before telling her that he’s going to leave in search of something better. Surprisingly, the young woman lets her son take off into the great unknown, that in this game are the neighbouring woods, but she doesn’t do so without giving him three things: their three remaining gold coins, a block of cheese, and a cane.

After distracting his dog with a bone, young Hans sets out on his own with almost nothing to his name and a very limited inventory to boot. It isn’t long before he comes across others who just so happen to be in precarious situations. First, there’s an old lady and a pig. The old lady laments needing a cane, which creates a moral dilemma (the first of several) for the player and his or her pixel-based avatar. Giving the old woman the cane will help her, but at what cost? Will it be needed later?

As he progresses through his journey, Hans encounters others, including a down on his luck merchant wanting money and a shepherd who wishes for nothing more than cheese. How one interacts with these characters affects how things play out later on, and surely impacts upon which of the game’s several endings you’ll get.

So, what type of game is The Count Lucanor? I guess you could describe it best as being a retro inspired, Zelda-light game with horror elements. It is a game that has absolutely nothing in the way of combat, but it looks and plays similarly to the classic screen changing 2D Zelda titles of the 80's and 90's.

Really though, The Count Lucanor is a colourful and quirky indie game that stands out for its design elements and its characters, as well as its intriguing main quest that is presented as a series of trials. How is that? Well, shortly after walking away from home and meeting those down on their luck characters (not to mention some animals in need of food), Hans falls into a dream state and awakens in a bloody nightmare, within which a blue kobold leads him towards a small, Gothic castle that is said to be owned by the Count himself.

The real quest begins once the castle has been breached through a crack in the wall, and it’s then that the kobold speaks. What he tells the player is that in order to leave and earn that which he seeks (a new life free of frugality), Hans must complete several trials and collect letters that will then be used to spell out the kobold’s actual name. Once that has been accomplished, and the name has been spelled out of eight letters, Hans’ life will change forever.

This is all intriguing, but it’s also too good to be true and comes with some caveats, those being a dangerous castle that is full of traps in the form of spikes, fire, and enemies. Hell, the palace’s own caretakers are creatures who stalk its halls and emerge from the darkness with intent to harm. Coming across one can mean death for our young hero, who has limited health that can only be replenished by eating different types of discovered food. Not only that, but death means one must reload a previous save, and that comes with the threat of lost progress. This is amplified by the fact that one cannot save on a whim, with the only places to save being two separate wells, both of which charge a gold coin upon each visit.

The good news though, is that coins aren’t too rare so long as you explore and interact with everything you come across inside of the castle and its many unique rooms. These rooms are, of course, where your trials are housed, and each one is different. The first one has you moving boxes out of the way in order to make a clear path to a chest containing a letter, whereas another room tasks Hans with deftly avoiding upwards of one hundred different flame panels as he attempts to get from its door to its well protected chest. Meanwhile, other rooms introduce spike traps, hidden urns that must be lit, and a challenging maze into the equation.

All of the aforementioned room's doors are colour coded too, and you’ll need to earn their like coloured keys in order to open them. First comes blue, then green, before red, and the optional gold key that can be purchased from a merchant. These are unlocked through progress, and are almost always given to you in the castle’s garden, where its colourful (and mostly familiar) cast of characters hang out by a well.

Needless to say, this is as much a puzzle game as it is anything else, even if the puzzles themselves aren’t too involved. Most do require a bit of thought though, and will require you to collect items as you explore. For instance, there’s a bucket that can be collected then filled with water, a wooden plank that can be used as a bridge, and a piece of a ladder that can help you reach a second floor. None of it is overly complicated or unfair, but some thought is involved, meaning that it’ll take you a bit of time to complete everything. This inflates the game’s short length somewhat, as does dying at the hands of the enemies who stalk the castle’s rooms and hallways while whispering creepy things. You can usually tell where they are by the volume at which their whispers are emitted.

Many, many candles can be found inside of The Count Lucanor’s castle, and it’s these that will help light your way in the darkness, while aiding you in your attempts to spot and avoid those creepy creatures. These candles never melt either, meaning that you could technically use the same one throughout the entire game. Why have so many then? Well, it’s simple: As you walk through the castle, you’ll likely find leaving candles helpful, because they’ll light your way and allow you to watch the creatures move along their path as you hide under a table or behind a curtain. Candles are also especially helpful during the maze, because dropping them at different intervals can help one remember which path you have already taken.

In addition to the above, which all requires common sense, a bit of thought, some tactical evasion and use of a basic inventory system, The Count Lucanor presents a quirky cast of characters and a surprisingly intriguing storyline. To be honest, I never expected to become as invested or be as interested in Hans’ quest as I became, and that was a nice surprise. I was always looking forward to seeing what would happen next with the characters I’d met and any that would be introduced later on. There’s a bit of everything here: charity, morality, murder, sacrifice and witchcraft. Ok, maybe that’s not everything, but you get the gist.

The Count Lucanor isn’t a long game though, and that was surely a design choice as much as anything. Its quest is meant to be played through more than once, so as to experience all of its endings (five, I believe). As a first time play through, it should only take you between two and three hours, though this will vary depending on how often you die and whether or not any of the puzzles end up stumping you.

Now, as mentioned before, The Count Lucanor is a retro inspired indie, and it wears this with a badge of honour. The visuals are a mix between 8 and 16-bit graphics, with limited detailing given to Hans and quite a bit given to his surroundings. Most of the character models are somewhat basic, but stylistically so. The sound is also very retro, using a chip tune model, and it works very well and is of quality throughout.

That said, there are issues within this digital download of a game. Although its presentation is FAR from demanding, there are still performance issues where the frame rate will drop for an entire screen. You’ll be walking and then begin to feel like you’re walking into the wind. The controls can also be wonky at times and not work properly, and by that I mean that Hans won’t always move as he’s directed. Sometimes he’ll just stand in place for a moment.

So, what do we here at XBA think of The Count Lucanor. Well, it is an interesting little indie game that deserves attention. Sure, it may be flawed in places, but its issues do not have a greatly negative effect on what is, a neat and intriguing game. It is a game that is quite good as is, but could've been very good with more time in the proverbial oven.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.7 / 10
Visuals: 7.6 / 10
Sound: 7.8 / 10


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