Retro-Pixel Castles takes a number of different genres and attempts to blend them into one, coherent game. At its heart, it is a village builder, but it adds in elements from tower defence games, survival games and also some nifty features inspired by godlike games. While it may sound like a bit of a mash-up that may be a bit overambitious, the game is surprisingly playable and fun, even in its current alpha state.
Initially, the game reminded me of Banished, a game I thoroughly enjoyed, but with a retro-styled interface. Like Banished, you take a small amount of settlers and are tasked with building a settlement for them that can help them grow and survive the harsh terrain. Unlike Banished, you’ll have to help them survive against the undead, which certainly adds a lot more challenge into the game, especially if you haven’t yet built any towers to help your civilians fight off the hordes. You’ll never be totally impervious to the onslaught either, so as your settlement grows, your tactics to fight off enemies will need to grow with it. As with most village builders, there is no defined end, so managing to stay on top of all incoming threats is a constant challenge that never gets dull.
There’s a surprising amount more to the game as well, with many little features crammed in that really make the game a fun experience. Straight away, the sound will hit you, and not in a bad way. It’s got a nice, relaxing soundtrack, which is complemented by the extra sound effects of your citizens performing tasks like chopping down trees, building something or mining. It may not always be an appreciated feature, but it really does set the scene well for this game. Adding onto that, the game also provides some small bits of realistic gameplay. For instance, rather than fending off a zombie with their arms full of rocks, they’ll drop them to go and fight them off. You’re also able to enjoy the stages of a buildings progression as it’ll start taking shape as the villagers build it, making it a nice process just to watch, and it definitely removes the boring wait and uncertainty over how long it will take.
What really impressed me though, especially considering the early phase the game is in, is the amount of content there is. As Raymond Doerr has had to find space for so many different genres, there’s a lot to do and enjoy in the game. You’ll have to decide between many different buildings and even the best location for your initial settlement. It can be tricky, especially for newcomers, to adapt and learn about all the new buildings, especially as you’ll have to construct your town before any zombies can start to attack you. If you’re not the greatest at working under pressure, Raymond has you covered, as there’s a “Peaceful” mode, where the undead will only rarely come to visit your town. It is where I spent a lot more of my time, especially as I was learning about the game, because it is incredibly complex and difficult to get to grips with.
Due to it being a pre-release game, it’s a little harsh to be critical about it, but there are definitely areas that could be improved. The main area where it could be improved is having a full tutorial in the game. Currently, the game links off to the developer’s forums where he has posted an incredibly brief tutorial on how best to set up at the start, but doesn’t go into any further detail about the different buildings or anything. It makes for some frustrating gameplay, especially at the beginning because you’ll have very little idea on what to do until you try out a few strategies.
The inability to gather resources during periods of downtime is also a bit of a pain in the arse. You’re able to chop down trees and hack away at mountains as long as you’re actually building something that requires those resources. It can make building a frustrating affair, especially with zombies and skeletons knocking at your door every five minutes.
Overall though, the game is still fun and it has quirks that need to be ironed out, but that’ll come with time. It shows a lot of promise and is updated frequently, so hopefully the game will finish as strongly as it has started. Whether it’ll be a big hitter is still up for debate, but at £7, it’s definitely worth picking up for a play.