Review: The Count Lucanor (Switch)

Just in time for Halloween comes The Count Lucanor, a strange and creepy little gem that was released onto Switch’s eShop last week after previously debuting on Steam a year and a half ago (it’s also available on Xbox One, PS4 and PS Vita). The game starts off with an overly familiar setup: the protagonist, Hans, throws a tantrum on his tenth birthday because his family (consisting of his mother, dog and himself, with his father away at war) is too poor for presents or a cake. He goes off in search of adventure, and encounters several stock characters (an old lady, a merchant, and a goat keeper), but just when things are starting to get tiresome the whole setup gets completely turned upside down and you start the actual main part of the game.

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In the attempt to avoid any spoilers about the story, as the surprises are what make the game so enjoyable, I’ll just say that the bulk of the game is spent inside a creepy castle where you’ve been tasked by a strange blue fairy-like creature called a kobold to guess his name. Sound familiar? One of the fun things about the game is how it seems inspired by various bits of folklore, like the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but thrown together in effective ways.

The main gameplay involves navigating the corridors of the castle and investigating its rooms. The rooms have puzzles that are pretty self-contained, and the action is typical 2-D adventure fare, such as flipping switches, pushing blocks, avoiding spikes, and picking up items such as a ladder and figuring out when and where to use them. Most of the puzzles are pretty straightforward but satisfying, although there may be one or two that will leave some people stumped for a little while. Similarly, the action is pretty basic (Hans has no weapons and can’t fight), although there are some sections that will require several attempts to get through. There’s a stealth aspect to the game, as dangerous monsters constantly patrol the castle. You’re armed with a limited number of candles and can set them on the ground to help keep track of the monsters’ movements. Oftentimes you’ll be leaving candles to light a path to a goal, and then have to collect them on your return trip, which feels like a fun callback to Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. There’s also a survival horror aspect in that you have a limited amount of coins, which are required for saving your game, and food, which you use to restore your health.

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Along with the monsters, there are also various NPCs you encounter, all of whom are memorable and provide the game with a heavy dose of humor to balance out the otherwise quite macabre setting. The pixel graphics are simply stunning: every element is well designed and fully realized, and the pixel cutscenes are likewise uniformly fantastic. The music, mostly on organ, is based on music by J. S. Bach, and perfectly fits the creepy castle. The sound design is similarly great (although in a few instances the volume of some sound effects could use some adjustment).

The game does have some downsides, including Hans’ default walking speed, which is quite slow (no doubt to make running away from monsters feel more tense). Some of the translations are awkward, and I experienced several crashes even in my short playthrough, which takes three to four hours. There are alternative endings, although it’s probably not worth another playthrough to see them all.

The Count Lucanor is a game that’s enjoyable from start to finish. It has some of the most memorable characters and ambience that I’ve come across in a good while, and although it’s on the short side it feels perfectly paced and just the right length for the experience it seeks to provide. The Count Lucanor continues the trend of impressive indie games that have made their way to Switch, and I’m looking forward to more from developer Baroque Decay.

Disclosure statement: Review code for this game was provided by Merge Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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