|Min OS X: 10.4 CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz RAM: 128 MB Hard Disk: 106 MB|
The Dark Castle series started back in the 80s as a simple platformer on the early Macintosh. In the games, players explore the castle of the Black Knight in an attempt to defeat him and bring peace to the neighboring villages. Players do this by dodging bats and rats, defeating monsters with rocks or fireballs, and by hiding behind a magic shield. The second game in the series added a few features and more maps, but it didn't really add that much to the game. Return to Dark Castle (RtDC) is the latest member of the Dark Castle series and brings many improvements to the table, but are they enough to justify a sequel? There's only one way to find out, and that starts with...
Gameplay: Dip, Duck, Dash, and... Darn.The basic gameplay of Return to Dark Castle is based around jumping on various platforms and dodging the dangers of the castle. These dangers can be unimpressive things like mosquitoes and rats or more dangerous things like dragons and spike traps, but they all tend to leave you dead on the floor.
When combating these hazards at the start, you have nothing more than a bag of rocks and your reflexes. As you explore further and defeat the levels, you start building up a stash of magic orbs and artifacts. A few are useless treasures like golden apples, but the majority of them are quite helpful. For example, you can gain an upgrade to your rocks quite early that slows down the spawn time of the monsters that you kill. This can be extremely helpful in levels with dozens of smaller creatures, as the first ones tend to spawn just after you kill the last if you have the ordinary rocks.
Once you gain enough of the power-ups and are feeling pretty confident, you can attempt to defeat the original Black Knight levels for the reward of a piece of his armor. These pieces give you additional protection and make the game quite livable if you can manage to gather them all. There are a few hazards in the Black Knight levels you won't find anywhere else, though, so you have to keep ready at all times or you may find yourself in "Trouble."
Thankfully, when you're bored or frustrated, there are quite a few bonus levels where you can play mini-games or just enjoy a little relaxation. My favorite example of this is the hidden shooting gallery. You just stand still on one side of the level and throw rocks at the parachutes of falling mutants and keep them from landing. If one lands, you can knock another one out of the sky on it, so you're not completely sunk. It's a nice diversion, and a welcome rest from the hectic levels.
Aside from that, Return to Dark Castle is a pretty basic platformer. The rocks and treasures spice it up a little, but it all comes down to how good you are at jumping from rope to rope and from platform to platform. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem, but RtDC has a gigantic learning curve. Upon first starting, most players are unable to finish a single series of levels on beginner, and the later difficulty settings are much harder. However, the learning curve levels off the instant you become used to the beginner levels. Once you master the jumping and rock throwing, there really isn't any difficulty to the game. It just takes a while to reach that point.