This month's Patron selected title is Nivek's Defender of Castle Sin, an RPG with your typical swords and sorcery fantasy theme that got a bit of attention for its graphics and unconventional scenario. It was the winner of a Classic Game of the Month award (though no review was written for it), and has some slightly above average scores from those who did decide to review the game.
Like Meet the Tardigrades from the previous Closer Look, this is a game that is mostly held together by the artwork. Nivek's graphics on gameplay boards are nothing special, but the game's combat system has some pretty cool looking portraits of monsters. So let's take a look at this late 90s classic RPG.
Ah, the comforting feeling you get when
dusk slowly falls, and changes to night.
Night, when no one, brave or foolish would
dare venture near Castle Sin.
You are the Defender of Castle Sin. You
alone know of Sin's dark secrets. Castle
Sin is a portal to the depths of the Abyss
where dwell creatures beyond the darkest
nightmares of any who live in this land.
You are the guardian of this portal, sworn
to kill any who would enter, be they good
or evil, for fear that word would spread
of this portal, and evil, twisted, mortals
would attempt to take this place as their
As of late though, word of Castle Sin
seems to have spread. Or at least word of
the great evil within the castle's walls.
Many mortals who are considered to be
great heroes of the land have attempted
to enter to destroy the portal, only to
meet their doom at your hands, for no
hand, be it that of a mortal, or a god can
undo this portal, for it was forged by
the great Chaos, master of all, and of
nothing, father of the gods.
Ah, well. It's time to go to bed, for who
nows what new challenges tomorrow may
bring. It's best that you be prepared.
• • • • • • • • •
Before anything else the game gives an opening plot, immediately revealing the more unusual character you'll be playing as. The defender is no wandering adventure, destined hero, or orphan with a mysterious past. Instead of exploring a fantasy world your job is to stay put, keep the portal to the Abyss shut tight, and destroy any intruder whether they be hero seeking to destroy the portal or villain seeking to exploit it.
Also as far as turning things on their head goes, countless ZZT games fit the "wake up and save the world" trope, but here the game begins with the defender getting ready to go to bed.
Control is given on an empty board atop the castle just as the sun is setting. The purple/red sunset fade makes an appearance here and can be seen in a lot of ZZT worlds.
There's nothing to interact with for the first few boards. The path splits right from the start but both paths are identical (aside from which direction they face) and lead to the same location.
An entrance to the inside of the castle.
The room inside just so happens to be the defender's bedroom where a large bed with some depth via shading is waiting for the player to climb into.
There are also a few dead plants. The defender doesn't seem to care for them at all. Their life is a pretty miserable one really. Sit in a castle all day with nobody to talk to. Any visitors have to be killed. It's rough.
There's a rear exit from the bedroom as well, but it's blocked by an invisible wall explaining that you need to sleep and don't need to go deeper into the castle.
Stepping onto the bed involves hitting a dark blue on dark blue passage which transports the player to a new board to allow time to pass. The exit from earlier becomes blocked off by the wall and the blue passage to the rest of the castle becomes open.
In no time at all the defender has their first intruder. Entering the passage transports the player to their first fight.
It's a priest who has dared to enter
Castle Sin! Another ignorant would be hero
attempting to find the portal. It is a
pity that he must die.
Hmm, definitely a novice adventurer, he
seems to sure of himself to have been
tested in real life as a hero. At least
when he dies it will be no great loss to
• • • • • • • • •
The first battle is against a priest. The defender is well known to all who venture into the castle and many would like to see them killed in return for all the lives they have ended.
The defender meanwhile isn't the least bit afraid and coldly dismisses them as a mere novice. The "kill everyone" rule means killing random idiots and great heroes alike. It's a miserable job and the defender seems pretty numb to the whole thing by this point.
The combat works by touching the blue arrow and selecting from a few possible attacks:
At first the defender has two melee attacks and two spells. Later on in the game more spells and a few special items are acquired as well.
A big issue with the game's combat is that the information given is vague. The difference between all of these attacks goes unstated and a display bug can make it difficult to figure out exactly how much damage is being dealt.
For your reference:
- Slash - 50% hit, 6 damage
- Stab - 75% hit, 4 damage
- Steelfyre - 50% hit, 9 damage, (4 mp)
- LightningBlade - 25% hit, 12 damage, (15 mp)
I didn't bother looking at any of the details while playing and definitely used LightningBlade more than I would have had I realized the extra damage is minuscule and its hit rate is terrible all while costing nearly four times as many magic points to cast compared to Steelfyre.
Magic points are tracked by the player's score, so even with the more expensive spell, there's plenty to go around for a bit.
Combat is mostly dealt with by picking your attack, getting hit in return, and getting these little messages about whether the attack hit or not.
At the same time the enemy's HP counter here decreases. I don't think we've seen counters made out of objects here before. They're actually really simple to code as long as the counter only ever increases or decreases. I don't believe I've ever seen somebody code a display that can handle both. The good news is this means no enemies are going to heal themselves.
Unfortunately, the HP counter is slightly bugged, but it manages to only be a display error and doesn't result in enemies getting more or less health than they should have. A mistake in the code causes the 10s counter to decrease early result in a countdown of health causing the display to go 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 00, 09, 08, etc. If you're not paying close attention it's possible to thing an enemy has 10 less health than the actually do.
Eventually the priest is defeated. There are also some simple flashing animations that play on hits, but I managed to miss every single one of them when taking screenshots for this first battle. We'll see them later on though!
Combat ends and the defender proceeds into the castle. It is vital to make sure that there is nobody else inside.
The defender doesn't even clean up the corpses. Their life sucks.
Outside the portal room the lock has been destroyed. Things aren't looking good. I do love the lock fragments littering the ground.
Fortunately it's not too late just yet. The person who got past the lock has yet to make it to the portal. Moving to the chokepoint on the board causes the player to hit an invisible passage and initiate the next battle.
The warrior draws their sword and the fight ensues. Here we can see the outline produced when a foe is damaged. The same outline is used regardless of attack, but the colors do change, making things a little more dynamic.
The outline also isn't a perfect match to the rest of the portrait, being slightly irregularly shaped which I think looks nicer than if things just surrounded it perfectly evenly.
Different spells, different flashes.
The combat is pretty dang repetitive and gets old very quickly. It might be
a bit more palatable if every message wasn't a popup and instead displayed
along the bottom. It's likely this was intended to be the case, since they're
all single line messages, but if the line after a line of text in ZZT-OOP isn't
a cycle ending one it will result in a blank line being added and a popup
scroll instead. (This is mostly easily avoided by adding a
/i idle statement after text).
The portal room is temporarily sealed off via some magic, but there's still more work to be done before the defender can rest again.
Backtracking opens up a new room to the south, close to the entrance to the castle.
And look who just walked in. They run off as soon as the defender enters the room, but there's a bit more to this room than meets the eye.
So, every plant in the game has the same message about how all the plants here died ages ago and I stopped looking at the plants after maybe two boards. For some reason I decided to look at one of the plants again in this room...
Now, to be fair, this plant does look different from the others in this room, but the same character was used for some plants earlier as well so it's not really suspicious if you don't decide to examine every plant.
A previously hidden passage on the board opens up and a special hidden fight initiates!
The wizard isn't much of a fight at all.
So uh, Defender of Castle Sin has multiple endings and I just accidentally stumbled into the secret one.
Of course I also saved on the wizard battle board after winning so I had to replay the game from the start to continue with the rest of it.
Chasing after the person who ran away instead of stumbling onto a secret wizard leads to a battle against a thief. Whether they're a thief trying to mess with the portal here or just trying to loot the castle the end result in the same:
They try to kill the defender, and the defender kills them first.
The defender uses some magic to temporarily help seal the castle entrance and make sure there are no more intruders still inside.
But shortly after finishing the spell it becomes obvious that somebody's still inside. The defender has to backtrack towards the portal room. The fake plant unfortunately still remains and the fight can be accessed on the way back which is a shame because if it disappeared and disabled the fight after beating the thief there'd be a hint that there was something up with it.
It also makes the ending make no sense if you do fight the wizard on the way back as there's somebody in the portal room and the wizard ending is "Yeah the castle is safe now good job".
We finally get ourselves a look at the portal, and the stupid wizard who thinks they can do something about it. It's not explicitly stated that it's the same wizard disguised as a plant from the hidden ending, but it certainly makes the most sense if that's the case.
The portal makes use of ZZT's blinking color support to create an automatic flashing effect. Portals are the leading use case for blinking colors.
Oh, and don't get too close to the portal.
This is considered ending two according to the board's title. It's a gruesome one, with the defender being crushed to death by a giant hand.
The mage looks at you with a terrified
You decide the only thing you can do is
enter the libraries of Castle Sin hoping
to find some spell you can use...
• • • • • • • • •
The wizard immediately realizes they've bitten off more than they can chew and have really messed things up. Meanwhile the defender takes action, running away to the library.