It’s a big week for new heavy hitting games, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for the smaller titles. The Count Lucanor is arguably one of the better games of this bunch, which is why its choice of release timing has me somewhat baffled. There’s better, or quieter to be more specific, weeks in which this game could have set loose. Sadly, amidst Sea of Thieves, Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered, and Attack on Titan 2, The Count Lucanor may well suffer from being almost completely overshadowed. The shame in this is that The Count Lucanor deserves more attention. It’s a game that draws inspiration from other well established experiences, yet goes on to deliver something remarkably well structured. Should you find yourselves not interested in any of the big-budget titles arriving this week, The Count Lucanor is where you should be looking next.
The game tells the story of a poor boy named Hans, a character that immediately comes across as an arrogant little brute who fails to appreciate that the world doesn’t revolve around him. Living in poverty with his mother, Hans is ready to celebrate his tenth birthday, that is, until he discovers that he has no presents or sweets to celebrate with. Deciding that enough is enough, Hans leaves his home behind in search of a better, more rewarding lifestyle. Upon his departure, his mother presents him with some cheese, three gold coins, and his grandfather’s cane. I’ll admit, it was hard to like Hans from the onset, but the adventure that follows suit swiftly contradicted how I felt about this otherwise selfish individual. Before long, Hans bumps into goat herding boy that sees fit to share some alcohol with him in exchange for Hans’ help. With an under-aged gut full of ale, Hans passes out, only to wake up at nighttime in the company of some bizarre happenings.
Located just north of where Hans passed out, it becomes immediately apparent that something isn’t right. The goat herding boy is now nothing more than a pile of gore and bone, with all of his goats stood on their hind legs, menacingly looking on. Suddenly, a mysterious figure allures you to the hidden doorway of Count Lucanor, and from here on out, Hans’ adventure begins. The tutorial-esque section of the game does a good job at feeding you into the basics of play, and also highlighting that nearby residents are equally as selfish as Hans. By the time Hans reaches the aforementioned castle of Count Lucanor, you’ll know exactly what to expect from within. It appears as though Count Lucanor is on the lookout for a new heir, and fortunately for Hans, he’s able to take the trial that will seemingly grant anyone who successfully completes it, that very status. This is the bread and butter of the story, and the gameplay for a matter of fact.
One of the first rooms that Hans discovers is a room in which a name must be spelled out correctly. You’re practically given the first letter, but must earn consecutive letters from other trials throughout the castle. The aim of the game is to obtain all of the letters, and rearrange them to spell the correct name. The catch, however, is that the bulk of play consists of hiding from eerie guardians that are in place to protect the castle, leaving Hans with no other alternative but to hide from their gaze. Guardians seem to be placed at random, meaning you never truly know when you’re about to bump into one. On the flip side, Hans can make use of candlesticks to light up a trail, which helps to ensure that the guardians cant capture you off guard. Candles are limited, so it pays off to use them sparingly, however you can indeed pick them back up from the ground and place them somewhere else if you find yourselves lacking in stock.
In the center of the castle is a fountain, with some NPCs and a shop nearby. This fountain is guarded by a crow, and in order to save the game, you must throw in one golden coin. Coins are far from limitless, and by the time you reach Count Lucanor’s castle, you have just one left. More coins can be obtained by searching the immediate environment, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll be finding them in bulk, because you wont. This system makes the game very tense, especially when it’s been a while since you last saved and you end up face to face with danger. Food can be consumed to give you some additional health, and thankfully, there’s much more of this within the castle, than coins. Natural progression is gated by the use of color keys, which you will need to obtain in order to access specific doors in the castle’s interior. I quite enjoyed the blend of puzzles thrown in, which prove to be quite tricky at the best of times, but not so much so that it has you scratching your head for too long.
Many of the rooms house environmental danger, which takes careful footing to get by unharmed. For instance, the room in which I located my second letter, required that I maneuvered around a heap of carelessly placed guillotine to reach a chest. This may not sound too difficult on paper, but when you’re fresh out of candles and most of the rooms are dark, it soon becomes quite a task. Other rooms include similar dangers, such as several incinerators or prowling enemies, but the true difficulty sits with navigation. You never quite know where you’re going to begin with, and it’s not until later in the game when you feel confident enough to traverse the castle with ease. Hans moves at a snail pace, and seems to lack the ability to run. On that score, the game is very slow starting out, but by the time you reach the castle, it’s a design choice you’ll become fond of. There’s no shortage of hiding places throughout, be it under a table or behind some curtains, and you’ll do well to place a candle here when you can spare them, simply for the sake of emphasizing where you need to get to if you bump into trouble. This pretty much sums up the entirety of The Count Lucanor. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse, set within a castle full of danger and eerie behavior.
The game isn’t very lengthy, and can be nuked in roughly five or so hours. There’s no reason to replay the game upon completion, unless you really enjoyed what was on offer and want to unlock the multiple endings, or you fancy mopping up unlocked achievements. What I will say is that each and every room within is diverse and well designed, ultimately providing its players with new and interesting locations throughout the whole adventure. Sadly, The Count Lucanor doesn’t come without fault. The framerate takes a staggering turn for the worse less than fifteen minutes in, and periodically persists when there’s a lot happening on-screen. For a game that’s visually far from taxing on the hardware, this is unforgivable and something I certainly hope is remedied in a swift post-launch patch. The controls can also be quite clunky, and tedious too at times. Still, with that to the side, The Count Lucanor is an easy game to recommend. It’s simple to play, hard to put down, and relays a spooky (well detailed) pixel art design that’s upheld by a soundtrack that’s equal to that.
The Count Lucanor wonderfully blends together survival and puzzle gameplay, ultimately producing an experience that’s tense and enticing. The tedious controls and the frequent framerate issues hold it back to some degree, but even with these problems, The Count Lucanor is a worthy investment.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.