VonGarland Castle: Sacrilege of the Night by Ash Jackson
VonGarland Castle: Sacrilege of the Night could accurately be described as a “Metroidvania,” a term I don’t much care for, but to be even more accurate, you could call it a “Castlevaniavania.”
Or even a “Castlecastlevaniavania,” so obvious is developer Ash Jackson’s undying – or undead – love for the series in question.
At the risk of losing all of my valuable gamer street cred, I must confess here that despite being a fan of side-scrolling, exploration-heavy games like Apotheon, Sundered, and Hunter’s Legacy, I don’t think I’ve played a Metroid game since the first one, and I don’t think I’ve played a Castlevania game at all, nor have I engaged with any of the spin-off media.
That said, you don’t have to be a Simon Belmont scholar to note some of the most obvious comparisons between the early games in the series and VonGarland Castle.
From whip-wielding vampire hunters – from a long family line of whip-wielding vampire hunters, no less – to anagrams of famous historical horror characters to health-restoring meat hidden behind wall blocks, the intentional references abound.
And if I can pick up this many off the top of my head, it’s a safe bet that there are about a million more that I’m not even aware of, each of them as tasty to hardcore Castlevania fans as an entire roasted chicken – still hot and steaming – hidden behind a wall.
A Wonderful Game to Have a Curse
All of that could have easily become insufferable if VonGarland Castle wasn’t completely suffused with joy. This isn’t a knock-off; it is a gleeful, lighthearted homage that takes its inspirations seriously.
It’s loaded with comedic moments, not all of them directly Castlevania-related; in addition to roast chicken, you can also dine on Steamed Hams (I got that one)!
It’s full of secrets to collect, new characters to unlock, secondary weapons to try out, and pieces of the VonGarland family tree to uncover. There’s even a Vampire Survivors-inspired mini-game!
It has a deliciously bouncy but spooky chiptune soundtrack and lovingly crafted character designs that perfectly match the cartoonish but spooky atmosphere of the game. The monster designs are great, too, especially the alchemical spiders and centipedes with their glowing green abdomens.
There are a few tiny blemishes, like misspellings and a merchant interface that feels more confusing than it has to be, but the overall design quality could easily be mistaken for the product of a much larger studio.
Whip It Good
Of course, all the best intentions and solid design would mean nothing if VonGarland wasn’t fun to play, but it is!
It’s old school, for sure, and it’s difficult. The platforming and jumping feel weighty and ponderous compared to the speed and bounciness of many other modern action games, checkpoints are few and far between, and even the tiniest enemies can kill even an experienced player (crows are particularly frustrating).
It’s an approach that forces patience and thoughtfulness – and even some memorization – over speed and pure reflex.
Thankfully, the Mega Man-inspired set-up of multiple bosses that can be defeated in any order lets you continue to develop your skills and your feel for the game without bashing your head against a challenging section until you quit out of frustration.
I’ve had more fun with VonGarland Castle than anything I’ve reviewed in a long time. This review itself is late because I didn’t want to stop playing. I could lie and say I was “getting more screenshots for the article,” but the truth is that I was enjoying myself too much to quit.
Speaking of those pesky, difficult sections, I did run into a few and went looking for walk-throughs, but I couldn’t find any, which leads me to believe that most people are shamefully overlooking VonGarland Castle. Don’t make the same mistake.
VonGarland Castle: Sacrilege of the Night is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for VonGarland Castle: Sacrilege of the Night below: