Traditionally, I’m not a huge fan of combat-less adventure games; I like to run around and smack things, or at least have a more meaningful way of interacting with a game’s world or environment. So, when first booting up The Count Lucanor, I was apprehensive of how much I would actually enjoy the game. While I’m still not entirely sold on the idea of adventure games with no combat, The Count Lucanor made a strong case for me to at least give other titles in the genre a shot.
Without getting too much into the details of the story, The Count Lucanor focuses around a 10-year-old boy named Hans who leaves home to seek adventure, and to escape his mother who could not afford to buy him a birthday gift. Seeking his fortune, Hans sets out on his adventure, where he meets certain NPCs along the way who the player may choose to help or ignore. Not long into his adventure, Hans stumbles into a graveyard and is rendered unconscious, only to awake to an otherworldly dimension where familiar people and places are no longer as they once were. Before long, Hans meets a mysterious blue creature who leads him to Tenebre Castle, where he must undergo trials to meet the mysterious Count Lucanor and receive his fortune.
Inspired by games like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, The Count Lucanor is a pixel-art, combat-less adventure game, with numerous puzzles to solve and characters to interact with. In the short prologue before reaching Castle Tenebre, the choices the player makes regarding various NPCs will impact the story later; once in the castle, many puzzles can be solved in different ways using different items, or bypassed altogether. Since the choices you make early on impact what goes on inside the castle, I’m intrigued to go back in and play beyond my initial play-through to see how different choices impact the game later, which speaks to the game’s replayability. The game’s ending I encountered, among several other possible endings, also makes me want to go back for another play-through, but for reasons I won’t spoil in this review.
While in the castle, the player takes Hans throughout several rooms in the castle to solve puzzles, find items, and uncover clues about Count Lucanor. I never found the puzzles overly difficult, however I did die quite a few times when caught unprepared by one of the castle’s many ghouls, who can drain Hans’ health almost instantly. To avoid these monsters, Hans must hide behind curtains or under tables—if they can’t see Hans, they’ll continue about their patrol of the castle. One of the incentives of exploring is to find food to regenerate health, and gold coins to either buy items or to save the game. And yes, gold coins are limited, effectively giving the player a limited number of opportunities to save the game. There were many instances where I had to choose between buying an item from a merchant or saving my progress, and it’s somewhat unsettling choices like this that make The Count Lucanor nail-bitingly enjoyable.
Even after my roughly three-hour play-through, I didn’t see every room in the castle, which speaks to the nature of the game’s non-linear structure—that you can complete the game without ever stepping foot in certain areas shows the game is ripe for replayability. It’s difficult to say much more about the gameplay and story without getting into spoiler territory, but the puzzles and challenges, though a bit on the easy side, are well spaced out and don’t feel repetitive.
While I was initially put off by the game’s art style, it admittedly grew on me as time passed. The game’s graphics are pixel-based, somewhere between 8- and 16-bit, and its cut scenes are reminiscent of SNES-era games. The soundtrack is a midi re-imagining of scores from Johann Sebastian Bach and is beautifully fitting with the game’s setting. The sound effects within the castle are eerie and definitely add to the spookiness of the situation and setting—a perfect fit for this time of year. Though I will say the game’s “T” rating may be a bit liberal—things like bloody severed heads and more than a handful of profane comments are present here, so this may not be as kid-friendly as the art and opening segment suggests.
When it comes to the game’s performance on Switch, it’s mostly good. I did experience some frame rate hiccups in docked mode, but they didn’t last, and it was only on one occasion. While I normally prefer using the Switch Pro controller while in docked mode, since the game doesn’t focus on combat or quick reaction times, handheld mode was my preferred method of play. Unfortunately, I did also experience two instances of the game encountering an error and kicking me back to the Switch home screen; progress was lost in both cases, so it’s not something that can go without mentioning. I will say these errors only occurred after the Switch 4.0.0 update, so perhaps that could be why. However, I’ve yet to experience a similar issue with any other Switch title.
Despite a few hiccups and issues, The Count Lucanor is a curious game that will keep interested players coming back more to unravel the full story. Even if the experience is short, to make player choice truly matter and to be able to complete the game without experiencing everything it has to offer is no small feat, and is all the more reason to revisit the tale and take different approaches to compare the results. All of this is enhanced by beautiful pixel art, a fitting musical score, and diverse (albeit rather easy) puzzles, and make for a great, bite-sized adventure.
Disclaimer: A review code for The Count Lucanor was provided by the game’s publisher.