Review – The Count Lucanor
The Count Lucanor is an interesting game in that it’s not terribly complicated or the puzzles challenging or even well made, but it is just so intriguing from start to finish that I couldn’t put it down. The Count Lucanor seems to take some heavy inspiration from Don Juan Manuel’s “Tales of Count Lucanor” which in itself is a book full of smaller stories made from inspirations of folklore and Spanish history. I won’t get into details about this because it may ruin some of the intrigue and surprises, but it was interesting to see the connections with this game which almost seems like it could fit in as a story within the Tales of Count Lucanor.
I was a bit put off in the beginning by the story as it starts off by introducing a young boy named Hans who has a seriously spoiled bratty attitude. Hans is a poor boy who lives with his mother alone because his father is off fighting in war. On his tenth birthday Hans comes back home to no presents, no sweets, nothing to make this day special and throws a massive tantrum and decides to run off to make it on his own. His mother, whom still cares for the brat, decides to give him a going away gift of a cane, cheese, and the only gold pieces she had left. Hans sets off on his adventure to make it big, meeting interesting people and having to decide if he wants to help them with the few supplies he has left. Soon it becomes night and things start getting twisted, which frightens Hans so he decides to go home. On his way he is greeted by a “Kobold” (a mischievous sprite) who offers him great riches if he can pass his trials. Thus begins Hans’ tale of danger, fantasy, horror, and riches.
The gameplay is very old school puzzle adventure where you will be collecting a lot of items to solve puzzles with. The controls are very archaic and stiff which work better on a D-Pad, but unfortunately the Switch D-Pad isn’t all that great. There is no combat, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any danger. There are quite a few enemies you will have to sneak around and even one that will instantly kill you if it spots you. The enemies aren’t unfair at all and you get plenty of tips to make sure you prepare the area with candles so you can spot an enemy. You will be using a lot of candles throughout this game since the areas are almost usually pitch black. You will want to set up candles in various areas to help from getting lost or to help spot an enemy from a distance.
There wasn’t a single time where I got stuck or wondered what to do next. The game does a good job in making sure you’re well prepared, understand the layout, and what you will need to do next. This keeps the story and intrigue moving forward, but also makes it a bit too easy especially for how short the game is. The Count’s castle you explore has a pretty simple layout that would be very hard to get lost in, but there is enough variety in the form of puzzles, areas, and special items that keeps things fresh throughout. It also provides multiple ways to solve some puzzles as well as multiple endings. The saving system also follows the old style of having to use an item and in this case you actually have to use one of your gold coins. This creates some hard decisions in whether you take the chance to save or buy the next item you need. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does encourage you to not save for long periods of time and this led to two extremely frustrating instances. Two different times I experienced crashes to the Switch dashboard which caused me quite a bit of backtracking through large portions of the game. Taking the risk of not saving and dying by an enemy is one thing, but to lose progress because of crashes is just unacceptable.
The Count Lucanor has a very interesting midway 8-bit and 16-bit look that I feel actually fits the game well. In game character models are minimalist, offering just the basic pixel look to identify them, but the zoomed in dialogue and cutscenes use the 16-bit detailed look. I feel like this design choice works well in keeping with the dark, gritty, and sometimes creepy nature of the game. However, even with the simplistic design it still struggles sometimes with its frame rate especially during some fire trap areas. Keeping with the old school style the sound design also redoes some classical musical tunes in a 8-bit chiptune style. It goes well with the overall tones and environments of the game, but not all the sound effects are as well done. The fire trap effects can be pretty hard on the ears especially when you go from a quite room to a room with those traps.
The Count Lucanor is a fun and extremely provocative game. The story and themes are deep, dark, and full of fantasy. The visuals and most of the music and audio is well done and fit the overall style besides a few harsh sound effects. Unfortunately, the performance problems, multiple crashes, and the short run time hamper this enjoyable game. I’m not sure I would recommend this as of now with the issues and the short duration especially for the high price the Switch version is asking. Fortunately, you can find it cheap on Steam, which I would recommend.
Reviewed on Switch.
The Count Lucanor is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.
A copy of The Count Lucanor was provided by the publisher.