Originally released in mid-2011 by indie game creator E. Hashimoto (Buster), Hydra Castle Labyrinth is an old school-styled platform adventure that was previously only available in Japanese. A brave soul recently translated the game to English, and now the cute metroidvania title is available for a much wider audience to enjoy. And enjoy it ye shall!
With no story or set-up to speak of, Hydra Castle Labyrinth drops you right in the middle of a castle with little more than your sword and an enormously over-sized helmet to fit your enormously over-sized head. You have a number of paths to explore, many of which will end in a temporary dead end. To continue, you'll have to back track, find the right item (or key, in some cases), then charge forward again, ready to discover new territory!
Enemies are all over the place, but most of them are dispatched with relative ease (except the bosses). You start with a sword, which is useful enough for close combat, but eventually obtain a few more useful weapons to unleash. Enemies tend to follow simple patterns and take just a few hits to get rid of, but if you're not careful, they can end your game faster than you can say "wait, when was the last time I found a save point?".
Analysis: Hydra Castle Labyrinth is filled with items to find, a surprising number considering the relatively small size of the explorable map. You'll locate almost 30 items in your quest, as well as half a dozen sub-weapons and a fistful of keys. Back tracking is a major part of the game, so hopefully you won't mind seeing the same areas two or three times while you make your item-collecting rounds.
One thing you'll inevitably notice is that you can't jump from ladders. There doesn't seem to be a real reason for it, you just can't. So, instead taking a daring leap from the rungs to cut short your downwards climb, you'll find the avatar knight holding fast to the ladder, as still as a stone. The gameplay doesn't suffer from the exclusion, it just seems so obvious to anyone who has played a platform game, and possibly a bit annoying at first.
It's great to see games like Hydra Castle Labyrinth get a new life with a translation patch, especially when they're as enjoyable and good-looking as this. Expect a solid two or three hours of gameplay, and expect to get lost and feel frightened for your pixellated life several times. Hydra Castle Labyrinth is a great metroidvania game at a price you can't beat!