The Count Lucanor, by developer Baroque Decay, is an adventure game set in a fantasy world that gets more fantastic and mysterious as the player’s journey continues. What begins as a story of normal youthful rebellion quickly turns to macabre horror.
A poor young boy named Hans, upset that his mother could afford no presents or sweets for him on his tenth birthday, ran away from home. Hans promised that he would not return again until he had found riches, perhaps even becoming a prince, ruling the land from a castle.
His resolve held until night fell, when horrifying scenes and blood-thirsty beasts threatened to chase him back home. Just then, a kobold appeared and enticed Hans to follow him to a nearby castle; one Hans had never noticed before.
The kobold trapped Hans in the castle, but all was not lost. The little kobold told Hans he would inherit great wealth if he could only guess the kobold’s name. And so the adventure began…
Being, at its core, a horror adventure and mystery game, The Count Lucanor is set in a fantasy world with dynamic, strange characters. The choices Hans makes in his journey have profound effects on the characters that inhabit the world, and ultimately determine his own fate.
There are a number of different endings to the game, with each ending a culmination of the player’s actions, items they find, and the choices they make when faced with the horrible reality of Tenebre Castle.
Hans isn’t the only person stuck inside the castle, but his actions resonate. Refuse to help someone in need by giving them your valuable items and they may die. If they survive, they may become vengeful and Hans will feel the repercussions of their scorn.
I won’t spoil any more details, because much of the replayability of this game comes from experimenting with the world and it’s characters. Suffice it to say, I am ready to play the game again and see what happens if I treat certain characters differently.
Played from a top-down perspective, players guide Hans through Castle Tenebre, navigating the hallways, courtyards, and trap-filled rooms, solving what puzzles they can as they narrowly avoid grim death. Players are tasked with gathering keys that grant access to the many rooms in order to collect the letters that spell out the kobold’s name.
Hans will find many items in his search for the treasure of Count Lucanor, but the most important of them may be the candle. Hans can carry candles to light his path, or set them down to illuminate areas, which grows increasingly important as monsters begin to slink through the inky blackness of Tenebre Castle.
Since Hans is but a ten-year-old boy, fighting these dark forces is impossible, and so he must hide. Hiding under tables, behind bookshelves or boxes, or even behind curtains, Hans must use his wits to survive.
Light is at a premium in The Count Lucanor, but the darkness creates a mood that is equal parts elegant and unsettling. The lavish castle hides horrifying scenes and the hybrid 8/16 bit artstyle somehow perfectly blends “stark depiction of terrifying reality” with “leave something to the imagination.”
The music is charming, but that should come as no surprise, as it was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Yes. That Bach. The studio adopted some of Bach’s lesser-known pieces and adapted them using chip-tune tools.
Every part of The Count Lucanor feels like it is drenched in sadness or hopelessness, and the score definitely helps on that front. I found certain pieces quite moving, especially towards the end of the game.
Overall sound design is also on point, oftentimes revealing points of interest (or danger) before the player can see them. Especially disturbing are the whispers when certain types of enemies are near.
The Count Lucanor is a superb atmospheric adventure game. The tension is palpable, the macabre reveals are genuinely unsettling, and unlike many adventure games, the vast majority of puzzles have solutions that actually make sense.
The tale of Hans feels like many ancient cautionary tales, and since the game is fairly short and has multiple endings, it feels like it may bear revisiting from time to time. The Count Lucanor is a pretty spooky game, but since it nails the fundamentals, the fact that it is releasing in October is just icing on a very wormy cake. (You’ll get it later, I promise.)
Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.
Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.
In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.
He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!
Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita