Simplistic platformers with roguelike and/or Metroidvania gameplay aspects are quite common at the moment, especially among the indie scene. So, for one to stand out it has to have its own ‘thing’, something which is unique or special to draw in new players. King Lucas may look similar to games like Bard’s Gold and Rogue Legacy, but it has a rather large unique feature – its ever-growing map. As such, despite a few similarities, the latest Nintendo Switch game from Devilish Games is so much more than meets the eye.
From the developers behind the hypnotic Path to Mnemosyne, King Lucas is about as different of a game as you can get – both in terms of the art style and the overall gameplay mechanics. The Switch port was aided by Hidden Trap, an Indie publisher who has published a wide variety of games from platformers to puzzles games. As such, it’s always a nice surprise to cover one of their titles as you never know what you’re going to get next.
So, let’s don our knight uniform and see if we can help out the damsel in distress…
The story of King Lucas is rather amusing, described on the store page and uncovered by talking to NPCs throughout the game. The titular King Lucas had an affair with the Witch of Sausan, resulting in the Queen leaving him only to be wed in the neighbouring kingdom. As such, all the King was left with was his daughters and the family pets. However, taking a page out of ‘The Book of Princess Peach’, each of these loved ones seem to constantly find themselves either lost or captured within the local magical shape-shifting castle.
Just like within The Legend of Zelda games, you take the role of a character who isn’t named within the title of the game. You aren’t King Lucas, he’s far too privileged to go look for his own daughters, you’re a simple knight who just happened to be passing by one day. You accidentally look at the king and catch his attention, prompting him to ask for your help in retrieving one of his daughters from the castle despite the many terrors and traps which await you within. Unlike the king, you’re brave and gallant so you accept the quest with only a smidgen of hesitation!
What you didn’t know is that the inside of the castle isn’t like any other. Sure, things will stay the same for you until you find the princess, but once you leave and the king begs you to go back in for his other daughter (or pet), not only will the rooms shift around, but the size of the castle will increase! However, not one to leave a damsel in distress – not when they may reward you with a kiss – you can’t help but continuously go back in and seek out those who are lost, hoping that you don’t fall victim to the same fate as them…
King Lucas is described as a ‘Metroidvania’ on the Steam storefront but I would describe it more as a Retro Platformer with mild Roguelite aspects. There’s no returning to areas you’ve already been through in order to progress further with a new ability or weapon, but there is a little bit of pushing forward and then buying new weapons so you can get further after each death. The unique component to the game though is the map itself as it constantly changes and grows each time you enter the castle in search of a new lost soul.
When you first enter the castle, the inside is a simple 5×5 square, making finding the princess rather easy as there’s only a matter of 25 rooms for you to search within. The second time my castle grew to 5×10, making the number of rooms double up to 50. This was followed by 5×20 and then a strange shape which contained 249 rooms to venture through. Looking at the size of the overall castle, the final stages will unlock over a thousand rooms to explore – a task which will literally take hours!
Rather than go for the procedurally generated style, as you’d expect in games like this, each expanded map has been pre-crafted by the developers so that they could implement the level design themselves. However, each time you’ve saved someone the entire interior design is shifted, but it’s never randomly generated. Also, enemies don’t actually respawn either, so once you die mid-quest, you can easily make your way back via the same route without worrying about new enemies spawning. However, if you’ve just died, you may be best taking an alternate route and try to bypass that which put an end to your life!
There’s a lot of variety within King Lucas, from weapons to enemies. You’ll find both a blacksmith and a witch as you check out each of the rooms (although the witch tends to hide in barrels). The blacksmith sells you weapons which have durability, so they’ll eventually break and leave you with the standard short-range sword if you don’t stock up on backups, and the witch supplies you with keys and health items which you can use to open locked doors and heal yourself with. Both of these are scattered around the place, selling different items each time you find them.
The enemies have also been a decent variety so far, ranging from wizards to spiders and even slime monsters. Each has their own attack patterns such as jumping towards you, running at you with an axe, or simply standing back and firing a barrage of fireballs in your general direction. However, the one thing I wasn’t expecting was the much bigger enemies – almost boss-like. As the castle gets bigger, you’ll start to encounter enemies such as giant snakes which pop up from lava to attack you, requiring you to learn their patterns and counter accordingly.
The rooms themselves don’t visually change that much, unlike in games such as Rogue Legacy which changes to different biomes as you face difference bosses – but, I’ve not made it to the latter half of the game yet so things ‘may’ change. There are also random peasants scattered around (once the castle is a certain size) who will give you quests, quests such as ‘kill X amount of a certain enemy’. If completed, you’ll be rewarded a decent sum which you can spend on more keys or a shiny new sword – maybe even a flame or ice variant!
I’m glad to see that King Lucas has been presented in a smooth 2.5D format, rather than pixel-art. I have nothing against pixel-art but there are a lot of games out there which opt for that aesthetic, so seeing an indie game go for something ‘cleaner’ is always a nice change. I said at the beginning that the game is more like a Retro-platformer, this is expressed in the gameplay and the level design. The simplistic designs with bold and colourful textures make the game look like a modernised version of an Amstrad or Commodore 64 game. Obviously, King Lucas is much more advanced, but it has a nostalgic feeling to it.
There’s no talking in the game but the written dialogue is funny and well-written, albeit some of the conversations aren’t perfect English – but that never bothered me as it added to the games’ charm.
The one thing which may stand out for fans of this genre is how simple the game is. I don’t mean in terms of difficulty, as the game can get quite tricky as the castle grows, but I mean in terms of the actual combat and gameplay mechanics. This is like an entry-level Roguelite for those who want to experience the format without having to get too in-depth or worrying about everything changing each time you die. The combat mainly consists of you holding down or fast tapping the attack button whilst you walk towards the enemy – unless they’re shooting at you, in which case you need to jump to avoid the incoming projectiles.
As such, the game is great for people of all skill levels and ages as it gradually becomes trickier, but never too tricky.
On a side note – the Steam version of the game allows you to play the game with multiple other players in an online PvP mode – the Switch version is single-player only. It would have been great if they’d have allowed local multiplayer by zooming out a little so that everything appears on a single screen, but the omission of this mode doesn’t affect me as I probably wouldn’t have used it anyway. However, I thought I’d mention it as it is a difference between the two versions.
King Lucas is a charming, fun, and expansive retro-platformer which has been modernised for the Switch. Each time you’ve saved the one in peril, the castle gets bigger and your quest becomes even more epic. The game itself is rather simplistic, from the simple combat mechanics to the bold and colourful textures, but it all comes together to deliver an entertaining experience which anyone can simply pick up and play without any in-depth tutorials or guidance. Each new rescue mission increases the time you’ll spend in the ever-expanding castle, offering hours upon hours of enjoyment.
- - A more casual take on the Roguelite format
- - Each rescue increases the size of the castle up to over a thousand rooms!
- - Easy to simply pick up and play
- - A modern take on retro platforming adventure games
- - Low price yet hours worth of gameplay
- - May be a little too simplistic for hardcore fans of the genre
- - Combat is a little simplistic and there's not really any sense of progression outside of buying new weapons (which all break after a while)
- - Missing the multiplayer which is present on the PC version