When it comes to Castlevania, most people typically think of the later non-linear platforming entries that helped to revolutionise an entire genre of videogames. However, the franchise wasn’t always like that; before Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, we had a large number of great linear entries that blended the horror theming with some well-designed stages and great platforming.

Whilst we have seen some game inspired by these earlier titles, such as the widely popular Curse of the Moon games, they aren’t quite as common as they probably should be. Lords of Exile seeks to rectify that by riffing off the first game in the series, but sprinkling in elements of Getsu Fuma Den, Ninja Gaiden, and other NES classics too.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.

Playing as Gabriel, a bloodthirsty Knight whose wife has been very slain by the evil Galagar, you must travel across the land of Exilia wiping out the monsters that are that get in your way. He has been called on to free the land of these terrible creatures, but Gabriel is in it for his own personal vengeance.

It’s a very minimalistic plot that aims to set the scene, and it does its job competently enough for the most part. There are quite a fair few cutscenes that start and end the game that I found to be far too wordy, as it seems to try and add more depth to the plot, but only really work to confuse things. Thankfully these can be skipped if you’re just wanting to dive straight into the action, but the gorgeous sprite-work make them worth sitting through at least once.


Progressing in a linear fashion, the game’s eight stages all offer an increased level of difficulty with each one that never really lets up with its intensity. Gabriel has his trusty sword for short range attacks, and feels a fair bit like Fuma from Getsu Fuma Den – even down to the painfully slow walking speed, that still feels too slow even when using your slide to go faster. Platforming can be treacherous when jumping as, like with the classics, getting hit will knock you uncontrollably backwards and will likely result in you falling to your death. As such, taking care with enemies and other hazards is of vital performance to ensure you make it through to the end.

Thankfully, making your way through to the game isn’t as tough as it sounds as the game is surprisingly lenient and welcoming to more inexperienced players. Unlike the games this is based on, Gabriel has a certain degree of control when he jumps, making platforming far easier – especially when he gains access to his double jump ability. Secondary weapons, of which there are a handful of variants from bombs to scythes, are plentiful and you’re really encouraged to make the most of them to help you take out opponents. These secondary weapons are usually incredibly powerful too, allowing you to make mincemeat of both normal foes and bosses alike.


What really helps make the game stand out from the older NES titles though is that there’s no real life system, instead just respawning you at the start of your last screen whenever you lose all your health. Of course, later stages will have longer screens to get through, but it very rarely feels unachievable making the game quite easy to brute force your way through as you start to learn enemy positions and their movement.

Even bosses aren’t all that tough once you learn their patterns. Many of them only have a few different attacks to learn, and usually at least one of those will leave them slightly open to your close range sword attacks. The final boss does offer a far greater challenge than the rest (as it should), but even that is only made tough due to how much damage he can deal to you.

When you beat a stage (or occasionally at a mid-point), you’ll gain access to an additional ability, and some of these can help change up the game somewhat. Whilst most are simply buffs, you do gain access to some additional useful skills and even acquire some helpful spirits that you can come to aid you with both combat and platforming sections. They’re a neat addition, even if they do seem superfluous most of the time. 


Overall, I’d say that all these skills and the game’s leniency is quite welcome for the genre. Normally these games are extremely punishing, whereas Lords of Exile manages to both put up a decent challenge and still feel welcoming to less experienced gamers. I do feel that there should have been a harder setting, even as an unlock, to help challenge veterans of the genre, but I still feel like the game strikes a good balance regardless. 

The main critique I have, aside from the painfully slow walking speed, is that the game’s eight stages will probably only take you a couple of hours to get through at the very most. You do unlock an additional character to play as once you reach the credits, who does have a very different play style, but her ranged attacks make the game feel even easier making that second playthrough a lot shorter. There are a couple of post-game modes for you to get a little more from the game, but speedrun and boss rush modes are probably only going to appeal to a small number of gamers.

Lords of Exile is a great retro throwback that manages to strike a good balance between approachability and challenge, even if veteran gamers will probably breeze through it with ease. There’s clearly a lot of love for the classics here, and that shines through with both the presentation and the gameplay. It could do with being a tad longer, and perhaps have a harder difficulty mode for those who want more of a challenge, but it’s still a really solid platformer that Castlevania fans will probably want to snap up.