It’s always funny to see games take bits from other games and mix them all together in what usually ends up to be quite a big mess, and I say funny in a metaphorical sense, but when you get games like CastleMiner Z, one of the (literally) hundred-something Minecraft voxel game clones, you really can’t help but laugh at how funny it actually is. Ironically enough, back before Minecraft was ever going to be introduced to consoles, CastleMiner and Total Miner and FortressCraft and the other list of abominations Minecraft managed to spawn (Though Total Miner still stands alone out of all of them as the best game, more to come on that.) had over a hundred thousand sales. It managed to tide gamers such as myself over until the eventual release of the actual Minecraft game and me and all of my other gullible friends bought it and played it for a few hours at a time before eventually and inevitably getting bored out of our skulls and playing something half decent.
As charming as the original Castle Miner was, it really didn’t help that it ran horribly and even with the Xbox’s intuitive control scheme, everything felt clunky to control and the game just felt really bad in general. The disgusting draw distances and textures were clearly neglected by the designer, and even for an indie game, the presentation was poorly made.Some years later and we’re greeted with CastleMiner Z, a port of the original Xbox Indie sequel to CastleMiner. Virtually the same game but with, in case you’re as dim as a smashed lightbulb, Zombies. And a new skybox. And weapons. And dragons. Sounds cool in a sort of cliché way, right? No? Yeah, I didn’t think that either.
The PC version manages to sort of fix the control problems, and I use the term ‘sort of’ loosely, as it really depends on your preference. The engine is still the same piss poor Indie port, only with a slightly better draw distance. The animations for /all/ of the characters, mobs and actions are still disgusting, and the UI is deplorable. The aesthetics of CastleMiner Z are almost sickening, to think that this is a game being sold as an Indie port using the spiritual success that was almost immediately overridden by the PC Juggernaut that is Minecraft’s arrival to the Marketplace is beyond me.
Now, as much as I’m aware that the visuals of a game shouldn’t dictate the experience you have with it, I mean, it’s all about the gameplay right? But that’s an oversimplification and a horrendous attempt at justifying a games worst fault, after all, this is 2014. Games can look appealing. Indie games can look astonishing, if using the correct form of art. As much as game engines have their limits, this is not the case with CastleMiner Z. They’ve made visual improvements since the days of XBLIG, they’ve improved the engine. They can do better, they’re just too fucking lazy.
To paraphrase Jim Sterling “The eye gets the first slice of the cake.” And though that is 100% of the main issue this game has, it’s certainly not its biggest downfalls. While the lack of decent visual presentation gives it more churn than charm, it’s the actual gameplay that renders the entire experience as a torture to go through.
You have three main modes; Survival, Creative and Endurance. Sound familiar? I thought so. As self-explanatory as ‘Survival’ mode is, it has no real element of danger other than this sense of being trapped until you find some ore to mine. From then on, it’s plain sailing to a base and some guns, which can be crafted stupidly easily.
Enemies will spawn in the night, but even then, they’re no threat, they’re just annoying. Dragons will occasionally bombard you from above, and there’s no way to kill them until you manage to make a homing missile launcher out of some metal. But even then, if you make your base underground like I did, there’s really no need. There’s no need for you to ever leave, either. You don’t need to farm to eat food, you don’t need to find a supply of water to drink, and you don’t need to do anything but sit in a hole until you decide you wanna make that hole bigger.
There’s no sense of accomplishment throughout any of the game, and that’s what I think all voxel games lack. Minecraft managed to put you in a position where building and surviving were your main priorities, because if you didn’t, you’d die. Sure, you can respawn, but your buildings might have been blown up or set alight, or you might get lost or you might even have a perma kill policy. And if you managed to defend your home that you slaved over building, there was that feel like “Yeah, I did this.” And you’d make it better. With CastleMiner Z’s survival mode, it’s really just ‘sit in here until morning.’ Endurance is just survival with a counter of how many steps you take in the wrong direction, with the only real goal being reaching the end of the world. And creative mode is… Probably the better game mode. At least it serves its purpose. (Oh, but you can’t fly. Which is annoying. And the enemies will still camp you. All night long.)
There may have been a good level of playability when it was in its Xbox days (Or at least, for what the standard was for Indie games back then.) But it’s not gonna slide as a full product release on Steam.
If you’re genuinely thinking about still picking this game up, have a bucket handy. You’re gonna need it.
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