I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into Super Crazy Rhythm Castle. I knew to anticipate rhythm gameplay mixed with some kind of cooperative-focused twists to the challenge across a number of levels, but the deeper workings remained a mystery until I fired it up for myself. Now that I’ve come out from the other side of the experience, I honestly don’t feel like I’ve gained any better understanding than going in. It’s a melting pot of neat ideas, but it’s somehow both undercooked and burned me at the same time.
With an admirably brisk onboarding, Super Crazy Rhythm Castle asks you and up to three friends to pick from four initially-unlocked characters and begin your ascent of the titular castle, run by the current King of Rhythm, Ferdinand I, and filled with his warped challenges as he tries to stop you reaching him and taking the crown for yourself. As you step through each door across the castle to a new stage, you’ll also partake in some light adventuring by exploring its winding halls, picking up items and talking to its inhabitants in order to progress further and further in.
This aspect of the game is actually quite enjoyable, with plenty of opportunity to find hidden secrets, solve light puzzles and generally just get distracted by the constant written and visual gags along the way. If Super Crazy Rhythm Castle has one thing going for it, it’s incredibly funny in a self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking kind of way. It reminds me a lot of some of the irreverent early era Xbox Live Arcade stuff like the Deathspank trilogy, not least because it also sports a similar art style with 2D animated characters traipsing around fixed-camera 3D environments. It’s a really strong, quite amusing and creative presentation throughout.
And of course, being a rhythm game, it’s stacked with music. The soundtrack here is certainly an eclectic one with everything from orchestral epics to nu metal, EDM, hip hop and demonic ritual chants (frog and hippo style). Aside from some unlockable retro Konami tunes I can’t say I recognised a single song in the campaign, with each track sounding like it’s been pulled from a collection of unsold 2000s CDs found at someone’s garage sale, but it almost feels perfect for the game’s vibe and comes off oddly charming rather than grating. There are some absolute earworms in the mix, too.
Where the cracks start to show in this rhythm game though, is in the levels themselves. It’s clear to see what the folks at Second Impact Games were going for here – stages comprising typical beat-matching rhythm gameplay combined with Overcooked-esque challenges that require an added level of coordination outside of the music part. It’s a novel idea, and for the most part it does offer a series of wacky and entertaining challenges with the kinds of edge-of-your-seat moments usually reserved for other genres. You might have to hit notes to reload a cannon to then fire at a boss, or switch between playing three different tracks to activate different parts of a machine, with later levels offering up quite a bit to juggle at once.
Unfortunately, there are major issues that are either oversight or plain poor design decisions and bring the fun down considerably. For starters, the game very rarely bothers to explain a level’s unique mechanics, leaving players to sort out what they’re meant to be doing on the fly while a dozen different things happen around them. There’s definitely an intentional “puzzle” element to doing so, but having folks work together to figure out how to maximise their success is one thing – flat-out omitting any sort of guidance on how things actually work is just bad design. Too many times, either playing solo or with friends, I’d fail a level over and over just attempting to understand what the actual rules were. Each level also starts with a bit of dialogue and faffing about and some can last up to 15 minutes total, making it even more of a test of your patience.
In keeping with baffling design choices, the note charts that you need to play along to in levels are incredibly unfriendly. Depending on your choice of Regular or Pro difficulty you’ll play on either three or four lanes, mapped to the left bumper, right d-pad button, left face button and right bumper (based on whatever platform you’re playing on). Being a multiplatform game it makes sense that the shapes and colours of the notes aren’t really going to line up all that well, but there’s a lack of customisation that makes it more difficult than need be. For starters there’s absolutely no in-game button remapping – a massive no-no. The two difficulty levels aren’t enough either – Regular is often too simple to be fun and Pro enters Through the Fire and Flames levels of bullshit far too early on.
What this results in, whether you’re playing alone (often with an AI “Hand Dog” which is exactly what it sounds like and also utterly useless as a companion) or with others, you’ll spend more time fighting the game than vibing with it. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of a challenge, for those that want to seek it out, but in a game that’s otherwise very quirky and invites a party game atmosphere it’s criminal there aren’t more ways to sand down the edges and offer up some easy-going good times.
At the end of it all, I did have fun grooving my way through Super Crazy Rhythm Castle’s 6-ish hour campaign and honing my skills, besting its most devious rhythm challenges and puzzling out all of its secrets, but it threatened to undermine that fun at every turn. Hopefully Second Impact Games can tune some of the more egregious difficulty spikes and implement some of the basic, no-brainer settings that are missing to make the experience more approachable, because behind the shockingly high barriers of this castle is a king’s ransom of genuinely great ideas.
Super Crazy Rhythm Castle makes a bold attempt at fusing basic rhythm gameplay with the kinds of asymmetrical co-operative chaos of something like Overcooked, wrapping it up in a deeply funny and genuinely inventive campaign. Sadly it undermines the fun at every turn with wild difficulty spikes, anaemic gameplay customisation and a frustrating lack of explanation of its own mechanics. There's something good here, it's just thoroughly underdeveloped.
Often hilarious writing
Rhythm gameplay mash-up is fun when it works
Z-grade soundtrack is oddly charming
No control remapping
Music lanes and notes can be hard to read
Difficulty is all over the place
Lack of explanations means a ton of trial-and-error in levels