Essence of ‘Mario’ games distilled into pure fun

By Gieson Cacho // The Mercury News (TNS)

Platform: iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS on Apple Arcade
Genre: Arcade
Publisher: Hipster Whale
Developer: Hipster Whale

Hipster Whale knows how to refresh a classic formula. The team’s best-known work is Crossy Road, a new spin on Frogger. For the franchise follow-up, the team tackles another genre — the platformer.

Crossy Road Castle brings back the characters from the original game and has them tackling a tower full of procedurally generated levels. These aren’t long stages like ones found in Super Mario Bros. 3. These are bite-sized pieces of content that take 15 to 30 seconds complete.

It’s a bright and funny accessible game and meant to be shared together, said Clara Reeves, Hipster Whale CEO. Like several titles on Apple Arcade, the game supports four-player multiplayer. Gamers can join in on different screens or they can all play together on a big monitor via Apple TV.

Everyone can move around and not get in each other’s way. The team did test out a version of the game where players can knock each other off platforms, but it distracted from the flow and goal of Crossy Road Castle. The title is designed to be played with players running through stages in quick succession.

After going through a few rooms, there’s a zen-like flow to the proceedings. With co-op partners, players don’t have to worry so much about dying because as long as at least one buddy gets to the door and moves on, everyone moves on to the next stage. If someone is faster than the others, the game drags everyone along with the player who hit the exit first.

Although it’s an endless series of stages, Crossy Road Castle is divided up into distinct sections. After every 10, players reach a rest area where they can exchange 100 coins for an extra-life heart. Every 30 levels, players encounter a boss, and beating it rewards the victors with coins. The game is over if players run out of lives. They have three.

At its heart, Crossy Road Castle is a pure platforming experience and the Hipster Whale team nails the jumping mechanics. It’s Mario-esque in the way characters such as Chicken, Mallard and company leap chasms and pounce on foes. Players can use a controller or they can use the touch-screen, which feels almost as good as physical gamepad.

The replay value of Crossy Road Castle comes in the collectibles. Players will use the coins that they gather to buy new characters. The rare T coins unlock the next tower and higher-tier heroes. The green gems are even more uncommon and found behind green doors that are alternate exits in levels. They take more work to get to but the rewards of more coins and the gem are worth it. If players collect all five gems, they unlock a secret for each tower.

Hipster Whale plans on adding new towers for Crossy Road Castle over time. Each tower will have a theme. The first one, Unihorse Castle, is based around the mechanic of rainbows that pull up the protagonist or keep them afloat above spikes. Players will encounter other platforming staples such as switches and barrels that shoot the character the screen (very Donkey Kong Country). As players climb the tower, the stages get more difficult and unforgiving.

Playing the game alone is fun but Crossy Road Castle really shines as a multiplayer game. It’s worth checking out for those with an Apple Arcade subscription or the curious can pick it up for $4.99.