When I loaded up The Count Lucanor, I wasn’t sure what sort of business I was getting myself into. With the menu looking like a scene from some kind of lost anime and the somewhat unnerving, grinning loading icon that preceded it, my nerves were braced. However, nothing short of spoilers could have prepared me for this macabre adventure through the night. Clearly the developers over at Baroque Decay have a soft spot for dealing in off-hand humor and fables, because I soon found myself lost in a castle written by the Brothers Grimm and Monty Python in equal parts.
Focusing on the runaway boy, Hans, the plot is cunningly complex as it unravels while progressing. To start with, the player is greeted with a wonderfully adorable eight bit scene, on the same day as Han’s tenth birthday. Naturally, he wants presents and the like, however his mother tells him they’re too poor to afford either sweets or presents this year, as his Father went off to fight in a war. After hearing this and promptly throwing a hissy fit, he decides to venture away from home, seeking fortune in far off lands.
As a 2D point n’ click title, the player will become intimately familiar with the old tactic of ‘try everything with everything’ while exploring the land, because it’s not always obvious. On the initial travels, Hans will meet some characters, who become relevant later on, in need of his help and he can choose to either help or ignore them. Everything seems well and good with Hans’ wandering around going to plan… until the game decides to amp up the weird up to eleven. It’s not a horror title in the same way that something like Outlast is, but make no mistake, The Count Lucanor creates tense, creepy moments that stick with the player. Apart from the fact Hans gets teleported to an unknown part of the world without a single memory explaining how it happened after speaking to a the goat herder, Hans seems to take it well. Then he starts meeting the demon goats and hell bunnies, steps in random patches of viscera and a river of blood appears (complete with ducks).
Just as he’s looking for a way out, a strange blue skinned creature appears and giggles into the night. Following it leads to the Tenebre Castle, home of the lavish and reclusive Count Lucanor. Here’s where the real effort begins though, as a kobold informs Hans that in order to continue upwards, he must guess the creature’s name successfully. For the player to do this, they must collect letters from various rooms around the castle ground floor. Each letter corresponds to a part of the creature’s real name. Within every room is a series of puzzles armed and ready to stop Hans dead. The developers saying it was inspired by classics like Silent Hill and Zelda isn’t very far off. The atmosphere is palpable, making every plodding step a risk. The puzzles aren’t as basic as you’d assume either. From time to time they’re downright evil, forcing you to risk precious parts of your health bar for gold, a letter or a note.
In terms of unique, engaging horror, The Count Lucanor creates its own mood, balanced somewhere between ridiculously funny and utterly jarring that absolutely nails the setting and tone. It’s an indie gem that no one should miss. For such a singular experience, there is enjoyment from a variety of endings and a wonderful time overall.