House of Pandas - Tested on the Nintendo Switch in 2023
Review thanks to a free Switch key from the developer
It's very rarely that rpg-o-mania gets a free key for a game to review. The last time this happened, we received a key from the small studio behind Heroes of Shaola, a likeable game which ultimately was heavily criticised for using lots of stock assets, making the game unique only thanks to its story. I was very surprised when House of Pandas reached out to me to provide a key for the Nintendo Switch version.
I've been in contact with Kak, one of the people behind this game ever since then, because "Castle of the Underdogs" has also been created by a small team and uses some external assets in this game, but oh boy, "Castle of the Underdogs" is something interesting.
So, what about the game?
Castle of the Underdogs is meant to be a game that's heavily inspired by Suikoden. And many aspects of the game just scream Suikoden. The game is also a comedy game, which means it doesn't take itself too seriously. The foundation is a fairly regular JRPG in its core.
The main heroine, Hikaru, discovers a magic wand at home which she then uses to cause lots of trouble in her home village. Together with her friends (or at least those who are not currently affected by her shenanigans), she tries to explore the nearby area and ends up finding an abandoned castle. Her discovering magic caused a chain of events which ultimately led Hikaru to recruit lots of people and build up her castle as a new base.
The game offers shops, areas to explore, dungeons with random encounters and a Suikoden-like battle system. There are unite attacks which can only be executed with certain party members, and the battle system itself is very turn based. There is also the addition of a list that shows when the turns of each enemy and party members are. Party members can be switched out at any point of the battle - not unlike Breath of Fire IV.
The visuals of the game are done in a 3D voxel style. It might look like a Minecraft clone, but it's actually built from the ground up. There are certain ledges that can be jumped on, and the characters have been built based on 2D pixelart. The developers even managed to create some animations using motion capture.
There is a difficulty setting for those who want to experience the story more easily or have a bigger challenge playing through the game. The games' battles are designed to utilize strategy, so it's not just an autobattle fest. Suikoden was often criticised for this.
Lots of the music has been bought or licensed from external sources. The game has a licensing info which gives credit to all royalty-free music used within "Castle of the Underdogs"
The game can be purchased on the Nintendo e-shop and Steam.
·It's a bit short
·Visuals look generic
This game has been made with so much heart. And, given the size of the team and the size of the game, I think 70% is a very good score. The games' execution per se is flawless, it plays well, is reasonably paced, the music selection is good (albeit lacking its distinctive style as it uses royalty free music) and the jokes are genuinely funny.
Castle of the Underdogs ain't no Suikoden II, but it has enough moments that trigger nostalgia. Yet, the game is a bit on the short side and the visuals look a bit too much like Minecraft in the end. Also, I think the pixel-art voxel style characters look a bit too bulky. I personally would have provided regular 2D visuals, but as Kak said, they needed something to stand out. And the 3D characters surely stand out.
Within our "Heroes of Shaola" review, I critizised the lack of creation level as it used pre made art, pre made music and a pre made engine. Castle of the Underdogs also uses pre made music (and I'm not sure of the art, if that's commissioned or being bought from the portfolio of an existing artist), but the rest of the game has been made by the developers and it's been put togethre nicely. You should give it a try if you can live with the visuals, it doesn't cost much.
The "So, what about this game?" paragraph was directly copied from our Breath of Fire 2 review, which was the basis for this review.