The Mysterious Murasame Castle | Box art

Standard Review: The Mysterious Murasame Castle (NES/GBA)

I’ve always had some level of curiosity towards retro Japanese games that were never localized, especially those by major developers before they got big. It’s hard to think of a more household name than Nintendo. After all, a lot of Nintendo’s major series have started back on the NES and are still going strong to this day. I mean, Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, no context needed.

But not every classic Nintendo title went on to get tons of sequels and get milked into oblivion. Kid Icarus got one Gameboy sequel and then a reboot decades laterbefore fading into obscurity again despite the reboot being very successful. Punch-Out got a SNES sequel that no one cared about, and then a Wii reboot decades later that flopped. StarTropics got one sequel then nothing. But at least these games were localized (except for StarTropics which was made in the US and not released in Japan).

The Mysterious Murasame Castle was not released outside of Japan until 2014 where it was released on the 3DS e-shop. Generally, Nintendo hasn’t put significant effort into localizing their older titles for virtual console, and the only ones released were pretty much already in English (although that seems to be changing with Nintendo’s upcoming re-release of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light). The Mysterious Murasame Castle is no exception to this rule, as there is very little text in the game to begin with.

For those wondering whether or not The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a classic on the same level as NES greats like Zelda II, Super Mario Bros 3, Dragon Quest III, EarthBound Beginnings, etc… it’s from 1986, and it was released only 3 months after Zelda 1. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game or anything, more so that the point of comparison is best reserved for games like Zelda 1 than Zelda II.

What I mean by this is that it was one of the first games released for the Famicom, and the first games in a console’s life cycle don’t usually use said console to its full potential. Graphically, the game looks a lot like Zelda 1, which is to be expected since it plays fairly similarly. The only real aesthetic differences are changes in colors every two levels, and there are only a few songs in the game. That being said, the few songs included are exactly what we’ve come to expect from Koji Kondo; absolutely iconic.

Gameplay wise, Mysterious Murasame Castle can be most accurately described as a more linear and combat focused version of Zelda 1. You move in four directions and your primary weapons are your katana and shurikens. Shurikens come in limited supply and serve as your ranged weapon, while the katana is used in close quarters. The majority of enemies in the game can be killed with one swipe of the katana, but most enemies move quickly so its hard to hit them up close. Shurikens do less damage, but can often still one shot weak opponents.

These guys will be the bane of your existence.

The shurikens can be upgraded into either the windmill sword, which travels the full length of the screen, or the fireball, which has less range than the shurikens but does a fuckton more damage. You can also find various powerups that can either increase your speed, help you walk through water quicker, change the direction of and the amount of shurikens you can throw at once, temporarily turn yourself invisible, as well as your standard, screen nuke, health restoration, and temporary invincibility.

Mysterious Murasame Castle relies heavily on fast reflexes, but it also requires a bit of strategy to it. Despite being more linear than Zelda 1, Mysterious Murasame Castle still features multiple paths through levels and optional rooms, with power ups being an incentive to explore. Memorizing the layout certainly helps, but one will also need to plan out when to pick up certain powerups, and when to use their screen nukes and invisibility scrolls if they want to not get their ass repeatedly kicked. There are ten levels in this game, but it will certainly feel longer than that. These levels start out fairly challenging and take a turn into absolute brutality in the second half.

This can be either a good or a bad thing depending on what mood the player is in. For those who are looking for a game that will challenge them and push them to their limits, then this is the game for you. Although I would recommend looking up what the powerups do beforehand given that they aren’t entirely clear until you use them, especially the shogi pieces if you can’t read the Japanese symbols on them. There are also a lot of powerups that are just plain invisible, and that one only finds by swinging their sword around, so this is the type of game that will require to keep practicing until you are gud enough.

The Final level has walls made of skulls, pools of blood, and…blank black backgrounds… at least there’s new music.

The downside to this is that… well, you die a lot, and have to repeat the stages over and over again. You also lose all your powerups when you die, which means you are left vulnerable to enemy attacks, and you will either need to backtrack to reclaim those powerups, or attempt to plow through with nothing. Thankfully, there are infinite continues. To put it in simple terms, if Zelda 1 is 8-bit Skyrim, and Deadly Towers is 8-bit Dark Souls, then The Mysterious Murasame Castle is 8-bit Sekiro.

I… was not in the mood for this type of game while I played it. I just wanted to be done with it so I could mark it off my backlog, so I abused the 3DS’s restore function to get through the last five levels. I went into this review intending to say that The Mysterious Murasame Castle is nothing special, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was just spoiled by newer games.

I haven’t been playing a lot of retro action titles lately. I have a massive backlog of games to play and review, which means I didn’t really get to properly sink my teeth into this game, well aside from the first few levels. But I do hope to give this game a full playthrough at some point, and I am glad I had a chance to play it. I can easily tell that this is a well made title that holds up just as well as most classics of the time.

Also don’t try and tell me that this game wouldn’t be perfect for a Kid Icarus: Uprising esque reboot.

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