Halt, knave! Have ye heard the story of the cardboard knight and his quest to unlock the secrets of the Cardboard Castle? Aye, he turned a dragon or two into a pasty mash of slush, he did. And it all happened within a tiny realm called iOS.
Cardboard Castle is a brisk puzzle game that’s most notable for its unique aesthetics and a problem-solving system that might remind you of the popular Scribblenauts games for the Nintendo DS. Unlike the sketchy adventures of Maxwell, however, Cardboard Castle doesn’t ask you to pen puzzle solutions out of mid-air. Rather, every item you need to solve a puzzle is placed onscreen at once. Your job is to make the items interact with each other in the right order so that your knight friend can reach the end of the level safely.
The scissors are mightier than the sword.
Many of these interactions are guaranteed to make you smile. True to its name, Cardboard Castle takes place in a world fashioned from cardboard, which is something you need to keep in mind while navigating the game. Water turns enemy soldiers into a pile of soggy paper, which the sun can quickly dry up to create a bridge. Taking a match to a cutout of a bull will cause it to go loco and bash through locked gates. Pulling down on a cutout of the sun will operate a pully that makes the moon rise.
Each movement from the knight and the characters surrounding him is lovingly assembled and animated (try stuffing a cow into the mouth of the sea monster in world 2-2), and the experience is punctuated with funny dialogue. When you solve a puzzle, you’ll probably laugh and feel pleased with yourself.
Unfortunately, you will also feel irritated when you get stuck on a level– and that will happen a lot. Bringing Scribblenauts to the fore again, each level of the DS title was preceded by a textual clue that gave you some idea of how to reach the end goal. When your knight clop-clops into a new level, you’re met with a whole mess of items, characters and animals to sort out, and few clues about how to proceed.
Which way to the buffet?
Worst of all, if you don’t make the items interact with each other in just the right way, and in the right order, it’s back to start. One level can easily take a dozen tries to clear. You can pick up coins (“sovereigns”) that unlock hints, but the hints are as ambiguous as the level goals themselves.
The frustration is compounded by the fiddly controls in Cardboard Castle. You drag and drop items in order to make them interact with one another. If two items are compatible, they’ll sparkle, though it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll interact in the correct way. As a result, it’s common for two compatible points to sparkle close together, causing you to drop the item you’re holding on the wrong point.
You can skip levels, thankfully, but with just 15 levels to play through, you won’t want to leave any maiden unsaved. At the same time, you might get so fed up that you just won’t want to go back and finish what you started.
Like many knights of olde, Cardboard Castle makes a heroic effort to save the day, and you’ll enjoy the adventure for what it is. But its lot in life is also a little bit tragic.