Playing The Count Lucanor feels like wading through the fascinating, inexplicable pages of a gothic fairy tale. There are adventures around every corner, secrets hidden in the shadows, and, of course, a healthy dose of violence towards children. It’s nothing if not authentic, then.
Hans, the young boy unfortunate enough to find himself as the player character in this ghoulish game, leaves home in search of respite from his poverty-stricken life. He meets troubled countryfolk on the road: an old woman with a broken cane; a merchant whose carts are damaged beyond repair; a pink haired girl investigating long-rumoured treasure. Perhaps Hans will share his finite resources to aid these sorry souls; or perhaps he won’t. Either way, he’ll meet them once again in the twisting corridors of the Count Lucanor’s Castle.
And that castle…
Behind each and every door within those candle-lit halls are puzzles, mysteries, and clues. You’ll get to know this place like the back of your hand as you trudge deeper, collecting items and information that lets you progress through ever more sinister chambers. There are monsters, yes, who arrive in force a little way into the game, but no combat to be had. You’ll hide beneath tables and sneak through shadows as flesh-things mumble guttural nonsense to themselves. You’ll certainly curse Hans more than once for his eternally gentle pace. “There’s a hideous tentacle-man coming after us,” I wanted to say. “Can’t you at least try and speed up?”
In this way, the Count Lucanor can feel like the very best bits of a Resident Evil game. If, that is, you’re more enamoured with investigating the environment than wasting those oh-so-scarce bullets on a zombie you could just as easily kite. The puzzles, with one small exception, were entirely satisfying and enjoyable to solve, and I did so without any help from the google gods. The setting looks fantastic as it unravels before you, and those rooms are inhabited by some excellently creepy character designs.
Unexpectedly, however, it’s the story that really sticks in my mind. Well, perhaps not the narrative itself, which is interesting enough. Instead, it’s those characters you meet on the road, and their darker, more twisted selves who gather at the castle.
Folklore is in the bones of The Count Lucanor, and it’s difficult to describe exactly why. Plenty of games are dark, uncomfortable, and inexplicable. Yet few manage to create such an authentic sense of baffling inevitability. Take the old woman, for example, with her broken cane. Upon that first meeting she has a squealing pig by her side. If you aid her by providing a new cane (pro-tip: aid her!), she’ll immediately start battering the animal. Within the walls of the castle, in a twist that somehow feels perfectly logical, this pig transforms into a snivelling, ravenous boy who scuttles about on his hands and knees. Eisbein is his name. A witch cursed him to take this porky form. And that old woman, with the cane? It’s his mother.
Each character you meet will have an equally distressing backstory to uncover. It’s these grimy tales that make The Count Lucanor’s writing so essential. As weird as things seem, there’s a certain logic to how you uncover information, and a fabled sense of morality that’s probably better left to history.
The Count Lucanor is a singular game, and one that might not appeal to everyone. Your patience for backtracking will be tested, especially at the speed with which Hans moves. Even though there are puzzles to tease your brain, interactions with the world are mostly limited to four directions of movement, and the thrill of fleeing from beasties wears a little thin by the end. But if you’re at all interested in the strangeness and structure of classic fairy tales, this is a fantastic modern interpretation.
Where did I play it? Steam
The Count Lucanor gives you a fascinating gothic castle to explore, absolutely stuffed with puzzles, secrets, and mysteries. Yet it’s the disturbing and inexplicable characters that bring those castle chambers alive, imbuing the narrative with a deep sense of lore and uncomfortable morality.