Who says spooky things need to stop on Halloween?

The Count Lucanor is kind of an interesting game, for a lot of reasons. A lot of things about it are...Not quite unique, as several of them have clear inspiration from specific sources, but definitely rather uncommon. Its tone, aesthetic and core gameplay sequences all feel just a step or two aside from what's common, and that really helps give it some staying power against a few rough points.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's talk the actual game. The very simplest pitch is very simple: You are within the castle of the Count Lucanor himself, who, as you are told by a spooky spirit of an assistant, seeks an heir for his vast fortune. To prove yourself worthy, you need only deduce the assistant's name...

You may have noticed a certain tone to this pitch already. And indeed, the whole game has much of the feel of a fairy tale, if a particularly dark one. Our hero is a boy named Hans, who at a mere ten years of age is, at least in his eyes, effectively a man. And with a father off at war (and possibly lost to it), and a mother who struggles to provide, Hans chooses to strike out on his own.

...Yeahhhh that doesn't go so well. Things go sideways pretty quickly, as you'd expect with a fairytale premise. The bright world of day turns into a stark and cruel night, and with familiar animals acting as horrifying beasts, Hans is forced to seek refuge in the very castle that leads to our premise proper.

And how do you do that whole "guess the assistant's name" thing? Why, it's simple. Throughout various rooms in the maze-like castle, are various puzzles and challenges. These range from things like leaping through spurting gouts of flame, to navigating a labyrinth (with a bloodthirsty goat playing the part of the minotaur) to more simple things, like an oldschool sliding block puzzle in one of the first rooms I visited.

The actual gameplay of all of this actually reminds me of another series, one from times long gone. While it's hardly an exact fit, something about the tension of the game really reminds me of the Clock Tower series.

This gets particularly true once a bit of time has passed. Because, you see, you have only one single night to figure out the goings-on in this castle. And not only that, but as the night goes on, things start getting...Complicated. For instance, it's not long at all into the night before the guards begin their shift, and they don't exactly differentiate between you and any other interloper if you get close enough for them to spot you.

Which actually brings up one of the interesting key mechanics that the game plays with; namely, candles and light. Almost every room and area in the game is close to pitch black. So to navigate, you need to hold a candle, as well as find more that you can leave around as markers and light sources to actually see where you're going, and for that matter, where you've gone. Luckily, the candles are said to last "for days", which is to say they're a static object in the game that won't burn out on you.

So building light paths becomes crucial so you can see what's coming for you, actually peer around corners, and generally know what the situation is. But with a limited supply, you're constantly having to weigh your options, and ask just how much light you need...It's an interesting tension, one that really feeds well into the rest of the game's mechanics.

That said, I can't say a comment like that without some qualifiers. The Count Lucanor is a good game, but it's not truly flawless. Its flaws are almost endemic to the whole horror genre, especially the sort of vintage horror-game it's trying to pull from...But that just makes it all the more frustrating, even as it's more understandable.

The flaws are, on paper, small. It's little things like how the analog stick maps to an 8-direction set of movement kind of awkwardly, and the game requires a little delay between an action or dialogue, and actually getting to move again. It's how the positioning to pick up a candle, instead of setting one down with the exact same button, is just a little too fiddly. Or like how the collision detection around the corners on a slidable box can get a bit weird, requiring you to more firmly position yourself right at the center of a side.

These aren't big problems, really. And like I said, between the classic horror game genre, and small-team indies in general, I'm pretty used to seeing these sorts of slightly rough edges. But because they're tied to some of your most fundamental activities, I kept noticing them.

That said...Do these actually hurt my recommendation of the game? Well, no. On the one hand, they're the kind of issues that are, I would hope, pretty easy to patch. And on the other...Yeah, they're a bit of a pebble in your shoe, a little thing you keep noticing. But they're also just a pebble, and to be blunt, I've run into a fair few games doing this gig that had god damned boulders under my metaphorical toes. I can look past these smaller troubles.

Especially when dealing with a game that executes on its vision so strongly. I've complimented games before for this, and I stand by it. I'd rather see a game firmly try to be a specific thing, than just kind of meander around the broad confines of a loose genre in hopes of being everybody's third-favorite game. The Count Lucanor wants to be a vintage horror game, set in the world of a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale gone even more wrong than those tended to.

And that's exactly what it is. So trust me when I say that if those words appeal in the slightest, and you want a little extra spookum now that the jack-o-lantern's rotted and gotten tossed into the bin, give The Count Lucanor a try. I think you'll dig it.