King Lucas is a platformer that strips the genre down to its most basic moveset imaginable. Forget dashing, double-jumping or wall-clinging, this game doesn’t even allow you to vary the height of your jump. It’s the first hint that King Lucas is a game rooted firmly in the past.
The titular King keeps losing his own daughters in his castle. You might think this sounds careless, but, come on, does the Queen really know where Prince Charles is every minute of the day? What’s really unforgivable, though, is that Lucas keeps adding extensions onto a castle that is clearly poorly laid-out to start with, but at least this increases the challenge ahead. Since you’re a knight, the duty falls on you to traverse the castle’s rooms, defeat hordes of enemies — including skeletons, bats, and slime — and locate each of the missing offspring.
It’s pitched as a ‘metroidvania’ but that’s verging on false advertising: King Lucas is a basic platformer with roguelike elements. But the expanding map, combined with the ‘find a room’ objective and random room layouts, does make for an original game, albeit one that harks back to a bygone era. Graphically, the game looks like it might have been produced for the Amiga, thirty years ago. It shares the same kind of cartoon-like, metallic underground style seen many times before and the behaviour of the NPCs has an old-school clunkiness to it. The core gameplay is reminiscent of even older single-screen games.
Use of a fixed height jump — and a slow one at that — removes a lot of potential nuance from the level design, and although some of the classics like vertical fireballs and moving platforms are present, there’s not a huge variety of elements. Rooms are often symmetrical — a pretty, but boring touch — and vary from ‘packed to the gills’ to ‘so sparse I’m not sure why they even exist’.
Since the focus here is traversing a large map, looking for a single room, the game already has a strong exploration/maze objective theme. In addition, there are often many different paths through a given room, some of which are blocked by doors. Doors play a major part in King Lucas. Sometimes they simply provide a shortcut, and often they must be unlocked out of necessity, occasionally they bait the player towards a dead end. As you’d expect, keys can be found or purchased, and the resulting resource management, together with the non-linear tasking, at least results in a decision-making challenge.
The combat isn’t really anything to write home about, though. Many enemies don’t do contact damage, so pose less of a threat than might be expected. However, your dagger’s short reach puts you at a distinct disadvantage otherwise. The weapon is upgradeable, and the standard ‘fight, reward, spend’ loop is balanced well enough. There are a couple of bosses scattered about but they’re neither difficult to beat, nor particularly rewarding.
King Lucas has original elements, but it’s not always clear whether they’re borne out of laziness or considered game design. Some parts of the game feel sloppy and rushed, yet the end result isn’t entirely unplayable. I’ve recently reviewed several games that I’ve wanted to like, but couldn’t, since they were held back by significant flaws. King Lucas is almost the opposite in that I can’t help but quite like it, even though I can’t find that much to praise it for.
King Lucas £4.49
King Lucas is a recreation of a very particular type of adventure platformer from the olden days. Although it’s unpolished and some gameplay aspects are awkward, the expanding map is a fun gimmick, and there’s a decent challenge here.