Castle in the Clouds is a superb, sexy exploration platformer

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I’ve been curious about the so-called “Succubus series” on Steam for a while now, and this Steam sale I finally got around to picking them up. For the unfamiliar, this is a series of three distinct releases known as Castle in the Clouds, Midnight Castle Succubus, and Tower and Sword of Succubus, with the latter actually being two releases in one. (There are also several additional entries in the series, but these three are the ones available on Steam.)

The three games are the work of Libra Heart, a Japanese artist who has been working on lewd games since around 2013 or so, with the majority of their games being obvious homages to various 8-bit classics such as Castlevania, Mega Man and The Legend of Zelda. You can probably guess where Castle in the Clouds falls in that lineup.

In the case of Castle in the Clouds and Midnight Castle Succubus, Libra Heart’s visuals are supported by a talented developer named Pixel Teishoku on design and programming duty.

Castle in the Clouds

In Castle in the Clouds, you take on the role of scantily-clad, well-endowed bounty hunter Lily, who decides to take a shortcut through a nearby forest and promptly gets raped by a band of thieves. Rescued by the powerful and distinctly inappropriate rich man who appears to run the local town, Lily obtains his approval to ply her bounty hunting trade in the area, and thus begins a series of platforming adventures.

The ultimate aim is for Lily to discover the titular Castle in the Clouds, a legendary structure which once floated high above the land, but which supposedly crashed to the ground so hard it fell right into Hell. Naturally, the only way to even approach the Castle in the Clouds is to gather a series of mystic doohickeys, one of which can be found in Heaven, another in Hell and the third in an unknown location.

This aspect of the plot is only teased at the outset of Castle in the Clouds, as you hear that your saviour is interested in the legend and has a number of books detailing the supposed information you need to track it down. Your first few hours with the game will instead be spent taking on quests from the local guild, each of which corresponds to a self-contained adventure where you explore, battle enemies, gather upgrades to increase Lily’s range of available actions and… well, have a fair bit of sex along the way, too.

Castle in the Clouds

When you start the game, you’re given the choice of equipping Lily with either a sword or a whip (sound familiar?) but either of these can be replaced at any time assuming you have the money to do so. Quest rewards are pretty generous so there’s no real need to grind enemies for money — in fact, the game feels like it’s deliberately mocking games where grinding is necessary, since after a certain point in the game you can obtain a prostitution license for Lily, allowing her to easily make more money than you will ever need at that point in the game simply by servicing the various NPCs around the town.

Rather delightfully, if you speak to the men you’ve provided a bit of tender loving care to again afterwards, they all react differently in their afterglow, with some questioning the futility of existence while others find themselves with the kind of motivation they haven’t felt in years. The power of a good orgasm is a formidable and dangerous thing.

Each quest’s location is its own self-contained non-linear side-scrolling map to explore. In the early stages, getting around is fairly straightforward, though you may find the odd pathway you’ll need to come back to with an ability you obtain later in the game. Exploration and curiosity is rewarded through treasure chests full of gold and potions, and sometimes heart containers that increase Lily’s maximum hit points.

Lily gains experience points with every kill, though she doesn’t “level up” until you return to the town and rest at the inn, at which point you’re able to customise her stats according to your favoured play style and the weapons you’re using. Generally speaking, you have a choice between whip attacks, short-range melee weapons such as the sword and axe, and magical attacks of various types — you can switch between these at any time if you have the money to acquire the appropriate weapons, but certainly early in the game it pays to specialise.

The sex angle comes in when Lily encounters an enemy with a heart aura around them. Approaching them does not hurt Lily; rather, it begins a sexual encounter. These take the form of simple, well-animated and pretty damn hot animated pixel art scenes with a limited degree of interactivity: you can simply watch the scene unfold until a meter at the side expires, which leads to a cumshot; you can manually trigger a cumshot at any time; or you can repeatedly press a button to escape the situation. In this way, you can enjoy the scene for as long as you want or simply quickly skip past it if you’re only interested in the mechanical benefits.

Yes, there is actually a mechanical benefit to this: the acquisition of Lust points. Besides unlocking the aforementioned prostitution option (which requires 10 Lust points), Lust also triggers a screen-wide special attack any time Lily has an orgasm. The more Lust she has, the more damage this does — as such, early in the game it pays to bang your way through any monsters who are up for a tumble so you can take advantage of them later for quite literal explosive orgasm power.

If this all sounds thoroughly silly and completely inappropriate, you’d be absolutely right, and it’s worth noting that there is an “SFW” version of the game available to play when you start it up if you just want to focus on the platforming. But Castle in the Clouds feels very much like it’s all about celebrating the inherent absurdity in all this — and it really, really works. While it’s not necessarily a game I’d find myself reaching for if I just wanted to enjoy some erotic content, the sexual angle does give it a very distinct vibe — plus the main core of the gameplay is super-fun.

Castle in the Clouds

The game features gorgeous retro-style pixel art using a palette that’s somewhere between the limitations of the classic Famicom style and 16-bit console visuals, accompanied by an excellent soundtrack that combines elements of classic chiptunes with more modern instrumentation and orchestration. It’s a great example of the “modern retro” formula, where today’s developers make games that bring to mind classics of the past, but which simply wouldn’t have been possible to create on the old-school hardware they’re paying homage to.

The gameplay is nicely varied, too, thanks to the unlockable abilities you acquire over time. The initially simple platforming gameplay is gradually supplemented with the ability to wall jump, hang from ceilings, climb walls, swim and breathe underwater — and the nice thing is that the game never feels like it’s overcomplicating things. Instead, it’s clearly been deliberately designed to pay homage to Famicom and NES classics by using a straightforward two-button control scheme: one button jumps, the other attacks, and everything else stems from there.

Castle in the Clouds

There’s an argument to be made that the game is perhaps a little easy — there’s no real punishment for death, for example, aside from restarting the room you’re on — but not every game has to be a harrowing, gruelling experience to be enjoyable.

Castle in the Clouds feels like a game that simply wants you to have a good time without compromising on either its lewd content or its solid gameplay; for fans of exploration-centric platformers, it should be an essential purchase, and for those who enjoy a touch of pixelated porn, well, there’s plenty to enjoy here, too.

Castle in the Clouds is available now on Steam.

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Pete Davison
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