The Dink Network

Cloud Castle 2: Scarab

Boss mode! The Cloud Castle series has always been full of bugs.
August 8th, 2009
Score : 9.8 exceptional
This DMOD completely blew me away. It's definitely the most exciting and satisfying DMOD I've ever played thus far. Although it is supposed to be the sequel to the first Cloud Castle DMOD, it is FAR beyond anything the original had to offer. The story continues from the first Cloud Castle, beginning with the destruction of the castle in the clouds and Dink and Alessa crashing into a desert in the middle of nowhere. Or so it seems. It turns out that they fell right into an ancient prison, and with a group of interfering juveniles (or so it seems) calling themselves the Scarab Club 7 meddling with powers that shouldn't be meddled with, Dink is all set up for yet another grand adventure.

Besides the story connection, though, this DMOD is a totally different experience from the original Cloud Castle. The implementation is at least several orders of magnitude better, and the gameplay is simply on another plane in comparison. The authors have definitely come a very long way since the days of the original Cloud Castle.

The Good:

The story is A+ excellent. Starting with the initial exploration and the eventual discovery of a town in the middle of the desert, Dink tries to get on good terms with the disgruntled inhabitants by performing favors for them, and eventually run across the annoying Scarab Club 7 who just keeps on appearing at the most inopportune moments. But soon, much darker undertones begin to rise, and various seemingly-unrelated events begin to converge in a sinister direction, culminating in a devastating climax (both figuratively and literally). The story development is excellent, and very immersive. There are even multiple endings, depending on what you did or didn't do during the game.

Humor in the style of the original Dink is sprinkled throughout the adventure, with 4th-wall-breaking jokes and many funny references to other DMODs, ducks, and other Dinky things.

Gameplay is also excellent. There is just so much to do and explore, that you'll never tire of it. Dink gets to gradually level up and obtain better and better equipment, which is a refreshing change from the poorly-balanced difficulty in the original Cloud Castle. The boss fights are very well-balanced, just difficult enough to be a challenge, but not to the point it's frustratingly hard or impossible. There are many secrets (I don't think I found anywhere close to all of them) and optional subquests that serve as icing on the cake.

The implementation is also relatively solid, barring a few minor issues that are bound to crop up in a DMOD of this size and ambition. The scripting is A+ excellent, including but not limited to extensive cut-scenes, special effects, new monsters with interesting capabilities, and much, much more. The scripting of traps and the, um, ducky transformations, is simply ingenious, as is the stampede.

The map layout is also excellent, with no wasted space, and designed in such a way as to draw your attention to unexplored areas in order to prod you on. The extensive network of underground tunnels and hidden places make this truly an entire world to be discovered.

You also get the special bonus of being able to travel in a party of up to 3 (although it's limited to 2 for most of the game). The implementation of this is perhaps a bit odd, but in terms of gameplay value, it's extremely cool. The ability of some party members to give you that one emergency healing you need in the middle of a sub-quest is a nice perk.

The Bad:

In any DMOD of this size and ambition, problems are bound to arise; these should not be taken as an indication of poor authorship, but merely the inevitable imperfections and compromises that are taken in a large-scale project.

The one most annoying thing is SCREEN LOCKS!! I'm sure there are good reasons to use screen locks, but the sheer number of them in this DMOD just gets under your skin after a while. Screen locks with **RESPAWNING ENEMIES** is just lame, and a bad design decision. This is especially bad in one place where it can potentially ruin your game: in the cannibals' caves, there is a screen-locked room with a bonca and a blocked tunnel which can be reached from the other side. Unfortunately, if Dink ever comes in through the blocked side of the tunnel after the bonca has respawned, will be practically stuck in there forever, since there is no way to kill the bonca. Besides, why is it so important to screen-lock ONE bonca?? The player really should be given the option to avoid confrontation. I know this sucks when you're the author and your players can simply evade that cool fight you spent so much time to design, but really, they'll like you so much more if you give them that option. Besides, you can always force them to fight without a screen-lock, with appropriate design: e.g., have an enemy carry a key object required to proceed farther into the map. Really, though, there is no reason to screen-lock a room where the player has passed through the fifteenth time just because it has that one respawning monster (like a scarab--why must we kill every single one of those bugs every single time??).

Alright. With that out of the way, the second main niggling problem is that story progression is not controlled enough. While it is nice to be able to do things in any order, it's not so nice when you get responses from people that are a bit incoherent because their dialogue assumes a certain thing has taken place, but the player hasn't gone there yet. This is a difficult problem, because writing dialogue to take into account all the combinations of things that may or may not have happened is tricky at best, and nightmarish at worst (combinatorial explosion, anyone?). Given the sheer size of this game, this is an excusable flaw. The bottom-line is that while a branching storyline is nice, you do have to keep it approximately linear in order to avoid combinatorial explosion, and things happening in an order you didn't anticipate.

Also, the implementation of having multiple characters in your party could be improved. Something like the way the surviving knight follows the player around in Lyna's Story, for example, could work. As it stands, it's visually odd for Alessa or Fabian to just "disappear into" Dink when they join the party. I'm not sure how well this would work in practice, though, since it would be odd for them to only stand back and watch Dink fight everytime, but it's too complex to implement them joining in the fight without risking premature their death due to limited AI capabilities of the Dink engine. It's a novel concept regardless, and one that definitely opens up new possibilities to explore in future DMODs.

There are also other small issues, such as hardness errors and sprite depth in a few isolated places, but one can hardly expect perfection when the DMOD puts so much into a single map.

All in all, this is an excellent DMOD that you will definitely enjoy. What it has to offer far exceed its flaws; there is so much detail, so many interesting events, so many things to do and explore, and just so much all-round fun, that this DMOD has to be one of the best out there. It far exceeds even the original Dink adventure. I'd like to give it a 9.9, but will have to be content with 9.8 in order to fairly account for the flaws I pointed out.