Curse of the Crescent Isle DX

A game by Adam Mowery for PC, Mac, Linux, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is an updated re-release of Curse of the Crescent Isle, originally released on Xbox 360 via the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. The new release features updated graphics and sound but retains the enemy-tossing gameplay, level designs, environmental puzzles, and boss encounters found in the original. However, the graphical enhancements and addition of 2P co-op – along with a few other enhancements – make this the definitive version of the game.

The premise remains the same: A few days after her 22nd birthday, the princess of Crescent Isle is set to enter into an arranged marriage with a prince from another island in order to retain peace in both lands. However, a warlock appears and attempts to curse the king, but the spell goes wrong, and instead the people of the land are transformed into various creatures that the player later encounters in the game.

The warlock absconds with the king’s wife and daughter, so now he must set out to rescue them and to save his people. The DX version of the game offers two playable characters, the king and the queen, although their movesets are the same. However, new to the game is the ability for players to team up for offline 2P gameplay, with each player controlling one of the characters for some same-screen co-op action.

The king (or queen) has a 2x variable jump, and he begins the game with the ability to pick up and toss enemies, similarly to Super Mario Bros. 2, complete with a straining animation as he struggles to pick them up. There is one quirk to the controls that may seem unusual at the start of the game, especially for players accustomed to the feel of SMB2, and that is the fact that there are two separate buttons for picking up and tossing enemies.

At first, this may appear to be an oversight, but in actuality, it supports the game’s primary design. Where Mario’s second outing was all about picking up and tossing enemies, this game focuses on flipping enemies above and below you for different effects, and throwing enemies is a secondary function. The ability to flip enemies is not available to the player at the start of the game, but he earns it early into his adventure.

Players can jump onto enemies and ride them around, and players can pick up any enemy that they are standing on to hold it over their heads. By pressing the FLIP button, enemies are flipped under the player character, where he is able to slide around and jump freely, and each enemy type has a different effect on the environment…

Grabbing a drill and jumping lets you break rocks above you, and flipping it down lets you break rocks below, which also causes the player to bounce high into the air. Ice enemies set up some interesting mechanics, since riding one onto the surface of water causes the water to freeze into a solid platform for a few seconds (or for as long as the ice enemy is still making contact).

But there are sections where the player doesn’t want to freeze the water and must leave the creature behind. In another scenario, the player must bring an ice enemy back from a later part of the level in order to retrieve a drill enemy and bring it forward to break some rocks. Players even use ice enemies to temporarily freeze fireballs in midair and use them as platforms, and this technique is required in some of the more complex boss encounters.

An enemy type that is used for some advanced puzzle solving in the back half of the game is a yellow ghost that causes any enemy it touches to quadruple in size (and return to normal when touched again). This is used to solve a number of puzzles where players need to break through large ice blocks or rocks and are not able to do so without a larger creature.

Another interesting enemy allows the player to reverse gravity when flipping the creature above and below his head. The timing can become a bit of a challenge, since flipping enemies below you is instantaneous, where flipping them back over your head requires an extra second as the king struggles to pick them up. Gravity flipping leads to some interesting vertical levels which are further complicated by a few enemies that move based on your gravity flips.

It’s important to note that – while the game focuses on using various creatures to move forward – these are still enemy characters and they will cause damage to the player. When touching an enemy from the side, the player loses one heart from his 3-unit meter. Tossing enemies in tight quarters can lead to situations where the player causes harm to himself, and it can be difficult to navigate around enemies on narrow platforms without taking some damage.

However, if you toss an enemy and it makes contact with another, the tossed enemy will fly back into your hands once more, and this is particularly useful during boss encounters. Interestingly, if you toss an enemy into a bottomless pit, a ghost of a man or woman will rise up from the bottom of the screen (this is a new addition in the DX version of the game), indicating that you have killed one of the game’s citizens.

For all of the games that feature wizards transforming citizens into enemies, there aren’t many that show consequences for killing them. This may make players think twice before tossing an enemy down a bottomless pit in order to get a bit of extra jump height… although people have been doing this to Yoshi for years.

Getting killed requires that the player start the level again from the beginning, but most levels are short and require very little repeated gameplay. That said, there are some longer levels where it may be difficult for the player to avoid damage, and some vertical sections where the player may fall down and lose progress, resulting in some longer replayed segments. Health-restoring hearts are spread around the environment – even during some of the boss encounters – helping to alleviate this somewhat.

Players have infinite lives and the game auto-saves with each level transition. In addition, there is a password system (the game’s original release offered only passwords and no save system) that lets players return to specific levels if desired.

The only gameplay purpose for returning to a previously visited area is to pick up the large gold coin tucked away somewhere in the level. This is a new addition in the DX version of the game and presents a secondary challenge that encourages players to fully explore the environment and occasionally complete some tougher platforming sections.

However, there is no summary interface to show the levels in which coins have been collected or missed, or even any indication of the total number of coins to be found (although there is only one in each level). As such, players may reach the end of the game without a full stock of coins and have no idea how many more coins are needed to complete the set or which levels need to be revisited to find them, effectively negating the game’s sole system for encouraging players to revisit levels.

In the heyday of Xbox Live Indie Games, it was generally known that many of the games on the channel would be a bit rough around the edges, even if they offered fairly solid gameplay and interesting mechanics, as was the case with Curse of the Crescent Isle. However, that roughness still exists even in game’s updated re-release…

For instance, there are some physics glitches in the game that will send you flying in one direction or another, potentially killing you outright or pushing you out of the game world and forcing a manual restart. It is possible to fail levels by losing an enemy that you need in order to solve the level, or by falling down into a pit without a required enemy in-hand and finding that there is no way to get out of the pit – even to backtrack – without manually restarting. There are a handful of glitchy animations where enemies will twitch though multiple frames to face in different directions, and some design issues where fireballs fall out of the bottoms of platforms instead of stopping at the edge of the tile.

The DX release features a number of new elements that were not present in the original release, but these are a bit rough as well. For instance, there is a boss rush mode that lets the player revisit the handful of bosses in the game one after the other; however, the player is given infinite lives, which runs counter to 1-life challenges found in other titles. A speedrun mode is present as well, but it offers no visible timer during gameplay nor an indication of level completion time as you move from one to the next. The game also features a music player, allowing the player to cycle through all of the game’s musical tracks, but it also allows players to cycle through each of the sound effects… however, there is a confirmation tone when selecting any of them which completely obscures the sound effects.

Boss encounters are interesting but occasionally frustrating for the same reasons, as it can be difficult to line up an enemy toss without taking damage, and many bosses require the player to freeze midair enemies or projectiles at precise locations in order to use them as platforms to reach them. It's also possible to get killed after defeating a boss by touching an enemy or coming in contact with the boss during its exploding animation.

With all of that said, the game offers plenty of interesting concepts and mechanics, and it is worth the short playtime for those who are willing to overlook some of its shortcomings.

Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is an updated re-release of Curse of the Crescent Isle from Xbox Live Indie Games. The original release was developed solely by Adam Mowery, although he brought in some additional folks to improve the game from an aesthetic standpoint. Daniel Davis is credited as the game’s composer, Steve Lakawicz is credited as the arranger, and Michael Lambert is credited for the game’s new graphics, while Adam Mowery remained the game’s designer and programmer. Adam is also responsible for Blue Beacon, which was released via Xbox Live Indie Games.