Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils featured image

‘Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils’ Is Its Own Kind of Retro Fun

Gaming Reviews Videogames

Throwback graphics and old-school gameplay are—no pun intended—nothing new, but it’s always interesting to see which bygone era of historic gaming contemporary designers are plumbing for their latest inspiration. The 8- and 16-bit aesthetics are seemingly evergreen, as the ubiquity of titles like Undertale, Shovel Knight, and Pizza Tower can surely attest. Yet even the low-poly, early 3D style has seen a resurgence in the form of projects like the ongoing Haunted PS1 compilation series.

One system that is sadly underrepresented, though, is the Game Boy Color. With its super-saturated tones and big, travel-friendly sprites, it typified my own gaming heyday, where I lost countless hours playing Wario Land 3, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces, and countless other iconic action-platformers. This is exactly what drew me to Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils by Texas indie developer Colorgrave.

Originally released on Steam back in 2022, Curse Crackers arrived this week on my current favorite gaming system, the Nintendo Switch. Available via the eShop for $15 American, it hits the sweet spot for a downloadable title, and its tight controls and extensive gameplay serve to make it irresistible to fans of the frenetic platformers of old.

Curse Crackers begins with a little fantastical world-building, complete with a benevolent deity and a civilization nearly lost to war. From there, things shift to the present day—specifically to protagonist Belle, her helpful companion Chime, and her frenemy Bonnie.

In short, Bonnie has absconded with Belle’s beau, and it’s up to her to save him by navigating beautiful but treacherous levels, performing the occasional fetch quest, and unraveling what is obviously a much larger mystery.

Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils screenshot 1
Your girl has ring-grabbin’ skills that would make Sonic proud.

Belle does this via a combination of her own acrobatic skills—she ably runs (via the control stick or more traditional d-pad, with ZR enabling her to speed up significantly) and jumps (using the B button)—and a little help from her anthropomorphic bell, Chime. You can toss Chime using Y and the direction controls to aim, using him to bash enemies or hit distant switches. You can even jump up, toss him to the ground, and use his rebound to get Belle some much-needed air for the more complex platforming sections.

Chime tends to ping-pong about the level when released, but a quick press of the X button will call him back to his beloved mistress. It’s this jump-release-return mechanic that typifies much of the gameplay, wherein Belle is challenged by branching level design, moving platforms, and a hefty population of skeletal enemies. By aiding in-level food vendors, you can even unlock temporary bonus skills for Chime, such as the ability to float (à la the aforementioned Wario Land), which are sometimes needed to advance.

Levels are spread out over a larger overworld map, generally arranged in roughly themed groups leading up to the inevitable boss battle. These are also interspersed with towns, shops, and other diversions boasting additional side quests and sprinkled with Curse Crackers‘ peculiar brand of lore.

Such locales aren’t explicitly marked, though, which can make uncovering all the game’s secrets a bit of a daunting task. The same goes for the platforming levels themselves, which are positively packed with hidden passages, bonus Chime-tossing events, helpful roses, and other concealed goodies.

Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils screenshot 2
Lava… Why is it always lava?!

Unsurprisingly, the challenge inherent in Cruse Crackers comes from a combination of precision platforming and pattern-recognition boss fights, both of which ramp up as you make your way further into this pastel-colored world. Thankfully, while the game is routinely demanding it is seldom cheap. You learn from your mistakes and—more often than not—ultimately land on a solid solution rooted in the classical gaming disciplines of patience and timing.

While Curse Crackers is clearly built from the ground up for replayability—appealing as much to speed demons as to obsessive level-completionists—post-game content takes this further with an unlockable arcade mode. Best of all, the pixel-perfect art direction and cheery soundtrack help make it a joy to return to again and again.

While I’d initially chalked this one up as a title solely for old-timers like me, I reconsidered when I remembered how much time my own teens spend on retro-style fare. (Currently, it’s Stardew Valley for my daughter and The Binding of Isaac for her older brother.) That said, whether you had your own authentic GBC adventures or simply relish the sights and sounds of modern throwback masterpieces, Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils is an easy recommendation.

An eShop download code for Curse Crackers: For Whom the Belle Toils was provided for the purposes of this review. Yes, there is a giant dog and, yes, you can pet him.

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