In a certain phase of my childhood I lived for castles. My sacred texts were the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood; my toyboxes were filled with Lego knights, and there wasn’t a photo to be had of me where I wasn’t striking a heroic pose and pretending to wield a bow and arrow. Sure, my young heart also beat for other classic little-boy obsessions like spaceships and trains, but when it came to castles, I had it particularly bad.
I can’t help feeling that in their own 80s and 90s childhood, video games shared something of my infatuation. In those days – that early flush of creativity when everything was bright and cartoonish and simple – it seems like games were filled with castles. My earliest gaming memory is of visiting my dad and him excitedly unpacking his new NES and the original Mario. True, at first I might have been more taken with Duck Hunt, but over time it was Mario that left its mark. With the decades of familiarity, it’s easy to forget how surreal and abstract this game of bricks, mushrooms, pipes and turtles was. Amid all those disparate elements, one recognisable structure is constant, solid and dependable at the end of every level. A little, iconic, brick castle.
Sometimes we got to go inside, and while our Princess was (of course!) always in another one that was okay because in those days video games always had another castle to offer. Everywhere you turned, it seemed there were battlements to scale, dungeons to plunder and princesses to rescue. Personally, I graduated from Mario to Zelda, with Link to the Past offering the first of many beautiful Hyrule Castles. Elsewhere, there were the gothic excesses of Castlevania, and – although I wouldn’t come to them until slightly later – the many-splendoured castles of JRPGs, where it seemed every town huddled just south of some impressively-fortified defensive architecture.
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