The Secret Castle is, upon first glance, a subtle mix of a ghost story and a mystery. As we journey into the imaginative mind of a young boy named Jonas, we are faced with the initial query on whether our protagonist is dreaming or is being visited by ghosts. The answer really doesn't matter, since when something awesome like The Secret Castle comes our way, the journey is the destination.

The idea that children have the most fervent and fertile imaginations is a trope that anchors The Secret Castle. Jonas and his mother move into his aunt's home, and it's a new location that he believes is haunted. His fear is confirmed after rummaging through his new room and finding a book that places him in an entirely different and surreal world. How surreal? Try looking into a mirror which spits back an image of an empty portrait!

As Jonas, you are taken into different rooms that hold various objects that will lead you to uncovering the mystery. You must uncover all the objects to progress to the next level, and although a majority of these items are actually hidden in plain sight, a few knickknacks will take a little brain power to find.

Although grabbing the necessary items requires a simply finger tap to your device, you will need to move your device around whenever an object needs to be put back together. For example, the knight's helmet took precise iPad moves to actually come together and get ready for pick up. In the below photo, I was still in the middle of combining the split helmets together. So a bit of dexterity is needed along with your powers of perception.

Before you can grab the objects around the room, you must freeze the frame by double tapping your device with two fingers, hence the frosty look from the above picture. With the maneuvering of your device, as well as the ability to zoom in and out with the pinch motion of your two fingers, there are many angles and perspectives to view your various puzzles. There are certain items that can also be moved with the swipe of a finger. Knowing how to furiously tap and swipe on an iPad or iPhone will not guarantee swift puzzle solving for The Secret Castle. The key is to survey the room, have patience, use your eyes, and most of all, use your mind.

My only gripe regarding The Secret Castle is developer Platonic Games threw a horrible bait and switch move that left me more than frustrated. After completing two chapters, you must pay $2.99 to complete the game. With criticisms these days of microtransactions and the freemium model, paying as you play may rub some gamers the wrong way. Why not have the game exist as a $2.99 download and stand by creative merits? If you thought Jonas had dreams, I'm having nightmares over this monetary punch in the gut.

On a storytelling level, The Secret Castle also succeeds in developing the friendship between Jonas and his schoolmate Ava. While Jonas simply wants his dreams to end, Ava is the bolder and more inquisitive soul. Their repartee is one of the game's many interesting facets, although I do wish Platonic Games were a bit more diligent with their spelling (see if you can catch the typo in the below picture).

Are Jonas' visions mere hallucinations, and is Ava just a kid with too much time on her hands? Is there a castle that is an actual portal to another world, and do these supposed ghosts need a few favors from the living? I'm not a big fan of spoiler alerts, but let's just say Jonas encounters a few transparent individuals along the way.

Since I will, on occasion, hold grudges, I am still irritated about the $2.99 or bust deal that gamers face with The Secret Castle. I don't mind shelling out cash for the privilege of delving into compellingly rendered world, but to call this game a free download is laughable. The Secret Castle successfully proves that an active imagination can lead to a purely sublime experience. Unfortunately we're also reminded that sometimes, if you want to dream a little dream, you have to pay for it.


App Store Link: The Secret Castle for iPhone and iPad | By Platronic Games | Price: Free | Version: 1.1 | 283 MB | Rating 4+

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating