Castle In The Darkness is mighty tough and loves to make references to various NES games. It's a metroidvania where you play a knight going around variously difficult maps, killing enemies, getting gold and finding items. There are traps everywhere and the checkpoints are too few. If the game had allowed some kind of easier mode, I probably would've stuck with it until the very end, unfortunately the high difficulty combined with some frustration towards certain systems made me stop after a few days of playing.
From the get go, I was kinda mislead by the fact that you encounter a shop early on to buy a better sword; Enemies do drop gold and you do have a weapon and armor slot - and I was pleasantly surprised to see that swords aren't the only weapon type in the game, you have ranged projectiles as well - but you so rarely encounter shops that they feel more like chests you have to pay to open rather than upgrades. If you had more opportunities to spend gold and improve your character, the shops wouldn't feel out of place, but as they are, there are so few of them that it barely matters.
Your maximum life improves by defeating bosses and collecting hearts, that's fine. I'm a bit confused as to why your life gauge doesn't increase when you do so. It's probably because the gauge is a percentage of your life, but in that case - since everything hurts so much - it feels like you're never getting more life. Mainly because the predictable increase is followed in lockstep by boosts in enemy damage. But in any case, this would be less of a problem if the game had any kind of difficulty setting; Indeed, it keeps track of the number of times you've died - and unlocks things accordingly - but the included 'easy mode' is a joke (an okay one at least!) that doesn't help you with the game.
It would be super easy to create an easy mode for CITD; Just adding more checkpoints would help greatly. Reducing damage taken would also go a long way, as bosses and enemies hit you for a third to a quarter of your life most of the time. Speaking of which, the bosses are varied and mostly all pattern-based, so even if you die a ton against one, you'll slowly learn about its patterns and improve over time, so there's that. The references to other games are everywhere where bosses are involved; Monster Party, Bubble Bobble, Zelda, Castlevania, it's pretty great.
The navigation on the map isn't always clear; at some point I had found a 'secret passage' that allowed me to walk above blocks on the map, but it finished into a dead end, so that bummed me out. Otherwise, there's no map so you have to blindly go in a random direction with hope, hope that you won't find an awesome item guarded by a ton of difficult monsters that will kill you and send you back to that last checkpoint ten minutes ago, at least. You'll find keys, movement abilities and magic spells by exploring, so it's also worth it.
Castle In The Darkness has cool style and controls well. If only it had been a tiny bit less difficult I might have been able to go further without being frustrated and actually complete it. I stopped when I activated a lever - it was required to move forward in the game - by attacking it with my current weapon - which was an upward arcing axe (think castlevania sub-weapon) - causing spikes to pop under me and kill me. If I had used a sword, I would've been safe, but no, I got spiked.