Monday, January 16, 2006

VG REVIEW: Castlevania

January is always a good time to sift through the enormous pile of games from last year that you never got the chance to look at. Here then is a review of 2 Castlevania games that came out a few months ago. Bon Appetit.

Konami, for the Nintendo DS
rated T for Teen (blood and gore, fantasy violence), $34.99.

Konami, for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated M for Mature (blood, violence), $49.99.

Ah, good old "Castlevania." If ever there was a series that could be consistently relied upon for sheer, solid gaming entertainment, this is surely it.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about the various attempts to bring the franchise into 3-D, in which case the opposite is true. Rarely has a well-established series attempted to make the leap to three dimensions so frequently and fallen on its face each time.

Two new "Castlevania" games continue that tradition.

"Dawn of Sorrow" the series’ first game for the Nintendo DS, is a fun, smart game in the "Castlevania" tradition. "Curse of Darkness," however, is a dull mess, a by-the-numbers button-masher that carries over little of the magic from the games that made the series famous.

Let’s stick to the good stuff first. "Dawn of Sorrow" is a sequel of sorts to 2003’s "Aria of Sorrow." As in that game, you play Soma Cruz, a man with the ability to absorb the souls of monsters and generally cause trouble for the forces of evil.

As in "Aria," Soma finds himself entering another spooky castle filled with nefarious and gruesome creatures. A lot of the classic "Castlevania" staples can be found here, and anyone familiar with previous games will feel instantly at home.

You can almost keep a checklist in your head while you play. Gothic, ornate design? Check. Rpg-style interface? Check. Big bosses that fill up the screen? Check. Lots of backtracking? Double-check.

With "Sorrow" being made for the DS, there are a few attempts at utilizing the console’s touch-screen abilities. You’ll have to use the stylus to blast away little blue blocks at various points, and each boss battle must be completed by tracing a magic symbol on the screen.

Neither of these additions bring much to the game — if anything they feel like needless distractions. But if they aren’t welcome they don’t hurt the game either, and fans will find that "Dawn of Sorrow" is like settling back into your favorite comfy chair.

"Curse of Darkness," however, is more like that uncomfortable fold-out you bought when you moved into your new apartment. It’s functional, but not very friendly.

As in "Sorrow," "Curse" also has you exploring dark, monster-filled castles, this time as "devil forgemaster" Hector.

It seems Hector is out for revenge against his former partner in crime, Isaac, who killed Hector’s girlfriend and has to be one of the most flamboyant, effeminate characters ever to appear in a video game. Entire treatises could be written on the homoerotic subtext of the Castlevania games, but Isaac and his mesh shirts must win some sort of prize.

The game follows a pretty basic formula: walk into a room, hack at the monsters by pressing the same button over and over again, go to the next room. Compounding the problem is that most of the levels are dull, drab affairs, lacking the colorful, ornate style found in games like "Sorrow."

Along the way, you’ll pick up little demon helpers that can do things like raise your health or help you beat up the enemies. It’s a nice idea, but these creatures tend to take some of the challenge out of the game. Why waste time slaying zombies when I can have my lava monster do it for me?

"Darkness" isn’t as bad as some of the past 3-D "Castlevania" games, but it is incredibly monotonous. By the end of the first level, most fans will no doubt be heading back to the safety of their 2-D titles, ever more confident that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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