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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

If you've been following this site for a little while, you'll probably know that I was pretty psyched/obsessed with the release of the all new 3D reboot in the Castlevania series. To me, it's a series that has gone cold a very long time ago. After Circle of the Moon for Game Boy Advance, none of the 2D entry's really interested me anymore. The story's just became more and more ridiculous, and I just realized myself liking the series less and less (which was quite a shame because if I recall correctly, Castlevania II was the first videogame I ever played, so it's a series I hold dear in my gaming history).

However, the latest entry in the Castlevania series has finally had the power to pull me back in and make me feel as happy as I did playing Simon's Quest all those years ago.

The first thing I'd like to start out with is the gameplay; it's incredibly good. The good folks at Mercurysteam really went above and beyond here. The combat is smooth and intense, with very neat additions that make the system more complex and not just a simple button masher (matter of fact, if you just mash buttons I assure you... you'll die... fast). Whenever you kill an enemy you are award experience points which you use to buy more combos. This is a pretty standard thing for action games, so I figured I'd get this out of the way and save the good stuff for the next few sentences. Early in the game you are given a Light Medallion, which gives you access to Light magic. When you activate the ability every time you hit an enemy with your combat cross, you regenerate health. Aside from this, the only way to recover health is by using Health Fonts (which are scarcely scattered through the stages), so it encourages intelligent combat tactics if you want to keep your health in good shape. Eventually you also gain the Shadow magic, which greatly enhances the strength of your combat cross attacks. Finding a good mix of light & shadow magic is pleasing, and a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. On top of all this, eventually you gain the Focus Bar. What this does is now when you're in combat, each time you use combo's or dodge, the meter increases, and when the meter is full, every time you hit an enemy they drop neutral orbs (which are necessary to restore your Light/Shadow magic reserves). Normally an enemy only drops orbs when they are killed, but if you learn to properly engage enemies and avoid their attacks, you can easily keep your Light and Shadow magic on the majority of the time. In a nutshell, the game really rewards you for smart playing, and not just mashing buttons. It's a very harmonious combat system, and probably one of the best (if not the best) I've ever seen in an action game.

On top of the extremely robust combat system, the game is filled with awesome adventure elements such as climbing, swinging, rappelling, shimmying, and jumping. The sense of adventure is always happening in this game, and every stage is just as fun to explore as the last. To say this game is JUST an action game would be wrong. It's most definitely an adventure game on top of that. There's just as much exploring and swinging around as there is combat. I really enjoyed the adventure element of this game, as a matter of fact, just running around the stages and exploring was sometimes even more fun then kicking the crap out of werewolves and zombies (and that never gets old, let me tell you)!

There are also thought-provoking puzzles littered through-out the stages of the games. And good news for the idiots out there: each puzzle has the option to be skipped by basically missing out on the experience point gain you would have received for figuring it out on your own. Now no one can complain that puzzles halt the game too much, since it's entirely up to you on whether or not you want to take the time to figure it out or not. It's really a great idea, and I hope more games in the future implement this idea, especially since I love puzzles in my action/adventure games. Seriously, what's an action/adventure game without puzzles? That's like having an Indiana Jones movie where Indy doesn't have to figure out one puzzle in an entire labyrinth or tomb or whatever he happens to be exploring. You need puzzles to make this kind of game work, and I'm glad they are here.

Some of the boss battles are pretty damn amazing. I love the battles with the titans! Sure, they might remind me of Shadow of Colossus, but you know what... this game controls a lot better than that game did, and it's a lot more fun, so there. I said it. I think this game did a better job with it. There are also a couple of bosses (and I mean that literally, just two) that utilize the Light and Shadow magic system. These were some awesome fights as well. I think a few of the other boss battles fall short in comparison to these, especially since MercurySteam is sitting on a creative gold mine for boss battles that can make interesting use of the Light and Shadow dynamic (or even a titan encounter that has a light/shadow gimmick, oh the possibilites). Aside from that though, the gameplay doesn't fall short in any other respect.

The graphics are amazing. I mean that, this is one of the prettiest games I've set my eyes on in a long time. From lush green forests, to stinky bogs, frozen lakes, and lord only knows what else. This game has it all, and it's simply beautiful. My personal favorite stage was the Outer Wall. The view of the castle, with the snow creating this "hit the screen effect" with the full moon in the background... it was just breathtaking. The graphics are just the icing on the cake with this gem of a game, it's so much fun to explore in general, but when you're exploring something this luscious, well it just makes it that much better. Not to mention the loading screens are very short, so it just makes you wonder how it loads that much beauty so quickly. I was unsure as to whether this next part belonged in gameplay or graphics, so I will simply put it here; the camera in this game is GREAT! This is coming from an avid player of the Ninja Gaiden series, so when I tell you that the camera being placed in one spot and the angles changing as you progress is just sensational. It was so nice to not have to worry about changing my camera angle. I must say that this game really did a great job in putting the camera in all the right places, they must have did a lot of testing to pull off such great camera work in a 3D action game. I'm going to go as far as saying that this is the best camera in any 3D action game I've ever played. I hope all others in this genre aspire to MercurySteam's new, and awesome standard.

Then there's the music, I'm not going to lie, for a Castlevania title, we're a bit lacking here. When the music is present, it does a fine job of letting you know. The tracks are great, and pleasing to the ear. I especially loved the track that kind of sounds a bit like the "waterfall" stage of Super Castlevania 4 (or at least, it does have that musical cue in it). The only problem is that the songs never loop, so once the track plays through thats it. Silence. I don't see why games today do this. It's as if the music isn't important anymore, and it's annoying because I love videogame music. I love the music in this game, don't get me wrong, I just which it the developers set it to 'loop' instead of 'play once.' Maybe next time! Ah yeah, I should also mention that the music is orchestrated as opposed to the typical heavy metal, which in my opinion is perfectly fine considering it suits the type of game this is. In my opinion, the typical metal tracks wouldn't have worked here anyway. I'll also throw this in there: the voice acting and sound effects or top notch, really quality stuff here. If only they didn't have the bosses repeat what they say in the encounters, or that damned chubacapra constantly telling me that I'm cold, but then again that's a problem in tons of games now a days (Shattered Dimensions, anyone?), and it's a minute issue at best.

Last but not least, the storyline. I love the story in this game. It's about a bitter and broken man going up against legions of monsters in hopes that he can bring his wife back from the dead. It's a very touching story, and by the end you can't help but feel bad for this poor guy. I thought the ending was fantastic! It brought everything together, and it just made Gabriel seem like a powerful, self-sufficient man ready to fight more legions of bad guys and do the Belmont clan proud. It seemed like there was a great growing process for the character from the beginning to the end. It was satisfying to see nice character development like that. Then the epilogue came and pretty much ruined all of it, but whatever, I'll deal with it somehow.

I hate to end the review like that, on a down note, especially since regardless of that, I loved this game from the moment I started playing it until the moment I finished it. This is really an amazing game, and truly proves that Castlevania can in fact, exist in the third dimension, and be a great experience on top of that.

I can't... no, I REFUSE to give this gem any less than a 9 out of 10. It's really a near perfect game, and I suggest anyone who's into action, adventure, or both to give this game a swing (excuse the pun), you won't regret it.

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