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PS3 Game Review: Castlevania -=Lords of Shadow=-

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While the game is called Castlevania, there is strangely very little castle in it and the key villain in the series also seems strangely absent. Yes, that’s right, it’s a Castlevania game with no Dracula. This is only some of the many things that separate this game from the rest of the series. The creators intended this to be a reboot for a new audience rather than the usual rabid vampire whipping fans. Maybe a particular popular book series featuring particular sparkling people might have something to do with it. Now that my PS3 got replaced by Sony, I am finally able to finish this game and bring you this review. I did get a heart attack when the audio just flat out died on me, but after a restart it hasn’t returned to scare me again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed it stays that way…

He looks like Simon Belmont doesn't he?

The story revolves around a man named Gabriel Belmont, part of the “Brotherhood of Light”. While he was out doing his manly things, he receives word that his wife had been killed during an attack by monsters at home. He is going on a lead to how he may revive his dead wife and his grand adventure will unfold as you play through forests, sewers, mountains, and some even other dimensional places even. Unlike the other games in the series, this game also has a very strong narrative, each loading screen to a level has a narration spoken by his friend Zobek, adding some story context to the locations he visits as well as setting the pace of the events. Midway through the game, however, the in-game cut-scenes start to become scarce and all you will have to go on is the loading screen monologues of Zobek.

Anyway, the game has you go through environments that feature a mix of platforming…ish, killing baddies and puzzle solving. Sounds like a Castlevania game right? wrong. The platforming is mostly some wall climbing sequences similar to Uncharted but a lot more shallow in terms of complexity. See glowing ledge? Go to glowing ledge, see sparkly light? Press R2 to hook sparkly light and swing to the other side, rinse and repeat through out game for exploration.

Gabriel is equipped with a divine weapon called the “Combat Cross”, this thing will be your monster killing, puzzle solving, bad ass swiss army knife. When you start you only have some basic moves, but as you progress the Combat Cross will receive some upgrades that will both give you some new fighting moves against anything that thinks Gabriel looks delicious, as well as access to blocked off areas in the game. He will receive other upgrades as well like a gauntlet so he can do the falcon punch (I’m not kidding), and push blocks for the sake puzzle solving; as well as some new boots so that he can jump greater distances as well as sprint and tackle.
Not exciting yet? Well the developers threw in Light and Shadow magic as well, each with their own perks. Both of these are actually modes that Gabriel can go into with a matter of taping either L1 or R1, changing into the two modes respectively. When you’re in light mode, you gain health when you connect attacks with enemies. Shadow mode boosts the damage of your attacks. Both modes also effects certain items and moves, like light magic allows your holy water to grant you a shield for a certain amount of time for example. While it seemed gimmicky at first, it added a nice amount of depth to the combat, keeping it from being dull. You do have to watch your reserves though, both magic modes have their own reserves and you’ll want to replenish them by either battling enemies without getting hit, or finding a altar.

The puzzles, are strangely skippable, but by doing so you also forgo the reward for solving it. Silly, I know, cause there is no real penalty for skipping. There are some light puzzles where you have to adjust mirrors, and there are some “Find the Key!” puzzles, although there are a few interesting ones. Sadly they are few and far in between. Mostly “Find Key!” to progress silliness.

Now there is one element in the game that bothers quite a few people and that is the titan fights. These are gigantic boss fights that involve you climbing up on them so you can attack their weak points Ala Shadow of the Colossus. Unlike SoC though, this is far more shallow because instead of trying to grip on fur or looking for a stick you can hold on to, the bosses are designed like the levels you have played through out the game, in that there will be inexplicable perfect straight ledges for you to climb on. The bosses still look amazing, but it pales in comparison to the experience you get from SoC.

Oh yes, before I forget; this is not a “Metroidvania”, this is more akin to the older Castlevanias where you go from level to level. You can back track to other levels though, to find any items you may have missed, as well as attempting to beat the challenges that open up after you beat the level.

Now for the wrap up.

Presentation: Menus are actually placed in a old fashioned binded book with yellowing pages. When reviewing the items, relics, even the bestiary, everything is rendered in beautiful charcoal drawings.

Graphics:
I have to say, the game is only 720p but it is GORGEOUS! Textures and details are bountiful and sharp, the environments are a spectacle to see, no one area looking like another. Characters are simply rich in personality in their animations. The game stays a little under 30 frames per second though, playable, but very noticeable. Only once in a while does it run smoother than that.

Sound:
The voice acting is actually pretty good, and the soundtrack is just a pleasure to listen to. You will find the same bgm playing again and again sometime and that does get quite tedious.

Gameplay:
Combat has a nice flow going and the puzzles, for the most part, are short with a few being reasonably clever; never hard though. Sometimes the level designs have too much going on, making you easily missing out on alternate pathways leading to upgrades. Some of the levels even have you chasing a “Chupecabra”, in which even the game admits is just an annoying little bugger that serves no purpose but to steal your power ups, in which you have to find and beat up just to get them back.

Replayability: After the first play through, you can back track to older levels to complete challenges, beat levels under a new difficulty, buy the rest of your moves, or even mess with the extra goody at the end of the game. There is also lots of concept art for you to unlock with points as well.
Conclusion: The game has few things in common with the rest of the series, in someways it’s actually a good thing. The previous 3D castlevania’s were jokes because level designs were simply “Box1 goes to Box2”, in which it was actual boxes you waded through, and killing enemies. The story is contains is far more fleshed out, the characterization is much stronger, and overall the game quality is more consistent. Abilities are actually for the most part, usable and easy to do; unlike the previous games where 90% of the moves have to be weeded out for what actually works. Despite some level design issues and some obvious cases of borrowing from other games, it still has this level of grandeur that other castlevania’s didn’t have and the attention to detail this game has just cannot be denied. There are also 12 chapters to play through, lots of game in this disc. The XB360 version has 2 discs you need to swap between! Oh yes, there are a few nods to some games nowadays like Portal, Zelda, and even Metal Gear Solid. They were actually pretty subtle about some of them, think you can find them all? 🙂

This review was based on my experience after beating the game on normal, about half of the items collected. Oh and every castlevania game I ever played. =P

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Written by vigorot

November 10, 2010 at 4:58 am

Posted in Game reviews

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