Review by Drakan

"Best Castlevania game yet?"

Introduction
As a fan of the Castlevania series, I was really looking forward to this latest resurrection of the vampire hunting platformer, which has spawned itself onto multiple systems, from the NES to the N64. But does this incarnation live up to the standards of the previous games? In this reporters opinion, most certainly.

To those of you who are new to the Castlevania world, Konami have done a great job in keeping these games ship-shape, which is the usual when it comes to Konami titles. Just think Metal Gear Solid and Suikoden amongst the countless others which have all been developed by this top-class company. So we have good reason to expect a lot from this title.

The vampire hunting hero (no, not Buffy) has changed from game to game, but it usually concerns a member of the Belmont family fighting their way through Dracula's castle in order to save the world from said vampire's wrath. Scene set, let's get on with it already.

Story
Aha, now we're getting into it. Dracula has been resurrected (again) by the evil priestess, Camilla, and aged vampire hunter Morris Baldwin, his son, Hugh, and his apprentice, Nathan Graves, appear just in time to destroy the monster before he has a chance to regain his full power. But the cunning demon uses what energy he has to capture Morris, and destroy the floor beneath Hugh and Nathan, which causes them to fall a long way down into the catacombs of the castle. When they hit the bottom, Hugh decides to go and search for his father, and leaves Nathan (in case you haven't figured it out yet, the character being controlled) to start exploring on his own. While this might not sound very original, especially from a Castlevania point of view, the story progresses with many interesting twists and turns, which will have you wishing for the head of Dracula on a silver platter. Konami has once again managed to pull off having a great story line, with few story progressing moments. It is true that most of your time will be spent exploring the castle and battling the undead, but the sections which are story related come often enough to keep you playing. A good balance which is difficult to attain.

Controls
Controlling Hugh is really easy to learn, but difficult to master. Experienced Castlevania players will immediately be able to pick up on the moves that Hugh has at his disposal. For new comers, it might take a while just to get the timing right. Hugh, like his predecessors Richter, Simon and the rest of the Belmonts, brandishes a whip with which he does all of his vampire hunting. The whip is not a normal weapon that is used on the gaming front, and will take a bit of getting used to. But when you have it, you won't lose it. The joy of the Game Boy Advance is in the simplicity of its control system. The d-pad and 2 buttons on the front, backed up by the L and R triggers makes for a simple, easy-to-use gaming experience. But Konami has utilised these controls in such a way that later on in the game, you will be amazed at the huge variety of moves available to you, but more on that later. Highly responsive movements let you perfect evasion, which you will also learn with time. A quick hint, by holding attack, Nathan will stand on the spot and swing the whip around him, taking out anything that comes near. This will help you with the annoying, poisonous worms that you will meet in the first area.

Sound
From the beginning, you will notice the great quality of the sound. From the creak of doors to the sounds of wolves howling as they charge towards you. The sound is clear and you can hear the demons getting closer as you move towards them. The music is stunning. Just listen to the haunting choir at the title screen. The music really adds to the mood of the game and you always know that you are in Dracula's castle whenever you are walking around just by listening.

Graphics
Due to the mood, the game is very dark, and thanks to the non-LCD lit screen featured on the Gameboy Advance you will not be able to see too well without sufficient lighting. But this is forgivable owing to the amazing looks of the monsters that you have to face. Ranging from skeletons to huge flying demons, the animation used on each one is really something to be in awe of. And while they are mostly all dark, sticking to the theme of the game, the use of colours amongst the darkness is really well done. The backgrounds are exquisite as well. Huge stained-glass windows are just an example of this. The one aspect of the graphics that I did not enjoy that much was the animation of Nathan himself. It looks as if they concentrated on everything else and left about 3 frames of movement for the hero. But it is not annoying to the extent of you wanting to throw the game away.

Playability
Incredible. The game looks like a platformer, but plays like an RPG. Using the same system as Castlevania : Symphony of the Night on the PSX (another one of my favourites) in respect to the free-to-explore castle over the more stereotypical level-by-level gameplay that platformers usually provide, is just another great addition to an already amazing game. You can go anywhere whenever you like. Your status can change according to which type of monster attacks you, meaning you can be poisoned (lose health over time), stoned (can't move until cure is drunk), and even cursed (no attacks possible unless antidote taken). You can equip your armour, drink potions to enhance characteristics and eat food to restore depleted health. But the most innovative addition is the DSS Card Combo system which Konami has bestowed upon us. Throughout the game, you will receive cards by defeating certain monsters, and these are divided into 2 categories, Action and Attribute cards. You have to combine and action card with an attribute card to unleash the magic which they contain. Effects of the magic range from increasing your strength by 25% to summoning a huge rock golem to help you out in those tight situations. And the best part, there are 10 attribute and 10 action cards, which mean that you have 100 (count em) spells which you can cast! All in all, this game plays like a dream.

Replay Value
There is so much to do in this game. Multiple endings, hidden areas, and codes given to you when you complete the game which let you play the game from the start in different modes, all mean that you won't be putting this game down for a while. I'm still playing it.

Conclusion
Castlevania is without a doubt the finest Gameboy Advance title that I have played thus far, and is in the running for best in the series as well, which is quite a big statement to make considering the quality of the other games. This is a combination of all the characteristics which make a great game. Take your hats off boys, Konami has done it again.

Story : 8/10
Controls : 9/10
Sound : 10/10
Graphics : 8/10
Playability : 10/10
Multiplayer : None
Replay Value : 9/10

Total : 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/04/01, Updated 11/04/01


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