Review by omegacwa

"Castlevania comes back to 3D in stellar fashion, but unfortunately stumbles a bit."

Let's start this off by giving a small back story about my history with Castlevania.

I have been a fan since the 1980's. The first Castlevania I played was Castlevania 2 on NES. I have such fond memories of that game. I fell in love with the series over the years and now own pretty much every game in the series, minus some obscure versions(commodore 64 anyone?).

Anyway, the point is, I own, and have played and beaten almost every game in the series, not counting Judgment which I didn't even bother with.

So when I heard about Lords of Shadow, I was skeptical at first. Even though I am one of the rare people who actually enjoyed the N64 games, Castlevania has never fared well in 3D (which I mostly blame on poor developmental teams). I beat both Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness and both of those games were mostly forgettable mainly due to redundant level construction and boring plot elements. So with a bad taste left in my mouth from the last two 3D affairs I didn't have high hopes. I always wondered why they never went the 2.5D route, which they eventually did do with the remake of Rondo but why not an original game konami?, it is the most logical transition but so is life.

So, the first couple trailers come out for Lords of Shadow and I am still a bit skeptical cause although the hero could pass for a Belmont, nothing quite looked right and most of the trailers contained no gameplay.

Eventually we got some good trailers showing off the gameplay and more of the story elements and things started to look a lot better, and I started to get excited.

So release day finally comes and I pick up the game and play. The game starts off in full Castelvania mode, Gabriel protecting a besieged village from werewolves. Reminds me a lot of the first level of Rondo. Next we get a horseback riding level, which I enjoyed greatly, I really wish they had expanded on this and had maybe at least one more level like this but oh well... The bog level and Pans levels were also ok but a little off track.

This is when the game started to go downward a lot and seem to fall out of castlevania mode almost completely. The next few levels look like some kind of Mayan/Greek cross over levels, and the enemies are mostly Trolls and Goblins, which don't appear too often in castlevania. At this point I understood the whole "God of War Rip Off" complaints. The scenery, the enemies, and the fighting just felt bland and cut and paste. I have to admit, even I, a die-hard fan felt cheated. But I pressed on and boy was I surprised.

As the game progressed the combat opened up like crazy offering so many options that it was hard to remember how to do all the different combos by the end. They also look very good and are animated fantastically. The addition of light and shadow magic open it up even further, recovering health and increasing strength respectively. They also give you even further abilities.

Eventually your whip gets upgraded and you can use it as a grappling hook. This is when the games platforming elements take off and become very enjoyable. Eventually you get a double jump and other neat maneuvers that take the platforming to the next level.

So the combat and platforming really start to flourish, but what about the story?

Well around Chapter 5/6 the game finally finds it way to being a castlevania game. The entire "Vampire" sequence is the best part of the game, and also the longest, which is great. This is when you dive into the graveyards, mountains, and of course THE CASTLE. Everything about this part is done right. The problem is though, that this isn't the whole game and once the "Vampire Castle" chapter are over you feel satisfied, but there are several chapters left...ut oh.

After the Vampire sequence you are sent off to find "Death Himself". The levels during the final third of the game are inspired, and excellently designed, but the story falls flat at this point. I won't spoil anything, but the ending of the game was in my opinion atrocious, cryptic, and leaves the game open for what could be the worst CV game ever. If people thought this game deviated too much, then the ending makes you really wonder if the team at Mercurysteam even care about fan opinion. If you liked the ending, that's fine, but I can't get behind it.

The final few levels and Boss fights are excellent though, baring the ludicrous story injected at the end. The final two bosses are very fun, and never really cheap or excessively difficult, just smart. Beating the game was very satisfying, until I saw the end, after the end.
It honestly drops this games score for me.

To Summarize:

GAMEPLAY:
Well implemented fighting that expands well over the game with new techniques and spells to learn even up until the end. Fun platforming elements and puzzles tie things up nicely. I have never played a God of War game, so I can't comment on their apparent similarities other than face value. For me though, this was fun and unique. The similarities to Shadow of the Colossus are also there, but I loved that game so those elements are in no way a negative to me.

GRAPHICS:
Best I have seen so far in any game period. I don't play that many games anymore, but these graphics are stunning. The background so detailed some have said it's "Breathtaking". All one needs to do is play the Veros Woods level, or the Outer Wall level, to see this game is a graphical powerhouse.

STORY:
Starts strong, gets convoluted and cryptic, ends poorly. Leaves the series in a bad story area that I am interested in seeing how they recover from this. I almost feel like the only way to fix this would be to make the next game be unrelated to the events of this one.

PERFORMANCE:
This is an area that has been catching a lot of flack. Stumbles stutters and freezes oh no! I have to say I experienced no performance issues at all until about midway into the game when I started backtracking. Then the game would freeze for a split second every once in a while during and area attack or if enemies were spawning very quickly, but I never noticed any problems during boss fights. I guess there are a lot of factors involved with how your game performs. My Xbox isn't more than 3 years old and I don't use Xbox live all that much, so maybe that's why I never had any horrible problems, I could just be lucky though.

MUSIC:
Orchestral score with some good themes, but they are too similar and it's hard to distinguish one track from the other. Other than the battle theme and main themes it felt to bland. There is only one nod to old Castlevania music in the game, and it is placed well, but I think for the next game the composer, if they keep the same guy, should collaborate with the old composers of the previous games to get more of that castlevania feeling. Maybe throw in a remix or two just to satisfy us old fans.

OVERALL:
This game feels like an attempt to bring the series back to its NES/SNES roots, but the story tanks right at the end and walks into a land I would rather not travel, here is hoping they can fix that. With some tweaks here and there with the game play and story (mainly bring back more classic enemies and locales) this game could have been one of the best Castlevania games, but I guess it will have to settle for being just the best 3D game.

Here is hoping the next game will continue to improve, but after that ending I will be pleasantly surprised if they can fix the story mess they made for themselves.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/12/10

Game Release: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (US, 10/05/10)


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