Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

"Another Castlevania?" I hear you cry - Yup. Is there just no end to that darn Dracula, or the Belmont family for that matter?! Well, there is, as it goes, and here is our first pretty big change (well, for the Castlevania series anyway), this new 3D advanture has an all new story as well as new characters to add to an already colourful past.

So this time around you are Hector, the once Lieutenant of Dracula himself, who abandoned Dracula at his weakest point and allowed the Belmont family to overthrow and ultimately destroy the legendary devil. Now three years after the demon's demise, a curse has spread over the land of Vallachia and the rest of Europe. Hector, torn by grief and with a lust for revenge for the death of his wife at the hands of Isaac - another of Dracula's Lieutenants, heads back to the castle of his once Master to seek an answer.

Now the last 3D version of a Castlevania game I played was on the trusty N64, and to be honest, it was crap. Konami had the right idea but due to a terrible camera and sluggish controls, it wasn't a fun game at all. So due to this, I've avoided any of the other 3D incarnations on the PS2 in favour of the original style, 2D platform romps, and I've never been disappointed. I'm not particularly disappointed here either and it's left me with a desire to check out the other PS2 games in the series.

What we've got is, and I really don't want this to sound like it's a bad thing or anything, essentially a Devil May Cry "clone" (sorry!) but with a small and enjoyable RPG element for good luck and variation. The main flesh of the game has changed so there are now very few actual traditional platforming sections, and your battlegrounds are now open areas of land or castle corridors but without the need to be leaping from crumbling ledge to broken bridges. As with DMC and its followers, the combat that's presented here is fast and furious, but lacks a lot of the aforementioned game's finesse and pure skill. A lot of the time here you can get away with a bit of good old-fashioned button bashing, but by planning your attacks and waiting for enemy "prone" animations, this makes for a far more satisfying experience. Within this is your obligatory combo system, which is modified depending on which weapons you're using. You're also given the opportunity to get in special attacks when an icon appears on the screen. It's almost like a single button push 'Quick Time Event', which, when timed correctly, will deal an extra damage blow.

The main new gameplay elements on offer here (or the RPG elements if you like) fit quite nicely into the game. My initial worry was that they may feel tacked on is not the case: Hector's role in Dracula's army was based on his skill as a "Devil Forgemaster". Devil Forgemastery involves being able to create and control "Innocent Devils" - devils and demons that will do your master's bidding. So here Hector, throughout the course of the game, can find, unlock and upgrade these little familiars to aid him in his mission. The I.Ds can have varying abilities from healing spells to being able to open special chests and doorsways and helping with physical attacks. But all have one skill in common, they can absorb the souls of the minions that Hector dispatches. As the foes die, they will leave behind different types of "souls" for the I.D to collect - these include I.D. enchancement, weapon enhancement or perhaps Lifeforce for Hector. Unfortunately this particular aspect of the I.D's involvment in the game doesnt feel as big as it could have done, and feels almost unfinished. It reminded me of the "Mags" from Phantasy Star Online, but not as polished.

Hector also has the ability to be able to forge other items from items that the foes drop. As Hector collects different elements and items, he can transform them into new weapons and armour, and then, from these items, he can further transform them etc etc. This is a fun and enjoyable aspect of the game, and many a time I found myself back-tracking to find certain enemies to get a specific element they drop just to see what new items and weapons could be made next. The actuall weapons do make a fairly big impact on the gameplay too. What's better? A fast but weak sword? Or perhaps a Pole Arm, that may be very slow but once it connects does big damage? Well that's for you to decide really, but at least by creating the weapons, it is your choice.

Of course all this battling needs to lend itself to a purpose - and here it's essentially levelling both Hector and your I.Ds up. There isn't any strategy to it though, as when Hector levels, that's it, he levels - so what! Well, it's not such a fruitless task but there is no stat management so essentially all you get is a health and strength upgrade. As do the I.D's and again, there isn't any influence the player has over the stats.

The graphical style is fairly reminisant of its 2D brethren, but it lacks the flourish and vibrant coloured corridors. While the graphics engine handles the onscreen action well, and without any crippling slowdown (there is some but not enough to damage the gameplay), the same can't be said for the awful fogging effect! I thought this had been stopped when the PS1 drew its last breath. There is simply no need for it in this day and age, but I actually can't make my mind up if it's to add atmosphere or drama to the areas or it's lazy programming! Either way it's of no real benefit and actually looks to age the game before its time.

Of course with all Castlevania games, and this being no exception, a special mention needs to go to the excellent sound track. Unlike the useless fog effect, it's the music that lends its hand to creating and building up the tension. The same can't be said for the in-game sound effects though, as they are simply run of the mill footsteps, clashing swords etc. The in-game cutscenes have some good voice acting, although it is a touch cheesy in places, it does add well to the overall Vampirishment (Hey, maybe the O.E.D will include it?!) of the game - in a Hammer Horror way!

And so, the latest Castlevania isn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would/could be. It's certainly worth a try if you're a fan of the franchise but I don't think it's of high enough calibre to even turn the heads of the DMC hardcore. Still the game is quite lengthy and there's plenty to get your teeth into....

Oh come on - you didn't think I'd manage to go the whole length of the review without a cheesy vampire quip did you?

Best Bits

- The new RPG-Lite sections
- The excellent soundtrack
- Plenty to play through
Worst Bits

- Poor graphics
- "Unfinshed" Innocent Devil feature

by: Riotus

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