Castlevania reinvents itself with Lords of Shadow
My history with Castlevania is as such that I feel a strong connection to the early series. Castlevania, Castlevania III, and both the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions make up a fair chunk of my gaming memories. Like others, I was disappointed when Castlevania left the fans of the original behind in search of something new and exciting. With a teary eye I said farewell to Castlevania and wished it the best on its new, decidedly Metroid-inspired adventure.
Fast-forward more than ten years after the fact, and now the dynamics have changed. Castlevania is still a powerhouse, but on a much smaller, handheld scale. The "Metroidvania" subgenre still has its niche audience, but it would seem that Konami is ready to reach for that brass ring of the unattainable "good" 3D Castlevania game.
Without getting too wordy, ladies and gentlemen, that game is here.
What the Game IsCastlevania: Lords of Shadow features combat inspired by an earlier 3D attempt, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. Like Lords's predecessor, it features a strong 3D combat combo system where you chain together attacks for heavy damage. These are comprised of "direct" and "area" attacks. Direct does the most damage, and area attacks give you a good amount of crowd control. The rest of the combat's feature set is rounded out with series staple sub-items. Old favourites like the knife (now dubbed the silver dagger) and Holy Water make a comeback, while the new sub-items "fairies" and "dark crystals" round out the set of four quite nicely. Each sub-item is unique enough and useful in contextual situations, and that's a good thing because you'll be on your toes quite a lot in Lords of Shadow.
The game also features the standards for the 3D Action genre, giving you a slew of upgrades to your Combat Cross and other abilities you find along the way. The combat starts off simple and relatively easy to learn, but the more levels you complete, the deeper the combat experience gets. You unlock a labyrinth of new moves and combos after pretty much every level, and these new moves and combos are purchased with Experience Points you get from killing enemies, solving puzzles, defeating bosses, and completing the level.
Some of these are a complete doozy to use, and once you get the hang of Lords of Shadow's brand of action, they become almost like second nature.
Backtracking is also not an issue, but there are hidden items and "Arks" that can only be found when you have obtained a certain power. If you want to go back and get that Ark, go for it, but to make it clear, this game does not force you to backtrack through previous missions, ever.
To put it bluntly, the mechanics work, and they work very well. Based on footage, you might think that this game is God of War re-skinned, and you would be very, very wrong.
God of War was all about hacking up enemies and causing as much murder and mayhem as possible. Lords of Shadow is the thinking man's action game. You need to have patience and control over your actions and button presses if you want to complete the game on anything higher than Squire difficulty. Coming into this game and mashing buttons is not going to win you anything, and may in fact turn you off of the game entirely.
Other Things I Liked
Well, it has a nicely rounded out cast of characters, for one. The Beastiary is in-depth and provides a lot of background that fleshes out the lore of this newly minted reboot of Castlevania. I did not count them, but there have to be at least forty types of monsters in the game, probably more if you include the Shadow of the Colossus inspired Titans.
Boss fights are also nothing to sneeze at. You can try to combo the crap out of boss characters if you want, but outside of a select few bosses, they are all nigh impossible without the classic, tried and true method of learning patterns and gauging what attack will both deal good damage and leave you room to wiggle out of a sudden shift in the pattern. On the first time through this game, the bosses kicked my ass repeatedly. I was playing on the equivalent of Normal.
That is not to say, however, that the boss fights suck. Strangely enough, the game features a good difficulty curve that steadily ramps up until the very end, where in the final boss fight you take everything you have learned throughout the game and put it to use. To put it simply, the boss fights in Lords of Shadow are challenging and very fun.
The game also sports a very well acted and produced story mode. That's a good thing, since it will take you roughly 15-25 hours to complete, depending on player efficiency and difficulty level. The story itself is nothing to sneeze at, either, as it provides a unique perspective and a fresh take on some of the series' staple characters and encounters. To not put too fine a point on it, quite frankly, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a great looking and great sounding game.
What's Wrong with the Game
Like any great game, there are pitfalls along the way that keep it from being the truly awe-inspiring, all-encompassing "this is the only game that matters forever and ever" kind of game. Some of those things include tedious platforming, brain-dead simple puzzles and incredibly vague direction.
The vague direction I refer to is really a problem with the genre itself. It is because Lords of Shadow is a linear game that the developers assume you will know what to do when you reach a new puzzle type or a new encounter, providing little in the way of help. While it is not a huge concern, I will say that during one of the best levels in the game, I couldn't figure out what to do to get past gears. As it turns out, you roll under it. I smacked myself for being so stupid.
Other minor issues include certain button mapping controls. Double-tapping on the left stick to sprint is not only unintuitive but also turns a useful mechanic into playing with fire in almost any situation. More often than not you'll wind up looking like Dark Man after trying to sprint your way out of a sticky situation.
Should You Play This Game?
Aside from those niggling complaints, I must say that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow holds up against the criticisms that were lobbied at it from IGA fans. It is also fair to say that, while not perfect, the adventure to be found in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is not only a lengthy and engrossing one, but also well worth the $60 price tag attached to it.
With hidden items to backtrack through the game and make the road ahead just a little easier, trials you can unlock after completing a level, a robust extras menu with unlockable concept art and a Solid Snake outfit, and not to mention a fantastic, narrative-driven story mode (narrated by Patrick Stewart!), it is easy for me to recommend Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to the average gamer, and doubly-so to recommend it to anyone who feels that they're missing the whip-'em-up adventures in the vein of old Castlevania.