Release Date: October 5, 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature
Castlevania:Lords of Shadow owes a huge debt to its third-person action game ancestry. The game starts off slow, and I would have to forgive someone an hour into it if they thought they were playing Kratos goes to Dante’s Inferno to look for a Heavenly Sword. However, as I progressed through the epic two-disc-long storyline, I realized this game does have some legs of its own. Castlevania may wear its influences on its sleeve, but the tidbits MercurySteam and Kojima Productions borrow from other franchises are done well-and in some cases, even improved upon.
Take some of the battle sequences. The game incorporates quick time events similar to those you may have seen in, oh, any action game from the past decade. I’m not usually a fan of these because I’m so busy looking out for which button to press that I don’t actually get to see the big cinematic fight in the background. Castlevania:LoS makes use of a visual cue that requires a well timed button press but doesn’t specify a specific button. Just mashing any button you want at the right time makes it quite a bit easier to see the action.
The rest of the fighting is the usual hack and slash action. Button mashers will be able to survive, but the combo system is deep enough to be rewarding to experienced players too. Your combat cross (read: whip) will be your greatest ally, but you’ll make use of a couple of secondary weapons as well. Light and dark magic will also be at your disposal in combat and necessary in some of the frequent puzzles.
The majority of the puzzles are pretty intuitive and manage to be challenging without being frustrating. If you do get stuck or if you’re afraid to turn on your brain muscle, there is an option to unlock almost any solution to the conundrums that stand in your way. Of course, this will cost you some valuable experience points, not to mention real world shame.
I like to keep reviews spoiler free, so I won’t touch much on the story. It does hang together well, but comfortable gameplay devices might not be the only things the game’s designers borrowed. Some of the plot comes across as a little stale and predictable. Regardless, about two chapters in I was hooked. Even though I could see many of the turns coming, I was determined to see this ride through to the end. I can also tell you, without giving too much away, that you play as a guy with the last name of Belmont, and that there are vampires.
The game’s writers have also made it clear that this is a reboot, and the events that unfold here stand apart from the classic lore. Basically, what happens in this Castlevania stays in this Castlevania. (That is, until the release of a possible sequel hinted at in the post-credits epilogue).
The game is rated M for gratuitous gore. Fact: did you know that when hit with a silver dagger werewolves will explode? As in, bring-your-galoshes-and-umbrella-style exploding! The game also contains some partial nudity, but it’s strictly of the creepy demon-monster-lady variety.
There’s some good re-playability here as well. There are multiple branching areas to explore in the 50 levels. Some backtracking will also be required to fully upgrade all of your weaponry and skills. Additionally, there are challenges specific to each stage that unlock after the first play through. Almost all the stages clock in under an hour, allowing Gabriel Belmont’s story to be played piecemeal by those of us who have restricted free time.
Of all the games I’ve compared Castlevania: LoS to, none are probably a better match than Vigil Games’ Darksiders. Often described as God of War meets Zelda’s Ocarina of Time, it was an underrated gem from last year that got lost in a quality game-saturated holiday season. Let’s hope Castlevania: LoS doesn’t share the same fate, as it is definitely worthy of your attention. The worst thing I can say about it is it borrows heavily from some great games, and ultimately I think that’s forgivable when the outcome is such an immensely satisfying adventure.