Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a great action title that cribs many of the outstanding gameplay developments that birthed in the last two console generations–it’s just not a Castlevania game, at least in the traditional sense. Mercury Steam and Kojima Productions’ reboot of the long running Konami franchise slaps a vaguely familiar Castlevania skin over a title that borrows heavily from God of War and Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a tense yet enjoyable journey that features beautiful graphics, tight combo-filled controls, and passable music, but if you’re expecting a game that resembles a traditional Castlevania title, you’ll be left with a limp whip.
This entry stars Gabriel Belmont, a monk/holy warrior who seeks to resurrect his recently murdered wife as she may be the key to understanding why darkness (vampires, werewolves, and such) has befallen the land. He’s the typical hero of this console generation: a well-built, dark-haired, white male with a five o’clock shadow. Still, he’s decked out in a bad ass red and black outfit that represents his order, the Brotherhood of the Light, and totes the best visual representation of the Castlevania whip, dubbed the Combat Cross.
The Combat Cross is your main weapon for dispensing righteous rage, and with it, you can chain together a nice variety of attacks on cannon fodder minions and big bosses. Button mashing will create impressive looking combos, but those that take the time to learn the system, and purchase complimentary attacks (experience points lets you buy new moves), will blow through enemies with relative ease. Bosses, too, look tough, but aren’t quite toss-your-controller hard. Belmont amasses a number of new moves and powers over the course of the game, ones that I won’t touch upon here as they may spoil the end surprise.
Combos feel powerful, jumping feels right, and the controls, overall, work well. Dodging and timing is invaluable, as well as paying extra-close attention to enemies’ animations to see when and how they will attack, and knowing when to block and counterattack. Dying isn’t a total bummer as generous checkpoints grant you ample leeway. The action in interspersed with rather lame puzzles that detract from the action. I’m still uncertain why devs feel the need to place these in action titles–if I want a puzzle game, I’ll pick up Lumines.
Yes, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is derivative of popular action games of recent years. Even the nonsensical action-halting plank walking from God of War shows up, however instead of planks they’re really thick spider webs. That said, Lords of Shadows does call back to previous Castlevania titles in a way. The excellent art design (some of it is truly breathtaking in certain areas) is very much in line with previous titles.
The game takes visual cues from Super Castlevania IV, as several of the environments (including a spooky forest and a spider-infested cavern) resembled 3D representations of the SNES classic’s levels. And speaking of Super Castlevania IV, the whip hasn’t been this useful since that game, as you can pull of some amazing feats of wall climbing and swinging.
Unlike the old, 2D Castlevania games, Lords of Shadow‘s soundtrack lacks an energetic, haunting, or moody aura–the series sonic trademarks. Instead, we’re treated the same, forgettable tunes that plague modern gaming. Nothing here matches the heart-pumping fire that are the Super Castelvania IV, Rondo of Blood, and Symphony of the Night compositions, but I realize these are just the gripes of a bitter old gamer who prefers video game music to sound like video game music.
I also would’ve liked to have seen more familiar enemies and sub-weapons, or at least some of their visual effects; a new direction doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sever major ties with the past. I loved the appearance of the giant wolves in the opening stages–it took me back to the playing earlier installments when the large beast would appear either early inside, or just outside, Dracula’s castle. And, of course, the ending (no spoilers) pretty much ensures that we’ll have even less connection to the past should a sequel be made.
With its Super Castlevania IV-inspired aesthetic and solid-though-not-entirely-revolutionary action, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a worthy sequel that stands up to the expectations hoisted upon it, as well as the competition from its peers. It’s the first great 3D Castlevania game–too bad, it doesn’t have the true heart of a Castlevania game. Still, it’s worth the coin if you aren’t too tied to old school ‘Vania.