If you have read a few of my earlier posts, then you are probably aware that I always talk warmly about the Castlevania games. Even though, it was with mixed feelings and expectations that I started to play this recent entry in the long lived series. My doubts stem from the pretty big failure of Castlevania 64 on Nintendo 64, the only other 3D installment of Castlevania I have tried. That game was so bad, that I could only play like 10-15 minutes until I had to stop. The graphics were bad, the controls were worse and the gameworld and the feeling it gave were worst. But, after failures you are more likely to succeed, or? Let’s see how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow fares.
Large but constrained world
The game takes places over large areas, if you check out the map shown to you between the levels, but if you thought large areas meant exploring and looking for cool hidden areas with treasures you will be quite disappointed. Sure, there are some hidden stuff to be found and nice areas that are not exactly shown where it is, but to a very high degree the game plays out over quite straight forward, almost-one-way levels, which is a bit of a letdown, since it could have introduced more free roaming and exploring a ’la Zelda and Demon’s/Dark Souls.
Many of the old Castlevania games, although they are in 2D, have large areas to explore, even from the early start. You will of course meet places you cannot enter the first time you get there, but there are always a lot of areas to explore. I remember playing Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest for the first time and it was so huge; many villages, castles and levels to explore! Ok, back to Lords of Shadow. Why doesn’t it feel alive and opened up to explorers and adventurers? The first thing is all the hints; actually they are not even hints, they are big shiny pointers and signs, almost spelling out “this way only!”, even though the environment have open roads going in other directions, but these are closed…! Invisible walls are one of the worst things I hate about games, especially now-a-days you would suspect the designers had learned to replace the invisible walls with better design; e.g. do not show an open road leading to another direction if the player cannot go there, that is extremely annoying.
Whip that whip!
Enough about the places where you cannot go in the game! Back to the action with some whipping of the old whip. The action in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow goes from ok to frustrating. Most of the times you can just whip away and most monsters will perish, but sometimes the whip is very hard to aim with, especially with fast moving enemies and such. The game has solutions for this, and you get upgrades for the whip, other weapons and special moves to avoid enemies or attack better. The problem is though that these special movements demand special button combinations, like press X, then Y then hold X or press Y repeatedly 8 times. One or two of special moves is easy to remember, but in the heat of the action it is so easy to forget which buttons to press and when; I would have preferred if you could assign these special moves to a button (perhaps the four different corners of the + stick).
The game world, although very restricted even though it seems open and free, is beautifully rendered and very colorful and alive. They have made a very good job with the graphics and it really feels like you are in a Castlevania game, even though I would preferred even less villages, forests and marshes and even more castles, haunted houses and underground areas.
No control over the no-controlled camera
A final thing I have to talk about, and unfortunately complain about, is the controls. They work quite well from time to time but sometimes you are completely out of control. This is especially apparent when you reach a new “frame” or area inside a level; at that point the camera suddenly changes position and if you were walking “down” before but then they put the camera 90 degrees to the left, so you instead walk almost into a deep gorge… It would have been so much better if they could have made a free-viewing 3D game, then this would never had happened. Now it feels so strange that you first move in one direction, down a road, by holding the stick down, but then halfway through the road the camera moves and you holding the stick downwards suddenly moves the character to the right side of the road…
One small thing worth mentioning is also the quite ridiculous mini games (trials) that you are presented with. I guess this is the burden of being on a new console; you have to include these kinds of strange tasks just to have special achievements in the game, like killing X monsters before doing Y. I love these kind of small tasks in games like Super Mario Bros, but in this game it just feel very out place, since it has a darker and sinister feeling to it.
What could have been a great 3D rendered version of the Castlevania games ended up being (another) disappointment. The world is beautiful and the story is as gothic as you want it, but that doesn’t make up for bad controls, constrained levels and weird camera handling. I have to stick to my Castlevania motto: give us a huge 2D Castlevania, for the big consoles with thousands of rooms, areas and caves to discover! Or, make a 3D game that plays like a free-feeling vampire hunting, gothic tale!
- Platform(s): Xbox 360 [version tested], PlayStation 3
- Developer: MercurySteam
- Version: Release
- Release date: 7 October 2010
- Beautiful game world