Critic Punk

Sponsored Advertisement1

Sponsored By

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

8bit of Castlevania gameplay history...

To generalize, the core gameplay elements of a Castlevania "mothership" title can be grouped into two primary deviations of Action or RPG platforming. The first Castlevania on the NES, employed action-platforming gameplay, with linear level progression as it's game flow. This first gameplay design direction is expanded upon in later sequels like Castlevania (3, Dracula X, Legacy of Darkness, etc). The second franchise installment "Castlevania II: Simon's Quest" (C2SQ), also on the NES, was the first to incorporate RPG-platforming gameplay coupled with non-linear "open world" progression. This gameplay design direction didn't take off until the release of the franchise's high-point, "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" (CSotN), 10 years later. CSotN, which remains the best selling and highest rated game in the franchise, won over both old and new fans during it's 1997 release with an evolution of C2SQ's non-linear RPG gameplay. Up until this point, the core Castlevania gameplay consisted almost entirely of adaptations to the original's gameplay formula. With CSotN, fans both old and new expected CSotN to lead the franchise gameplay into it's new critically aclaimed direction. However, it was the release of "Castlevania 64" (C64) in 1999, which engraved unto stone the split direction that Castlevania's core gameplay would take.

Thus far, Konami has successfully expanded the gameplay formula of CSotN into a treasure trove of GBA and DS spiritual successors. The problem with these RPG-Platformer titles, at least from Konami's financial perspective, is that they are ill-suited for the console market. This is due to the fact that these games remain chain-whipped to their 2D gameplay shackles. For whatever reason, Konami has avoided the unbound challenge of developing a 3D RPG and platforming heavy non-linear Castlevania title. As reflected in historical sales data, the majority of 2D gameplay titles are best suited for the portable market, while 3D titles sell better on the console market. Time, and time again, Konami has ventured Castlevania forth, into the 3D realm, with substellar hybrid iterations like "Castlevania: Lament of Innocence" (CLoI) and "Castlevania: Curse of Darkness" (CCoD). Each 3D rendition of a console Castlevania title, since CSotN, failed to surpass either it's sales or critic review numbers. Start with the release of C64, Konami has ushered an +11-year search for Castlevania's revolutionary gameplay leap; akin to other 3D masterpieces like "Ocarina of Time".

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Meet Gabriel Belmont

Fourth-ish time's the charm!?

"Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" (CLoS) is a re-imagining of the traditional Castlevania franchise, and it's originating gameplay. The main character in CLoS, as expected, is a whip-weilding Belmont named Gabriel. Unexpectingly, your quest is NOT centered around the exploration of Dracula's castle. Instead, the world that Gabriel adventures through is a collection of dramatically differing environments, most of which are first time embarkments for the franchise. Within this newly imagined world, Gabriel quests onward seeking a means to resurrect his recently departed wife Marie. With vengence as his guide, Gabriel's forthcoming adventure must also avenge the franchise's chaotic history of substellar 3D Castlevania iterations.

With CLoS, Konami went the way of Nintendo and out-sourced the bulk of CLoS's development to the Spanish game development studio MercurySteam (Metroid's first 3D iteration was developed externally by U.S. based Retro Studios). With guidance from Kojima Productions, CLoS's gameplay loosely embraces the core gameplay of the original Castlevania, replacing the platforming aspects in favor of "God of War" (GoW) style action set-pieces. The end result of this franchise reboot, is a hybrid between CLoI and GoW. From a macro perspective, the game flows linearly in both chapter and level progression, akin to the first Castlevania. From a micro perspective, the gameplay within any given level will generally revolve around combat, cinematic platform traversal, and basic puzzle solving.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Traversing platforms and ledges are very cinematic

The macro gameplay design has a similar flow to the first Castlevania, and C64, if platforming were completely removed from these predecessors. There are no instances of exploratory freedom provided to the player within any given chapter. CLoS guides the player through an entirely linear and cinematic game flow. Gabriel progresses through a 3-5 chapter collection of environments, each with their own subset of stages that eventually ends with the slaying of a "Lord of Shadow". Since there are three lords, this process repeats, totaling 12 chapters. The storyline serves as the primary motivating force for the player to progress towards the finale. Sadly, this Castlevania vision does not involve Death, Dracula, or his signature castle. Midway through the adventure, feeling as an act of redemption for this exemption, Gabriel's journey pleasantly takes him through a Lord of Shadow's castle, and it's surroundings. But, the overall omission of crucial Castlevania elements leads me to wonder why the developers even bothered to stick on the Castlevania label. Reboot or not, why should the developers call this a Castlevania game if they weren't prepared to capitalize on it? I am sure that other publishers would have provided funding based on the underlying tech, creating a new Intellectual Property (IP) altogether.

This leads to the first major problem with CLoS, which is how un-Castlevania it feels. The early storyline segments are mostly unfocused and unexplained. It seems that the writers couldn't decide whether the game should be more fantasy and european-folklore inspired like GoW (with CLoS's incorporation of titans and "Pan" god), or side with the franchise's staple "Bram Stoker" inspired lore. The first third of the storyline over-extends the boundries of this fictatious world well beyond the franchise's barely-acceptable anime limits. When CLoS attempts to closely embrace the Castlevania feel, chapters 4-8, the overall experience becomes a unique one. However, this is only a third of the entire game. For the remainder, CLoS maintains it's inferrior GoW clone gameplay. The environment and atmosphere can only take CLoS so far. When the story throws out (for the better) much of the seemingly out-of-place folklore that was introduced early on, this results in a better focused and somewhat satisfying tale. Overall, if the aesthetics of chapters 4-8 are removed, you are left with completely generic non-Castlevania influenced gameplay. Automated platforming, a missing Dracula, pointless sub-weapon inclusion, forced battles, and linear exploration; DOES NOT equate to a Castlevania game.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
The closest CLoS ever gets to feeling like a real Castlevania game

On the micro side, CLoS's combat plays like a cross between GoW and CLoI. As you progress through the game, the combat system expands into something different than either of the aforementioned. There are four core mechanics to combat, each working harmonously with one another. These mechanics involve dodging, blocking, light/dark magic, and combat focus. The combat focus meter fills up as Gabriel performs well-timed dodges, blocks, or unleashes varied and devastating combo attacks. This meter slowly depletes over time, and will instantly empty if Gabriel receives a single hit. This adds a significant emphasis on dodging (avoiding a hit), and blocking (which enables fast meter filling counter-attacks). Once this meter is completely filled, every successful attack on an enemy will reward the player with a neutral orb. These neutral orbs can then be absorbed by Gabriel to either fill his light or dark magic meter; a choice made by the player amidst combat. Filling light magic allows Gabriel to activate an enhancement to his attacks that heals himself for a portion of the damage dealt by him. Activating dark magic enhances the damage output of Gabriels attacks. In addition, with either magic activated, additional special attacks, combos, and altered subweapons can be used to survive an enemy encounter.

A second major problem with CLoS is the combat. The first issue with combat is that almost all enemy encounters prevent the player from progressing further until these enemies have been eliminated. Though it is unstandable to include these types of engagements sparingly; CLoS goes the way of Uncharted, forcing the player to clear room after room of enemies before progressing. This game flow design problem leads into another problem with combat. By the time you start to unlock the majority of your special attacks, combat gets dull and certainly repetitive. Worst yet, when facing the majority of the larger and more challenging enemies, one of the core combat mechanics (blocking) becomes frustratingly broken. An extra bit of polish could have easily eliminated this counter-intuitive difficulty spike. Due to the unpredictible and unbalanced enemy attack frames, building and maintaining combat focus becomes a less important battle priority for these widely deployed battles. FOR A FULL BREAKDOWN READ THE VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH BELOW.

Use the image above and image that the enemy is starting a downward attack.
That would mean Gabriel is hit before the attack begins. This hit-detection problem
actually happens against other enemies and bosses, like the werewolves.

Yes, you heard correctly, one of the most useful core mechanics of combat, blocking, is broken. Blocking prevents Gabriel from taking damage during a foes non-flashing attacks. All larger enemies can randomly break-through Gabriel's block by unleashing a white-flashing charge-up attack. This is intentionally designed to force the player to dodge the flashing power attacks while blocking all others. This ideally creates a nice balance to the combat options available to the player. As an added layer to blocking, the counter-attack system, activates when the player successfully blocks an attack at the last possible moment; resulting in a major boost to the combat focus meter. The breaking point occurs with enemies whose attack-animation frames activate their "hit-detection" against the player many visual frames before the enemy's attack actually collides with the player's character model. This lack of a visual cue limits the reaction time a player has to block, down to mere milliseconds. Since these flashing and non-flashing attacks are random versus pattern-based, effective blocking during these fights are akin to landing on a Hotel improved Boardwalk square in a game of monopoly. The worst part about this hit-detection issue is that when you die because of it, and you will, the game will instantly slow down and zoom in, showing just how far away that werewolf's claw is from actually hitting you.

When not involved in combat, the remainder of the game is split between basic puzzle solving and cinematic platforming. Each of the presented puzzles are relatively simple to complete, while most can be completed through a brute force approach. One smart design choice regarding these puzzles is the ability to skip any of them without incurring a penatly to the player. If the player decides to solve a puzzle, they will be rewarded with a surpluss of EXP. The design of these puzzles are usually simple and switch-based. The puzzles are essentially standardized templates of those found within other historical adventure titles. One puzzle, towards the end of the game, incorporated an interestingly clever music-based design. Unfortunately, this puzzle required a small amount of actual plaforming gameplay. Since the game's controls were not designed for actual platforming, the inaccurate platform traversal made this clever puzzle more frustrating than it should have been.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Uncharted's cinematic... I mean, CLoS's cinematic platforming

CLoS is not a platformer style game. CLoS's platforming sequences borrows heavily from other franchises besides GoW. Some of these cinematic platforming events mimic the epic encounters from "Shadow of the Colossus" (SotC). For the cinematic platforming sections, the player simply directs which ledge or whipping-point Gabriel needs to latch onto next. The cinematic platforming flows and automates similarly to Assassin's Creed II (ACII) or Uncharted's "platforming" sections; right down to the linear climbing paths. Unlike ACII, when CLoS attempts to give the player some platforming freedom, it's non-platforming controls promote frustration instead of fun. The platforming is without challenge, beyond the ocasional time-sensitive action event sequence. Despite having a jump button, CLoS is void of skill-based platforming levels, save for a small handful of sequences. These sequences are made all the more frustrating due to an uncontrollable camera coupled with weighty jumping controls. Thankfully, the penatly for failing a jump (IE: falling into a bottomless pit) is minimal, and these frustrating sequences are few in number. Ultimately, from a gameplay perspective, CLoS was designed to sacrifice freedom of player control for the epic and atmospheric events that Gabriel constantly encounters.

CLoS's brainless cinematic platforming segments remains the largest roasted beef that I have with the game. The Castlevania franchise, and it's dual core-gameplay directions, each utilize platforming as it's game design foundation. Despite having the primary button ('X' -> PS3, 'a' -> 360) mapped for jumping, CLoS's gameplay never requires skilled usage of jumping. In fact, both horizontal (long distance) and vertical (height) jumping are clumsily frustrating to use during the few skill-based platforming segments. In addition, jumping as a combat mechanism adds nothing to it's depth/complexity other than an aesthetic 'cool' factor. Sadly funny is the fact that Gabriel can leap over 10ft into the air, yet get knocked back down by a 3ft tall gremlin's melee attack. Simply put, jumping in combat does not provide the player with the expected aerial safety against small/medium sized ground-based enemy attacks, even though it should. Of the 15-16 "mothership" Castlevania titles (excluding CLoS), only two titles avoided platforming as a fundamental gameplay mechanic. Ironically enough, these two titles are also 3D renditions of the Castlevania franchise (Lament of Innocence & Curse of Darkness). Even more ironic, CLoS controls and plays like Lament of Innocence (from a micro gameplay perspective), despite claims of being a franchise reboot.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
The 12ft Troll's attack should be able to reach Gabriel from up there, but, why does the 3ft goblin reach too?

What did CLoS get right?

The art direction, technical graphical capabilities (lighting etc), and architectural designs are simply amazing. I stopped playing during key moments when my eyes where overwhelmed with the amount of detail carved into the world that Gabriel explored. MercurySteam deserves special recognition for what they achieved here.

The Castlevania franchise has been known for some of the best musical compositions in gaming history, and CLoS's soundtrack exceeds expectations. The music is perfectly scored, and perfectly suited for the franchise. The music is moody and atmospheric at all the appropriate times. Another ovation for this Spanish led accomplishment.

Starting around the fourth chapter, the atmosphere and environments of CLoS take a more gothic approach. Through to the eigth chapter, CLoS comes as close to the Castlevania look and feel as it could. During this five chapter span, the mood and atmosphere made me feel like I was playing a proper Castlevania game.

Overall the combat, once the majority of abilities are unlocked, is relatively fun and engaging.

The non-canonicle main story, and it's voice-acted delivery are relatively enjoyable. Resurrection of a lost loved one is good alternative to the standard "kill Dracula" quest.

Final Thoughts...

"Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" is yet another sub-stellar attempt at bringing this beloved frachise to a broader console audience, with emphasis on action as it's key attraction. The "reboot" direction taken by the developers seems to forget what made Castlevania successful for the past 20+ years. Since the release of CLoI, it has become apparent that Konami lacks the technical and/or creative talent to develop a masterful 3D Castlevania game. Surprisingly enough, "Castlevania 64" remains the franchise's best 3D attempt. Having MercurySteam drive the development of CLoS was a good decision by Konami. It is obvious that this team has superb technical talent. However, Konami shouldn't have put Kojima Productions in the position of project overseer and mentor. Like MercurySteam, this was Kojima Productions first Castlevania project. It is completely baffling to understand why Konami would bypass Castlevania veterens like Ayami Kojima (series Art Director) and Koji Igarashi (series Director/Writer/Producer), for the unseasoned Kojima.

When looking at CLoS from the non-Castlevania perspective, you are left with a mediocre GoW clone. Once combat loses it's appeal, about half-way through, the player must look to the game's superb graphics and musical composition to carry them towards conclusion. CLoS is NOT recommended for Castlevania fans. If you are a fan of the beat-em-up genre, and enjoy solid gameplay versus graphics; CLoS is NOT recommended for you. You'll get far more entertainment from a comparable game like "No More Heroes". However, if you are seeking a high "graphical quality" action game, and you already completed every GoW game, then CLoS is still NOT recommended for you. Instead, you should seek out "Bayonetta" for the best of both graphics and gameplay. For all others seeking entry into the fantastic Castlevania franchise, I recommend starting with either CSotN or "Aria of Sorrow".

Review Scoring System: 64-bit
Class MemberBit AllocationBit SignificanceValue
Critical Rating8 bits2^56179 out of 255
Gameplay8 bits2^48154 out of 255
Innovation8 bits2^40116 out of 255
Control8 bits2^32155 out of 255
Value8 bits2^24226 out of 255
Graphics8 bits2^16241 out of 255
Audio8 bits2^8230 out of 255
Story8 bits2^0192 out of 255
Total0x B39A 749B E2F1 E6C0
(In Base 10)12,941,784,692,078,798,528
Out of18,446,744,073,709,551,615
Potential Achieved70.1576%
Back to Top...
free hit stats
Sponsored Advertisement2

Sponsored By

Copyright(c)'' All rights reserved | SOCIAL CONTACT JOBS ABOUT
XHTML 1.0 Strict