Anyway, I snagged a $10 copy of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness for the PlayStation 2 from Amazon/TRU over the weekend, and dropped an hour into it over the past two nights. This is a huge improvement over the regrettable Lament of Innocence, which isn't really a Castlevania game in the traditional sense. In particular, Lament dropped "exploration, item collection, ability evolution, and platform jumping", all qualities that the 2D handheld games and Symphony of the Night on the PSOne had used to such great effect.
The good news is that Curse of Darkness gets most of these qualities back, but in some important ways is even less of a Castlevania game than Lament. That's right: good news.
The abandoned castle, where the game opens, actually has some non-essential areas that are worth exploring. You can now collect items and experience, both of which evolve the abilities of the main character, Hector. I'm already using the material I've collected to forge my own weapons and armor. Certainly not the same as a rare item drop from an enemy, but charming in its own way.
The addition of dino buddies, sidekicks known as Innocent Devils, is a good move. These familiars float around Hector (free of the path-finding problems that plague dino buddies in other games) and can be put on autopilot or given explicit jobs to assist you. The little fairy I started with acts like a cleric in the back of my battles, pouring on the extra hit points as I get whacked. Already it's evolved to a new, more powerful form, and eventually I can even use it to forge new familiars. Basically, it appears they've bolted on a tiny bit of Monster Rancher. An odd choice, perhaps, but it seems to work.
The designers, at least in this first castle, have given up entirely on jumping 3D exploration. While the castle floorplan itself is three dimensional, you can only explore the third dimension through ramps or stairwells. In this important sense, the Castlevania formula is being well and truly left behind by the 3D games. From this perspective, Lament of Innocence was a necessary step, and I can forgive it a tiny bit for its sacrifice. Lament was the first 3D game on a truly capable system (let's admit it: the N64 games were crap), and it demonstrated just how the third dimension and jumping don't work together for vampire hunting. So Curse of Darkness appears to be a true 2D game with only a few necessary 3D accoutrements; you could have done it as a top-down 2D game on the GBA. It isn't a platformer any more, but it is at least a satisfying replacement. (Note: I'm not finished with the game, so perhaps things change later.)
So far, I like Curse of Darkness. Too bad we had to endure the first game to get to this point.
.::: Exactly how I started the game as well, then halfway through I suddenly realised I was playing some sort of Dynasty Warriors Gothic. I ended up preferring LoI, as the combat there was more spicy and less hack 'n slash.
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
Perhaps we should change to, "Curmudgeoning a few games harshly and fanboying CV, TR, WoW, Civ, KABOOM!... [any others?]"
Perhaps it's time for a "CG tells you which games got it right and why," and then we retire those franchises, Seinfeld style, permenently as topics.
Oh well, was worth a shot.
Be patient. I'm an hour into the game and I've seen some things I like. Same was true of my impressions of Lament of Innocence too, and I eventually gave that an open-handed slap across the mouth.
Be patient. I'm an hour into the game and I've seen some things I like. Same was true of my impressions of Lament of Innocence too...
Curmudgeoning ALL games equally.
Now I do realize this is the pot yelling at the kettle. Wish we could bring in more breadth, is all. Hopefully I'll fanboy Bloodrayne 2 before too much longer and take another stab at the NEX and add the NES Satellite jive. But I just haven't felt the CG bile in a while beyond the tried and true, "The gaming press stinks!"
Must be the Wii hype. Under $250, has Madden, and plays GameCube games? Sign me up!