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Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Score: 82%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
The 3D iterations of Konamiís long standing Castlevania series have always had a very mixed reception. While the series has maintained almost constant popularity in the 2D realm, there have been many fans that have not warmed to the 3D style of gameplay. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness improves upon the foundations laid by Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, but if you were not a fan of those games, itís unlikely that youíll feel any different about Curse of Darkness.

The visual style of Curse of Darkness takes the graphics of Lament of Innocence and pushes them even further. The biggest difference fans will notice is an increase in diversity. Lament took place almost entirely within a single castle, and while each stage had its own motifs, the structure of the hallways and rooms never varied much. Curse of Darkness improves upon this by varying itís locations from abandoned castles, to forests, and even human towns. However, having more diverse levels than Lament of Innocence isnít necessarily saying much, and Curse of Darkness still suffers from levels that are fairly uninteresting compared to most 3D action/adventure games.

While everything looks clean and polished, from the stylistic hero Hector, to the varying nasty baddies, and the colossal bosses, a more diverse cast of enemies would have been nice. While the in-game bestiary boasts over twenty large pages of various monsters and demons, most of these are recycled. We arenít talking same models with new colors and attack patterns. I mean the enemies, their attacks and behaviors, and even the items available from them, are exactly the same. Later enemies just do more damage, have more health, and have a level 45 at the end of their name instead of level 6.

One of the high points of a Castlevania game, often more important to some than the graphics, are the game's sound effects and musical track. The voice acting and sound effects are very nicely constructed. The game is full of little touches, with different weapons sounding unique, and even some of Hectorís battle pets, called Innocent Devils, chiming in with some voice work. As far as the musical track goes, Iíd have to say that Curse of Darkness comes out slightly above average in that department amongst its other Castlevania brethren. There are some punchy numbers to be sure, the first stage and some of the final battles especially, but a few uninspired pieces sneak in as well.


Gameplay:
As seems to be the trend in the most recent Castlevania releases, the story of Curse of Darkness strays from the usual Belmont vs. Dracula storyline. The game takes place a few years after the events of Castlevania III: Draculaís Curse, and you assume the role of Hector, devil forgemaster and formerly in the employ of Count Dracula himself. Hector decided to leave the dark lord's employ shortly before his death at the hands of Trevor Belmont. Now, three years later, he is chasing the only other devil forgemaster in the world, a man named Issac, who was responsible for the death of Hectorís lover, Rosaly. On his quest to find Issac, Hector also encounters a slew of off-beat characters, such as the mysterious Zead, the vaudeville-esque St.Germain, and even Trevor Belmont himself.

If youíve played Lament of Innocence, you have a pretty good idea how Curse of Darkness works. Basically, your time is equally divided between exploring the creepy environments and doing battle with the even creeper monsters and demons. The game stays away from the complex platform jumping found in the 2D games, and that is probably a good thing.

There are two major differences between Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness: the ability to forge weapons and armor from materials the player finds, and Innocent Devils, demon-like pets that assist Hector in combat. Since the exploration element is terribly exciting and combat is quickly mastered, your overall enjoyment of the game will likely come down to whether you like these two new aspects.

Innocent Devils play a major role in the game. Some, like the fairies, are more for healing, while battle devils are obviously for fighting. There are over five different categories of devil, each with many evolutionary branches. As you fight enemies, they will sometimes leave evo crystals which are used to evolve your Devil to the next stage. Different types of weapons will drop different color crystals, and different colors will take your Devil down different roads. At each stage of development, your Devils can learn different abilities. If you want to fully explore the secrets of Curse of Darkness, you will have to explore the options available to you quite a bit. Using your Devilís abilities uses up their heart power, which doubles as their health. While a Devil can never truly die, if they run out of hearts, they will turn into a useless wisp of mist until you can regain a satisfactory number of hearts.


Difficulty:
While the older Castlevania games were legendary in their difficulty, the series has mellowed in the last few years, and Curse of Darkness, while challenging, should be accessible for most players. Curse of Darkness features character levels and inventory systems that are now pretty standard for the series. Mix that in with the flexibility and power Hector gets from his Innocent Devils and you have one of the easier Castlevania games yet released. Once you are proficient in perfect guarding a boss' attacks (which will earn you more hearts), combine that with a healing Devil and you can stay alive, more or less, indefinitely.

Game Mechanics:
The weapon and armor forging system is very simple and straightforward, but contains a depth that makes is very exciting to forge new equipment. When you begin the game, you donít know how to make anything. Throughout the game, you will constantly collect a variety of different materials. Many you will simply find lying around, others you will get as common and rare drops from enemies. Curse of Darkness also introduces a new idea to the Castlevania series, stealing. Every enemy in the game has a specific item you can steal from, and it is quite the puzzle to figure out how. I generally spent more time figuring out how to steal a bossí item than I did actually fighting them. If you enjoy a bit of a puzzle element to your combat, youíll find that stealing is immensely fun.

The recipes for new equipment will appear on your list automatically as you obtain all the ingredients required; though, the end result will remain a secret until you actually forge it. Since many ingredients consist of other pieces of equipment, the game features a very nice interface that allows you to move directly to sub-recipes so that you donít have to spend a lot of time navigating lists.

Many people, especially fans of 2D Castlevania, may not like these 3D iterations because they really are quite different. While combat in Curse of Darkness is more engaging than it is in Lament because of the introduction of Innocent Devils, stealing, and a huge arsenal of weapons (you will be utterly amused and delighted at some of the off-color ďspecialĒ weapons Hector can forge as this is a game that loves to make fun of itself), some people will simply not enjoy the more mundane level layouts.

Ultimately, the fun of exploration is out, and fighting, Innocent Devil training and forging is in. If these sound appealing to you, Curse of Darkness will give you many hours of pleasure (it is much longer than many of the previous titles). If not, well, Iíll see you when the next 2D game comes out.


-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

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