This Castlevania: Lords of Shadow video game review for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 is brought to you by guest contributor Jonathon Howard, from GameStooge.com
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (LoS) is the latest game in a franchise that is over 20 years old, and it also might be that franchise’s last chance to become relevant again. Castlevania games and their owner Konami have been seeing ever decreasing returns since the release of Symphony of the Night for the original Playstation back in 1997. Despite its flaws, LoS is an enjoyable game that succeeds in bring the franchise to a new audience and making it relevant again.
The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Lords of Shadow is EPIC. From the story and visuals to the music and enemies, LoS tries its’ hardest to convey a sense of grandeur. This feeling is brought across most successfully in the visual department. LoS even makes boring grey mountains look beautiful, vast, and intimidating. The Xbox 360 might not be able to match the processing power of the PlayStation 3 or produce the visuals of God of War 3, but LoS has come the closest.
It’s a shame the auditory offerings of the game didn’t match the visuals. The Castlevania franchise has a number of signature tracks that are instantly recognizable to gamers; sadly, they aren’t used here. They’ve been replaced by an orchestral soundtrack that admirably reinforces the visuals but is ultimately forgettable. The storyline and writing also could have benefited from the input of professional writer and an editor. I believe a little more work on the music and the story would have helped make the game more enjoyable but they’re not a deal breaker, and as with every game they’re merely polish on the gameplay.
So, how does the most important element of the game, gameplay, fare? Not bad, it could certainly do better but by no means is it bad. Lord of Shadows is a 3d action/adventure game that has much in common with such games as God of War and Devil May Cry. Thankfully, LoS is not as button mashing happy as God of War and offers a combat system with real depth. You’ll have your standard weapon, the combat cross, which you can use to hit single or multiple enemies and sequence into combos. You also equip 4 sub-items, two varieties of magic, and a number of power-ups that expand your combo options as well as the focus meter, which allows you to recharge your magic reserve by chaining hits together and avoiding being hit by enemies. LoS has done away with quicktime events, mostly. At times, you’ll have to mash a single button or press any button at a certain time to pull of the special moves; one wonders why the developer retained them at all.
The adventure part of the equation is mostly conveyed through platforming sections and puzzles. The platforming is reminiscent of what you’d find in Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed but isn’t nearly as interesting. Instead of being an obstacle to solve, it’s just a different, slower means to traverse through the level. The puzzles are a mixed bag of clever and obscure, the nicest feature of them being that they are shippable, leaving me to ask again why they were included in the first place.
While Lords of Shadow makes Castlevania cool again, it doesn’t seem to have any of the character of the old franchise. At best, it’s a real fun game that has whips, castles, and vampires. But, at its worst, it seems like a game that was developed following a checklist of “required elements for a AAA action/adventure title”, which is the game’s only serious problem. The elements that make it up all seem so disparate form each other, so disconnected that they don’t create a whole that rises up them all.