|Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005)
Available for: PlayStation 2, Xbox
The Castlevania series has endured a lasting relationship as a side-scrolling platformer throughout the years (from the NES to the Game Boy Advanced), but its jump to 3D hasn’t gone as smoothly. After the franchise’s less-than-desirable debut on the Playstation 2 (“Castlevania: Lament of Innocence”), Japanese game developer Konami is giving it another go with the latest chapter in the series, “Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.” But where the 2D versions of the franchise excelled in addictive gameplay, “Curse of Darkness” disappoints, and instead attempts to introduce new role-playing elements that take away from the original experience.
The player takes control of the pale-skinned, white-haired vampire Hector, a former lieutenant in Dracula’s army who has cast away his special powers and now hunts his own kind for a living. Dracula is dead, but his curse on the land of Valachia remains, now overrun with monsters commanded by a fellow vampire, Isaac. And like the flawed villain that he is, Isaac allows Hector to regain his lost powers before facing off against his former friend, because without them, Isaac would be unbeatable. This is a lot like those old episodes of “Batman,” when the villain would capture the Caped Crusader, and then leave him alone just long enough to break free.
On your way through the treacherous surroundings of Valachia, you’ll master the skills of Devil Forgery and summon Innocent devils to help you along the way. These Innocent Devils (nicknamed IDs) are more or less Pokemon, with their own unique abilities, who defeat enemies, evade traps and solve puzzles that Hector couldn’t do on his own. By defeating enemies, Hector can collect items called evolution crystals which also develop and enhance your IDs with new skills, as well as collecting other raw materials that he can combine to form new, and more powerful, weapons. The combat system is actually pretty solid - with distinctive styles and combos for every different weapon - but that’s about the only positive aspect of the game.
Most of your time will be spent running through castle corridors and mountain paths killing the same ten monsters over and over again, while gaining upgrades along the way. And as you can probably tell, this quickly becomes tiresome. Nor is it the most inventive gameplay approach, but then again, the original “Castlevania” was even more primitive as a hack n’ slash side-scroller. The game is also extremely easy, though you’re sure to encounter a few moments in the game where you have no idea what to do and the game offers no assistance in accomplishing the task at hand.
This brings us to the key problem with “Castlevania: Curse of Darkness”: there’s little variety and almost no challenge. If you’d rather not slow down and kill yet another worthless skeleton, all you have to do is run right by it. Plus, there’s a good chance you’re going to see thousands of skeletons just like it within the next ten minutes of exploration. In fact, this works for about 80% of the encounters, save for the end level bosses and a few exceptions where you must defeat an entire room of monsters before moving on. Lucky for us, you don’t have to play “Castlevania” before checking out another game title. Just toss it to the side; it won’t even know you were there.