Thursday, November 23, 2000

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow | 9.5

have thought that the Castlevania franchise peaked with Castlevania 4 on the SNES. Even now 14 years after its release I think the graphics, main character animation, and music were excellent. After that game the 2D releases never felt right, and I actually thought the much-hated 3D adventures on the N64 were more in the spirit of the franchise than the much-loved GBA games. The newer games felt like Metroid wannabes with an excessive number of useless features. I kept buying the 2D Castlevania games anyway because, well, I'm a sucker and always hoped for a game as fun as an old NES or SNES Castlevania but was always disappointed, until now.

I'm not even the entire way through the game, but "Dawn of Sorrow" has so far been very entertaining. I think I've finally figured out why I've hated the new crop of 2D games; the constant toggling between the map and the game screen just interfered with gameplay too much. The old games tended to be very linear, and without having to worry about your place on a map you could concentrate on gameplay. The newer games removed that linear layout to increase game complexity, but the map/game toggling apparently destroyed the best characteristic of Castlevania and made gameplay a chore. With this game, toggling from the action is nowhere near as common. First of all, the main map is always on the top of the screen. Second, the extra buttons on the DS require fewer trips to the submenus for option swapping. In short, "Dawn of Sorrow" successfully merges the fast action of the old games with the advanced RPG elements of the new games.

The game is not without its drawbacks:
1) Navigating the menu system is far too difficult. You will often find yourself randomly hitting buttons to navigate to different sections of the menu system and accidently deactivating features in the process.
2) It takes too long to get back to the game after your character's death. Instead of asking the user whether or not they want to try again you are dumped on the logo screens that come before the main menu. (I think the game's predecessor did this too)
3) The music hasn't been that impressive. It's better than what we've heard on the GBA, and better than most other games I've played, but it's apparent that the quality of the classy and catchy tunes of the earlier games are gone from the Castlevania series.
4) The opening animation and inscreen cut scenes are done in that cheap and ugly anime style. Fortunately in-game animation of your character and enemies tends to be smooth. (And why is Soma the same creepy gray tone of Micheal Jackson?)
5) You'll find numerous upgrade items, and many require a special upgrade in order to obtain. Once you get it, you'll often discover it doesn't grant you anything you don't already have. You can also modify the clothing Soma wears, but doing so never affects his appearance in the game.
6) Most of the touchscreen features haven't been that compelling, but the game doesn't really need them. Anyway, the use of the second screen for a map more than makes up for this.
7) More info displayed on the map screen would have been nice.

In short, this is a fun 2D game with only minor drawbacks.

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