Castlevania: Curse of Darkness Review
Despite a solid combat system and a decent presentation, this latest Castlevania is cursed with extremely monotonous levels that prevent it from being an engaging action adventure game.
- Combat looks pretty good and controls well--lots of weapons to choose from
- The new crafting and stealing mechanics are fun and well designed
- Excellent music and some great voice acting.
- Monotonous, boring level design
- Monotonous, boring enemy design
- Visuals are technically smooth but artistically bland
- Too easy most of the way through.
While the long-running Castlevania series continues to thrive on Nintendo's portable gaming systems, it's still having problems coming into its own on consoles, if the new Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is any indication. Like 2003's Lament of Innocence, Curse of Darkness attempts to preserve the look and feel of the classic 2D side-scrolling Castlevania installments, and it succeeds to a certain extent. The game has a solid combat system and some interesting new spins on the formula that give depth to the action. However, the variety you'll see in the gothic environments is purely superficial. The gameplay boils down to hours upon hours of running through corridors and killing the same monsters over and over...which isn't necessarily as boring as it sounds, but it's not exactly a thrill ride, either. Curse of Darkness includes a lot of the building blocks that could have made for a great 3D Castlevania game, but it's noticeably missing some key ingredients--namely, variety and challenge.
Castlevania games experienced a renaissance with 1997's Symphony of the Night, which took the series from its roots as a side-scrolling action game and transformed it into a much more open-ended action adventure game, featuring an excellent blend of action and role-playing. Castlevania has followed that game's template ever since, down to how the main character of virtually every installment has resembled Symphony of the Night's pallid, white-haired Alucard. Curse of Darkness is no exception, casting you in the role of pallid, white-haired Hector, a devil forgemaster who once was one of Dracula's lieutenants but has severed his ties and abandoned his powers. Dracula is dead, but all is not right with the world. A curse has caused the land of Valachia to become infested with monsters. But Hector isn't concerned about that--he just wants revenge against a fellow devil forgemaster named Isaac, who apparently killed Hector's beloved. Isaac lures Hector to their former stomping grounds and goads him to recover his forsaken abilities, because without them, Hector could never pursue, much less defeat, his rival. So what's in it for Isaac? The main characters are brought to life through some excellent voice acting, but the story in Curse of Darkness mostly takes a backseat from there, coming back into play only for a few minutes at a time, in between hours of monster killing.
If you've played a recent Castlevania, you know the drill: You must explore a large, winding map while fighting lots of bad guys, gaining experience points, finding better equipment, learning new abilities, and vanquishing the occasional boss. Curse of Darkness complicates this formula by introducing an item-crafting system, allied creatures called "innocent devils" (these guys are the hallmark of devil forgemasters like Hector and Isaac), and much greater weapon variety than what was found in Lament of Innocence. Hector is proficient with all kinds of different weapons, and you may execute weapon-specific combos with whichever one is equipped just by hammering on the X button. What makes things interesting is that the B button is used for combo finishers, and depending on when you use a finisher in a combo and what weapon you're using, the effects will be different. Generally speaking, the weapon attacks animate nicely and have a hefty, solid feel to them, which is really important, since almost all the time you spend with this game will be in combat.
Hector can also execute quick evasive maneuvers that make him invulnerable for a split second, which is a powerful and essential ability. And on top of all that, he may even steal stuff from his opponents, which doesn't seem to fit with his personality but helps make for good gameplay. Each opponent will become vulnerable to stealing at specific times, such as when recovering from one of its stronger attacks, which is when you can swipe some good loot. It's a well-designed system, and it helps to offset the fact that most of Curse of Darkness is rather easy if you just fight straight through. Overall, the combat is fast and responsive, though the lock-on targeting system is wonky, forcing the camera perspective to do crazy things. Luckily, the lock-on system is entirely unnecessary for most combat situations, though you can only steal from a target you've locked on to.
As for the innocent devils, they're actually kind of like Pokémon, if you can believe that. You'll find these little creatures hovering near you and helping you fight. They'll also earn experience points from every kill, like you do. Defeated foes drop evolution crystals, and after you pick up enough of these, your creature will transform into a stronger version and will pick up new abilities soon after. Different evolution crystals drop depending on which class of weapon you're using, so you can theoretically explore this system to find the strongest possible forms of each type of creature. It's nice that Hector doesn't have to fight alone, although the innocent devils don't look particularly interesting and don't have personalities, which means you won't grow attached to them. But you'll surely use them, especially since each type of creature also has an important power of some sort. For instance, golem-type creatures are strong enough to open heavy doors, while imp-type creatures let you sink into the ground and slide through narrow gaps in walls. So in Castlevania tradition, once you find these guys, you'll be able to revisit previously explored areas with new powers to uncover hidden secrets.
Hidden secrets in this case often take the form of raw materials. As a forgemaster, Hector is capable of crafting his own equipment, which can easily and quickly be done at any point via a menu option. You'll often find raw materials from slain monsters, and as you discover new materials, you'll automatically gain new crafting options. It's exciting to be able to quickly whip up new swords, spears, axes, fist weapons, and armor pieces on the fly, though in practice, the crafting system is functionally the same as just finding new weapons and armor. Still, the ability to combine weapons with new materials to make even stronger weapons is pretty satisfying, and having to make tough calls about how to apply your best materials is interesting.
- Player Reviews: 55
- Game Universe:
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2, XBOX),
- Castlevania (N64, PC, C64, NES, AMI),
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES),
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (X360, PS3),
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Reverie (PS3, X360),
- Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (X360, PS3),
- Castlevania Judgment (WII),
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS),
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP),
- Castlevania Double Pack (GBA)
- Number of Players: