Castlevania DS Hands-On

We work some dark magic with Konami's DS installment of Castlevania.

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Konami unveiled a playable version of its recently announced Castlevania game for the Nintendo DS at its press event today. The game takes place a year after the events in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and follows Soma Cruz, the current incarnation of everyone's favorite evil lord, Dracula. Despite his interesting roots, Soma's plans are dashed when a mysterious cult opts to try to make themselves another version of Drac--one who's a bit more focused on the evil things in life than Soma is. Of course, the only way to do that is to eliminate Soma and see how the next incarnation of Dracula turns out. Upon discovering this, Soma decides to take a proactive stance to the threat posed by the cult and heads off to deal with them and to safeguard his loved ones. The epic task will require Soma to take the fight to the cult and infiltrate their territory, which includes a replica of Dracula's castle that is packed with a deadly assortment of creatures who are always ready to do some killing. The playable work-in-progress version of the game Konami had on display offered a brief taste of what to expect from the final game, which includes some cool DS-specific twists.

At its core, the 2D game makes use of the same basic mechanics seen in the previous Castlevania games on the Game Boy Advance. You'll move Soma with the D pad and use the DS's face buttons to trigger his attacks, magic, and jumps. You'll also be able to summon assorted souls to come help you during your adventure. The souls will offer offensive or defensive effects, depending on what type they are.

The core mechanics are enhanced by the addition of DS-specific features that take advantage of the portable unit's unique abilities. The dual-screen display is used to let you access your map or check on assorted stats, which is done by hitting the Select button to toggle between the two displays on the upper screen. Although the gameplay unfolds on the DS's bottom touch screen, you'll actually still use the touch-sensitive display while adventuring in the game. You'll be able to interact with objects onscreen in sections of the game by tapping the touch screen, and you can also draw specific patterns at the end of boss battles to totally vanquish your foe. Although the game doesn't offer any multiplayer, you can still use the DS's wireless capabilities to trade souls with a friend to build your collection of supernatural helpers.

The single level let us do a bit of hacking, slashing, jumping, touch-screening, and boss fighting before ending in a "coming fall 2005" teaser screen. We started out by heading through a series of areas loaded with the usual Castlevania suspects (skeletons, wolves, zombies, flying eyeballs, and so on) in order to collect a pickup, which allowed us to break ice crystals with the stylus. Once we collected it we headed back to one of the earlier areas where we proceeded to create a stairway, which led to an area above the main path, with the DS sylus. The alcove we reached held a magic seal that showed us the proper series of motions to cast a spell. Once that was collected we were able to head to a door below the main path that let us in to face off against the boss. The boss fight was, as you'd expect, painful and challenging, with much stabbing and blood loss. Once the boss has been roughed up enough, you'll have to perform the motion for the magic seal you collected to finish them off.

The interesting thing about the demo is that repeated play through the level started us out with different helper souls. We were able to see a harpy, who supplements your physical attack with projectiles of her own; a plant, who helps take out land-based enemies; a knight that helps block attacks that are heading for you; and a golem that Soma apparently morphs into in order to deal some serious damage. In addition, we were able to see the secondary magic attacks that summoned different magical effects to damage your foes, which you could summon by pushing up and Y. The use of the top screen was a helpful, although not terribly groundbreaking, detail. Considering how often you have to refer to your map over the course of a Castlevania game, this will likely end up being a welcomed feature later on when you're trying to track down every last room in the castle.

The graphics in the demo of the game showcase some nice 2D visuals that shine on the DS. The smooth and detailed graphics display the game's art style. Soma and his foes all move smoothly and feature a good chunk of animation. The design work we've seen far in the game looks good and appears to be a great extension of the work done on the GBA games. The backgrounds also scroll like butter now, which is a subtle, but welcomed effect. Finally, many of the special effects in the game look quite a bit sharper than the GBA games' effects.

We haven't heard much of it, but so far, the game is sounding pretty good. The tune we heard was well in line with what we'd expect from a Castlevania game, albeit much richer than the last few offerings on the GBA.

While we played a work-in-progress version that amounts to a fraction of Soma's adventure, we're excited by what we've seen so far. The game looks great and features some intriguing gameplay mechanics. If the development team can maintain, or even improve on, the level of quality we've seen, Castlevania DS may very well be a must-have game when it hits this fall. For more, check out our exclusive direct feed of the game on our media page.

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