If you enjoy good old-fashioned 2D adventure games, don't hesitate to pick up Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.
In Dawn of Sorrow you play as Soma Cruz, who made his first appearance in Aria of Sorrow for the GBA. He's the reincarnation of Dracula, and a snappy dresser to boot. He doesn't actually want to be Dracula though, so when he learns of a cult that's trying to resurrect the dark lord, he heads for their castle headquarters to put a stop to their schemes. Throughout the game, you'll explore the surprisingly vast lair of the cult, doing battle with enemies of all sorts, from tiny, irritating imps to comical skeleton waiters to massive, gruesome rotting fish things.
The variety of foes you encounter in the game is truly impressive, and as you defeat them, you'll earn experience points that will make Soma more powerful. In addition, you'll collect souls from the enemies that will grant Soma all kinds of different special attacks and new talents, like the now mandatory double-jump and the amazing ability to--get this--move underwater! You'll also find numerous types of weapons throughout the game, ranging from knives that do little damage but can be used quickly to tremendous battle axes that do significant damage but take a few seconds to swing. You can also purchase weapons from Soma's buddy Hammer who sets up shop near the fortress' entrance, and visit the friendly witch Yoko to bind souls to your weapons to make them more powerful. A warp system makes it easy to get back to this area and to get from there to other areas of the fortress which you've already explored.
In addition to all the fighting, you'll also be doing a whole lot of exploring and a fair amount of puzzle solving. The upper screen on the DS displays a map of the castle, indicating which areas you've been to and which you haven't yet visited. Many areas require that you obtain a certain soul before you can reach them, but the game doesn't hold your hand. It's always up to you to figure out where you need to go next and how to get there. None of the puzzles are terribly difficult, but some of them can be a bit tricky. On the whole, these elements feel just right and provide a good alternative to all the monster-hacking you'll be doing.
There are two ways in which the game makes occasional use of the GBA's touch screen. One power you acquire early on allows you to smash certain blocks by touching them, but you won't find much use for it in the later parts of the game. It doesn't detract anything from the experience, but it's not implemented especially well and feels like a bit of an afterthought. Secondly, throughout the game you'll acquire a number of magic seals. Each seal has a unique pattern that must be traced on the touch screen in order to activate it, and as you progress the seals get increasingly complex. These need to be used each time you fight one of the game's boss enemies. When you deliver the final blow, the magic seal will appear on screen and you must correctly enter the pattern. If you do, the enemy is defeated. If you slip up, the enemy regains a bit of his health and the battle continues. Time is a factor in entering these, but the clock doesn't start ticking until you start inputting the pattern, so you don't need to fight the boss with the stylus ready in your hand or anything. Overall, this is a better implementation of the touch screen and adds a little bit of extra suspense to the game's already intense boss battles.
Dawn of Sorrow is pretty gorgeous to look at. The lair has a number of distinct areas, all of which are lushly detailed. As mentioned, there's a really impressive variety of enemies throughout the game, some of which are staggeringly large. The animation is fantastic, particularly when it comes to Soma, who wears a long white trench coat just so it can flow attractively when he moves. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game's visual presentation is the way that certain areas use a number of backgrounds to lend a real sense of depth to the environment.
The Castlevania series has often been hailed for its music, and Dawn of Sorrow carries on this tradition pretty well. Each area of the fortress has its own theme, and while some tunes are more memorable than others, all the music does a fine job of matching the tone of the game. Most of the tunes are original, but the game does toss in one awesome theme that hearkens back to the series' roots. The sound effects all serve their purpose well enough, too.
Speaking of the series' roots, there's an unlockable mode in Dawn of Sorrow that those who prefer doing their vampire-hunting the old-fashioned way (with a whip and a big ol' cross-shaped boomerang) should really appreciate. The aptly named Julius mode has you take to the fortress as Julius Belmont and, in a great throwback to Castlevania III on the NES, you'll gain the ability to switch between a total of three characters who each have their own skills. The original adventure, which has a few different endings, will probably take most players somewhere around ten hours to complete, and the Julius mode certainly adds some pretty significant replayability to the game while also taking the game's story in an interesting new direction. The game also gives you the option of fighting all the bosses in a boss rush mode, creating and fighting through your own courses in enemy set mode, and racing friends through areas you've created in wireless mode.
These are scary times for fans of games like this. Now that even our handheld systems can produce 3D environments, it seems plausible that the side-scrolling adventure may be on the brink of extinction, which is all the more reason to be thankful that Konami has produced such a well-crafted example of the genre for the DS. If you enjoy a good old-fashioned 2D adventure game, don't miss Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.