Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – The 10th Anniversary

Without question, one of Sony’s most popular, and bankable, video game franchises is Uncharted. Nathan Drake’s pulpy-blockbuster film styled adventures have wowed gamers with its simplistic, yet tightly refined, gameplay, impressive action sequences, and overall consistently great stories.

The four main games in the series have won a variety of awards including a few Game of the Year awards.

Now, the series has reached another milestone: it’s now officially an age where people can create retrospectives on it!

While an entire series retrospective would be great (and potentially something later on…) we’re taking a look at the first game as a curiosity. What made Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune so appealing? Or better yet, how did it become a franchise?

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Screenshot

“Greatness from small beginnings…” Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune development

After Jak 3 wrapped up, Naughty Dog decided to create a brand new IP. The new series was a drastic overhaul in terms of art and design, as up to this point their games were cartoonish and stylized. This time around, Naughty Dog wanted to create real people. They also wanted to make an action game that was less videogame-like and far more cinematic. Amy Hennig, who served as the creative director and writer of the first three games, took cues from old-school adventure films from the 40s, as well as colorful summer blockbusters of today. Thus, the core concept behind Uncharted was born

How is Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune?

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Box Front

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune tells the story of Nathan Drake, a supposed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, who is on the trail to find the lost city of El Dorado (cue recently-praised-for-some-reason-reference to The Road to El Dorado). Drake is accompanied by his grizzled, wisecracking mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan and television host Elena Fisher. Along the way, some old enemies of Drake and Sully come back to take the gold… The adventure involves an ancient curse, old Nazi U-boats, and more than several gunfights.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 4 Shoot the fuel barrels on the pirate boats to blow them up

From the moment you boot up the PS3, you’ll notice something that was missing from games circa 2007: color and personality. The opening cutscenes still hold up in terms of how well animated and acted they are. Nathan Drake is almost immediately likable as a rougish everyman when he and Elena encounter some pirates. From there, all the characters fit right in place with the game and all exhibit real chemistry with one another. Nate and Elena aren’t immediately love interests, but rather work together throughout and Elena even holds her own in the action.

Not to go off on a sort-of tangent, it’s nice to see a legitimately interesting female lead who is well-rounded and doesn’t seem like she’s just there. As the series progresses, Elena becomes one of the franchises most likable characters.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 4 There goes our ride

Throughout the game, the story will keep you hooked. It feels like an old-school film serial, as plot points have the melodramatic “Okay, and now what?” motif. For example, Drake is searching through an old German submarine, fights off bizarre creatures and then finds the bad guys right there. Another point of the game has a huge fake-out that gets revealed 3/4ths in and then transitions into another plot point involving an underground city!

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 4 AK-47 is a good way to engage multiple enemy targets

At its core, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a cover-based, third-person shooter. In terms of new features, for those familiar with Gears of War, the shooting will make you feel at home. But something about it feels smoothed out. Same goes for the platforming, as it is always fun to jump from ledge to ledge or swing across the ocean on some ancient temple.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 4 Climbing the fortress

The game’s level design ranges from linear, but fun, platforming to wide-open gunfights that transition into one another with ease.

One thing that keeps Drake’s Fortune from being boring is the fact Naughty Dog changes things up. From one minute you’re in a jungle with ancient ruins, and then you’re in an old Nazi compound, and then you’re in an ancient church. Every environment is gorgeous to look at and just oozes with color. The jungles and water effects are two standouts in the graphics department. Naughty Dog tends to set their platformers in tropical, outdoor environments and this is no different.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 4 Hints and points of interest are prompted with the upper button

In conclusion…

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and the rest of the series as a whole, embodies Naughty Dog’s spirit of consistency. Many of their games have an underlying development theme of  “not doing anything new, but rather doing everything right.” In the same way, Indiana Jones was a celebration of adventure film serials and tropes, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune celebrates the same tropes but within action video games. The game does not do anything truly new or revolutionary, but rather sets out to entertain the player till the end.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune PlayStation 3 Looks like Roman found what he was searching for

And in that regard, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune succeeds in nearly every category.

Uncharted as a franchise has stood on its own based on these merits, with each game just looking to be more entertaining than the last.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania, the 30th Anniversary!

Castlevania Screenshot

Castlevania is yet another game this year celebrating a milestone. Released in Japan in 1986 and in the US in 1987, Castlevania is now 30 years old. Simon Belmont’s first daring adventure into Count Dracula’s castle wowed NES owners back in the late 80s. It was another platformer released for a system whose library is full of memorable platforming games.

However, to quote the 80s classic This is Spinal Tap, it goes to eleven.

It’s one of the few games to fire off on each cylinder in each category. The graphics, the sound, the controls, the enemies, and bosses etc.. are all remarkable. It’s impressive the game has been unforgettable after all these years, despite being the first game in a long-running series.

For those who haven’t experienced fighting the evil vampire and his minions, they are missing out on one of the quintessential side-scrolling games.

The first battle against Dracula is one of the best, and more difficult, games on the NES
A shadowy, forbidding castle, followed by a gigantic bat greets players at the title screen. Pressing start will show one of the most memorable introductions to any video game. There is no dialogue or any indication of what is going to happen.

It’s Simon Belmont, confidently walking up to a gate. He is armed with the famous Vampire Killer whip and ready to take on Count Dracula and vanquish the evil inside the castle.

One of the reasons why Castlevania is such a unique game is the world created by Konami. The game itself started out as a tribute to both the classic Universal Monster films, as well as the Hammer Dracula film series. Taking one look at the variety of enemies and bosses in this game it is not hard to see why. Besides vampires, there are mummies, the gorgon Medusa and even Frankenstein’s monster designed after Boris Karloff’s iconic portrayal.

The game may not seem scary, but that was not Konami’s intention. They wanted to give players a creative universe, one that is set apart from the typical platformer. A spooky castle with dozens of horror homages is certainly what gives Castlevania its identity. No better example of this than the first game.

One characteristic of the game players will immediately notice is the graphics and the quality of detail. For an NES game only released one year (two years in North America) into the system’s lifespan, this is nothing to brush off. Backgrounds and stage graphics are incredible. Players will know they are in a fancy hall, broken down tower or a complicated laboratory. Simon himself is a well-animated sprite himself and actually resembles a person. A person made of eight bits, but a person nonetheless.

The controls are simple. Jump with A and whip with B. Getting that down is not hard for any newcomer. It also makes for some intense, yet strategic, gameplay.

An infamous feature of Castlevania, and the series as a whole, is the extreme difficulty. It is not a cheap game, although certain bosses are pretty difficult. However, the jumping controls are incredibly strange. Simon Belmont needs to gain a good amount of momentum in order to make certain jumps. It allows for players to not get careless and having to plan their jumps. Climbing stairs are strange too since you can’t jump onto the stairs in. Instead, players press up on the control pad. Finally, there It takes a little while to get into the setup.

Once a player finds their rhythm, jumping and climbing stairs is nothing. In a bizarre way, it actually adds to the game itself.

Impressive level design and a memorable soundtrack add to Castlevania
The levels are well detailed in a cosmetic sense, but the actual designs are intricate. This comes from Konami’s technique for designing levels during this era in gaming. The team behind several of their games, including Castlevania on the NES, strictly used graph paper in order to map out the stage.

This method kept the levels of Castlevania organized, but it also makes the levels flow better during gameplay.

Finally, there is the soundtrack. Castlevania showcases one of the greatest collections of music on the NES. Tracks like “Wicked Child” have a spooky, urgent tone behind them. “Stalker” sets up an atmospheric groove. Of course, no Castlevania game is complete without a version of the song “Vampire Killer.” The NES version of the song is still the best and most addictive to listen to.

My personal history with the first Castlevania
I first played the original Castlevania, not on an NES, but on a computer. Even more strange is the catalyst for how I got into this franchise. The game in question was Super Smash Bros. Melee.

It was February of 2003 and I was scouring the Internet for classic Nintendo games to play for free. I would research the games after getting a trophy of a particular character in Melee, and would want to play that particular game.

I stumbled upon a website which played NES games… nearly its whole library! I forgot which game I was intending to play, but I accidentally clicked on a completely different one without realizing it.

The game in question was Castlevania and I became hooked on it the second it booted up.

There was something about this horror-themed world that drew me in. I was, and still am, a fan of the classic Universal Monster films, which certainly helped. I always enjoyed platformers, so that is another aspect as to why I enjoyed the game. Most importantly, I was having fun. Whipping the zombies in the great hall of the castle, to jumping over Madusa heads, to finding all the classic horror monsters being represented it made for one of the best first impressions for a game.

From that point forward, I became obsessed with Castlevania and the franchise as a whole. I excessively researched the history of it; what all the bosses looked like, what other games were like in the franchise, and if anyone else had

I tried playing nearly as many games in the series as possible. I became incredibly giddy when the NES classic was re-released on Game Boy Advanced, downloaded Super Castlevania IV on my Wii as one of the first Virtual Console games, and I bought a PS3 to play the Lords of Shadow reboot.

An incredible and enduring game 30 years later

The Castlevania series has been haunting gamers for three decades. Even after numerous sequels, spin-offs and reboots, the original Castlevania is still a perennial classic. In my eyes, Castlevania is a bona fide classic and deserves to be seen as one. I also love the entire franchise so much to the point where I consider it my personal favorite gaming series.

It broke ground for platformers in level design. It introduced the world to a new type of atmosphere. Most importantly, the game was just flat out fun and manages to succeed on every single feature that makes it a video game.

The Belmonts, their allies, and others will always have their eternal struggle with the evil Count Dracula.

Fans of the first Castlevania will always have their eternal appreciation for it.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania (Netflix)

When the Castlevania Netflix series was first announced, many fans were excited (I KNOW I WAS!) but overall skeptical since the quality ratio of video game adaptations to TV and film has been average at best. At the risk of beating THAT dead horse into the ground, fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was revealed cult-hit producer Adi Shankar was involved and he was using Warren Ellis’ script and storyline.

The result? Castlevania on Netflix is an overly violent, sometimes too story heavy animated series that ends up doing a great job setting up the universe and characters. The animation is top-notch and the voice work is outstanding. Most importantly, it doesn’t condescend its target audience or compromises its source material in any way. It’s a shame it’s only four episodes, though.

Sypha Belnades is a highlight of the series. She’s voiced by Alejandra Reynoso.

Caution: minor spoilers ahead.

Castlevania continues the trend of great Netflix Originals

Warren Ellis wrote the story back in the mid-2000s and based it off of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Although, as the story progresses, elements of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night are sprinkled in. The series starts off with Lisa visiting Count Dracula’s castle to learn how to be a doctor. The two actually engage in some sort-of sweet chemistry together and romance blossoms. Unfortunately,  Count Dracula’s late wife is soon burned at the stake for being a witch and Dracula swears revenge on all of mankind by unleashing hellish monsters on the land of Wallachia. Somehow, the disgraced Trevor Belmont gets involved with a resistance involving the mage-ish Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s son Alucard. And then it’s…over?

The animation is very much in the stylish-anime aesthetic that appears to be taking after the DS games Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. It works and becomes free-flowing during the major action scenes. When Sypha and Trevor take on the cyclops in the 3rd episode, it’s incredible with the movements.

It’s also never too over-the-top with style, but violence is a tad ridiculous. Seriously, within two episodes there is enough decapitations, dismemberments, and testicular trauma (although, the rest of the bar fight in the second episode is pretty funny) then you’d expect.

Voice work is outstanding. Richard Armitage is, without question, the best actor of the bunch. His portrayal of Trevor as a burned-out, ashamed vampire hunter is entertaining but also adds more depth to a character that really didn’t have much. Aside from his Sasuke Uchida-hairstyle, he’s an awesome character who not only acts like a total badass but manages to get some good one-liners out there.

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Trevor Belmont, voiced by Richard Armitage

Graham McTavish, whose voice you may recognize as Zoran Lazaravic or Charlie Cutter in the Uncharted games, is great as the Count even if he’s not in it for too long. Alejandra Reynoso’s Sypha is great as well and doesn’t fall into typical “lead female role” trope. In fact, she partakes in more action than Trevor or Alucard and gets to use a ton of awesome spells.

Count Dracula, voiced by Graham McTavish

The length and weird script of Castlevania are the only minor problems

With only four episodes, the series manages to cram enough lore to keep fans frothing at the mouths. But its over right before it all kicks off. It’s nothing against the series itself, but it ends on a cliffhanger that rivals Halo 2. Also, a lack of the pirate Grant DeNasty is a shame for many longtime fans and the subplot with the church is just kind of there. It does get a good conclusion, but it just hangs there in front of the major conflict with Dracula.

There are some random bits of comedy thrown in, and while some of it is welcome, a lot of it just doesn’t work. The biggest offender is the quick joke during the climactic fight at the end of episode 4. Also, some lines of dialogue sound a bit too “modern.” It doesn’t destroy or hinder any of the episodes’ momentum, but it just comes off as a producer’s attempt to make it funnier. At least the majority of Ellis’ vision is retained.

Castlevania on Netflix sounds too good to be true, but it is. It’s a quick and sometimes super awkward, but overall a solid, solid first season. It’s great to see the games being represented in such a great way without having to compromise itself.

It’s good to know Netflix greenlit a second season the same day the series came out.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: The Lords of Shadow subseries

 

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was first revealed at E3 2009 without the Castlevania moniker, instead of being a newly produced Hideo Kojima game. However, once it was revealed to be part of the storied franchise, Lords of Shadow became a reboot to the entire Castlevania series. This was also the first time in more than 10 years that Koji Igarashi was not involved. The game was to be developed by MecurySteam, the studio behind the immensely underrated Clive Barker’s Jericho.

It appeared this was the direction Konami wanted to take, and while the first game is excellent, the entire Lords of Shadow subseries is incredibly underwhelming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Box Front
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow contains fantastic, top-tier presentation, graphics, and gameplay. MercurySteam managed to push both consoles of the seventh generation to the limits of their capabilities. It’s a rich and incredibly detailed world where all kinds of grotesque and scary monsters live and almost urges the player to keep on going.

Gameplay is similar to God of War with its stylish combat based around combos. Luckily for players, they aren’t hard to memorize and can be chained very well. It helps the controls are very responsive. The game isn’t about just fighting, as the puzzle solving and platforming is a lot of fun. Swinging your whip from Super Castlevania IV makes a return.

Image result for castlevania lords of shadow

Lords of Shadow even features downright impressive voice acting from a variety of Hollywood actors. Veteran character actors Robert Carlyle and Jason Isaacs are superb voicing the game’s protagonist Gabriel Belmont and antagonist, respectively. Patrick Stewart, who almost needs no introduction, is excellent as always, narrating the story. The story is pretty standard stuff, but overall engaging. There is also an incredible twist that really gives the new universe a chance to shine into something different.

The game’s only major flaw is it does not feel like a true Castlevania game. To be fair, since it is a reboot, it makes sense to not have a lot of typical features. There are enough horror elements and actual castles to walk around in. The adventure in the game itself is similar to older games like Dracula’s Curse or Super Castlevania IV.

Image result for castlevania lords of shadow screenshots
Overall, Lords of Shadow was one of 2010’s best games and looked like a promising start.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate Box Front
Lords of Shadow was successful enough to warrant a sequel and a spin-off. The spin-off, Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (author’s note: Yes, that is the official title.) was released for the Nintendo 3DS and re-released in HD for PS3 and Xbox 360. Mirror of Fate gets back to the series’ roots with side scrolling. It does manage to throw in some exploration and combo-based combat as its console big brother. However, it’s incredibly stripped down and kind of boring. For a rebooted series trying to find its own identity, it’s a step back. To make matters worse, it looks like a late-era PS1 game.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate Screenshot

The story is also incredibly complicated, trying to shoehorn more Belmonts. Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden joins the cast of actors, portraying the new Trevor Belmont. (Trevor is now Gabriel Belmont’s son and Simon Belmont is Trevor’s son. As Dr. Evil once said, “Right…”) Players take control of the two in varying points in the game. Instead of telling the story in a creative manner, it just makes it a jumbled mess.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate Screenshot

Mirror of Fate was a misstep in the new rebooted series. Luckily, the new sequel console sequel, creatively titled Lords of Shadow 2, showed some promise.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Box Front

Unfortunately, this game is where the Lords of Shadow subseries fell apart. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a mix of decent and awful ideas. It tries too hard to do so much and tells one of the most underwhelming stories in the entire franchise, rebooted or not. The voice acting, which was one of the best parts of the first Lords of Shadow, sounds phoned in and has some incredibly forced references. On top of these issues, the game just is not fun to play.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Screenshot

Confusingly enough, you get to play as Count Dracula fighting against the Belmonts and evil corporations in the present day. It’s a huge missed opportunity to recreate other classic Castlevania games, but instead becoming yet another open world game in a big city. Combat is basically unchanged from the first game but has forced and unintuitive stealth sections.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Screenshot

Lords of Shadow 2 took a promising new rebooted series and flushed all potential down the drain. Castlevania just became yet another series that was unnecessarily rebooted and started to collect dust on GameStop shelves.

Sadly, it was the end…or is it?
It’s a shame the series has ended on such a down note. Not to get personal and start narrating the article, but as a longtime fan of Castlevania, it truly pains me knowing Lords of Shadow 2 was the last official console game. Castlevania is a series with a legacy to rival other classic franchises, it’s sad knowing this was it for the Belmonts.

Until Adi Shankar decided to take his own stab at the series with help from a little comic book writer named Warren Ellis…

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Order of Shadows

Haunted Castle is regarded to be one of, if not the, worst in the series. Castlevania’s first mobile title Order of Shadows kindly asks, “You think you’re bad!? Hold my beer.”

Castlevania: Order of Shadows is a mobile game…and not much else

When you’re only defining feature is the platform its available on, it shows how poor of a game Castlevania: Order of Shadows is. Starring Desmond Belmont (*groan*) as he goes on a quest to defeat..zzzz.

Ok, it’s a 10 dollar mobile game, there is not much to expect in terms of high quality, but it’s not like a mobile game HAS to be horrible. Take a look at the awesome Doom and Wolfenstein RPG games. Maybe going for a first-person dungeon crawler would have been a good idea? Point is, a side-scrolling platformer with all the awkward controls as the other games makes Order of Shadows basically unplayable. The controls are either unresponsive or too sluggish. It almost comes off as Konami trying to make the most actively frustrating Castlevania. Well, they succeeded.

Gameplay is nothing spectacular, just classic jumpin’ and whippin’. If the Metroidvania formula was slowly wearing thin at this point, this bare-bare-bare bones gameplay style is even worse. They try to shoehorn RPG elements…but eh.

Also, it’s super nitpicky, but the game looks horrible. Sprites are way too big, and the same problems Haunted Castle had are prevalent. Also, Desmond looks like a HUGE dork with the spiky hair.

So, yeah, Order of Shadows is bad. Don’t play it.

Luckily the next handheld game was an improvement. A massive, massive improvement.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Screenshot

At this point in the franchise, the Metroidvania format is what most gamers associate Castlevania with and its one that slowly became overdone. Released in 2006, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin manages to shake things up with a creative setting and some much-needed updates to the gameplay.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Screenshot

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a sort-of sequel to Bloodlines

Castlevania Bloodlines is a fan-favorite, so it’s nice to see Koji Igarashi and his team acknowledge it. Starring John Morris’ son Jonathan and his friend Charlotte Aulin, Portrait of Ruin takes place during the dying days of World War II. The evil Count Brauner, (the only Nosferatu inspired villain in the series, by the way) has been using the souls of dead soldiers to bring the evil of Count Dracula back to life through the paintings in his castle.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Screenshot

Hence the name, Portrait of Ruin.

Having the chance to mix-up to playstyles on the fly with Jonathan and Charlotte is a welcome addition. Jonathan wields the whip and all of the classic Castlevania sub-weapons (the cross, holy water, etc.) and Charlotte knows a variety of spells and fights enemies in a simplified version of the Souls system in Dawn of Sorrow. It’s a lot of fun creating attack combinations between the two and neither of them never feel useless.

They also amusingly shout their names when the player switches characters like a mid-2000s anime. Boss fights are probably the most fun they’ve been in a while and don’t rely on the gimmick of “drawing a soul.”

Unfortunately, the two friends share the same life bar, so there is a challenge here. Also, many of the enemies may come off as uncreative.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Screenshot

Level design wise, it’s pretty simple, but the aesthetics make it worth the trip. Jonathan and Charlotte jump into Count Brauner’s paintings and are transported into different worlds. Portrait of Ruin carries on the creativity in Egyptian deserts, a Roman colosseum, and a fun house-stage. The actual castle hub is also MASSIVE. The whole game doesn’t feel too daunting, but in order to get the 100%, exploring every nook and cranny comes off as a chore.

Other features make Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin worth checking out

The game gives players the option to play as the original guy-and-gal vampire fighting duo of Richter and Maria from Rondo of Blood. However, this is only unlocked after the game is beaten.

In a franchise full of great soundtracks, Portrait of Ruin can be added to that list. There’s a great collection of original music, but it’s the remixes by Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage 2, Actraiser, dozens of other phenomenal OSTs) that take the cake. His remix of “Simon’s Theme” is incredible.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin keeps the wheels rolling on the Metroidvania subgenre with its unique premise and tight gameplay. At this point, it sounds like the handheld Castlevanias can do no wrong.

Maybe a mobile game won’t be a bad idea….

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Screenshot

Soma Cruz returns in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS. (Author’s Note: Wait, Dawn of Sorrow…Nintendo DS…oh I get it!).

By now, the Metroidvania format is a well-traveled road, but somehow Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow manages to keep things fresh with refined gameplay, and tons of extra modes and characters to make Dawn of Sorrow an adventure worth going on.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow continues the great handheld Castlevania trend

Taking place only a year after Aria of Sorrow, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow has a trio of vampires, Celia, Dmitri, and Dario, wanting to resurrect the Count. Luckily, since Soma Cruz is still living in Japan, he is up to the task of stopping them using a more powerful version of his Soul system in Aria.

First thing players will notice is the massive art style change, going for a full out anime style similar to Rondo of Blood. It’s a bit jarring at first, but it works. The actual in-game graphics are well-animated as well, rivaling Symphony of the Night.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow retains the typical Metroidvania-style and the controls have been perfected for this style. Although, would it have killed Konami to change up the level design a bit? The throwback level to the first Castlevania stage ever is great, but the rest of the levels have a big case of the “same.”

Dawn of Sorrow fleshes out the soul-gathering system by having the souls of the enemies not only improve Soma’s combat prowess but also help with puzzles and certain boss fights. It’s a more rounded out system where players will feel like they are armed to the teeth with all kinds of useful souls. The touchscreen is even utilized well, although it can come off as gimmicky having to draw to defeat a boss.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Screenshot

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow adds some great features to the complete package

In several entries to the series, there has been an option to play as another character without any real change. You can play as Simon Belmont in Harmony of Dissonance, Richter Belmont in Symphony of the Night, etc. But this game adds the lesser-known Julius Belmont as a playable character with an actual story with him.

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Playing as Julius is, without question, one of the highlights of Dawn of Sorrow since he is a BLAST to play as. You can also play as Alucard and Yoko from Aria of Sorrow (who plays like her canonical predecessor Sypha), almost making Dawn of Sorrow a pseudo-remake of Castlevania III.

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Despite the hiccups with the levels and the game starting to feel too well-traveled, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is still one of the better games in the Metroidvania subgenre. The gameplay is still as fun as ever, and the addition of more characters to play as makes it a great addition to the series.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness Screenshot

Released the same year as God of War and Devil May Cry 3, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is part of that action game subgenre that combines hack n’ slash and RPG elements.

Unfortunately, while it is a slight improvement over Lament of Innocence, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is just another hack n’ slash. It’s not a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t overshadow Lament of Innocence as a superior sequel, but just stands as a good 3D Castlevania game.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is another prequel in the series

Taking place a mere three years after the events in Castlevania III, Dracula’s evil is still alive and well in the land of Wallachia thanks to a Devil Forgemaster, who are sort-of generals in Dracula’s army (Author’s note: AMAZING name for an industrial metal band) named Isaac. Hector, a reformed Devil Forgemaster who ALSO looks like Alucard is going on an adventure to fight Dracula. Along the way, he will lazily stumble come across characters in Dracula’s Curse.

The setup is intriguing, but not really taken advantage of. There’s no real throwback or tribute to certain levels or bosses from the NES game. Trevor Belmont shows up to share some incredibly hammy dialogue and to have a pretty good boss fight, but it screams “glorified cameo.” It’s all kind of a waste of an idea. Not to mention, the level design is already bland to begin with (oh wow, a haunted forest! A castle! Wow…) so having it takes place around the same time as one of the most iconic games in the franchise and not revisit locations from that game, it seems like a pointless idea. At least the newish areas do take advantage of the XBox and PS2 hardware and are nice to look at.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness Screenshot

The gameplay is solid…and not much else in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

However, from a gameplay standpoint, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is a lot of fun. Hector can be equipped with an absurd amount of weapons, including a variety of swords and melee weapons. Being a former Devil Forgemaster, he also has the ability to cast powerful spells and raise stats thanks to the Devil system; Hector can have a little minion attack enemies, improve his damage, or give him weapons.

It’s a unique system, and on-top of the customization with armor and weapons, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness welcomes some much-needed RPG elements.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness Screenshot

The combat itself is also refined. Curse of Darkness adds a lock-on feature to make battling enemies easier and the combos aren’t so “dial-y” and feel more free-flowing.

Finally, the soundtrack is thankfully very good. It’s far less atmospheric than Lament of Innocence and has some great tributes to other classic Castlevania tunes.

Despite the improvements made to the gameplay, the rest of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is just shy of being “great.” The bland level design and completely un-compelling story make it a huge chore to get through most of the time. It’s a shame since Curse of Darkness could have been great and as good as the other action games released this year.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is the first 3D Castlevania after the ill-fated N64 games. When the game was announced, fans were concerned Lament of Innocence would repeat the “quality” of those games. Fortunately for many fans, Lament of Innocence is a massive improvement over the N64 games. It went on to receive mixed, but mostly positive, reviews.

Lament of Innocence is a good action game that takes cues from many popular games of its time. Many features of Lament of Innocence, such as the graphics, soundtrack, and gameplay, are all well done. Although, the level design and somewhat repetitive boss battles bring the game from “great” to “good.”

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

Lament of Innocence is the official “start” of the series
Lament of Innocence is a prequel and takes place at the beginning of the series’ canon. The story is a basic video game plot, and there are plot lines that don’t go anywhere, but the twist at the end is a phenomenal set-up for the series. If players can push through the awkward voice acting, it’s worth it.

Taking place during the Crusades, the game’s lengthy intro cutscenes, the game establishes Leon Belmont as its protagonist. Leon is a knight who has won many battles with his tactical leader, and friend, Mathias Cronqvist. There have been reports all across the land of monsters appearing, including a vampire. This vampire has abducted Leon’s fiancée Sara. Mathias, who is grieving over the death of his wife, urges Leon to go after the vampire. He ventures into the Forest of Eternal Night and into the castle owned by the vampire, Walter Bernhard.

Lament of Innocence is a flawed, but an overall good, experience
One game Lament of Innocence takes inspiration from is Devil May Cry. The action is not too platform heavy, but more reliant on stylish combat. Leon is armed with the Whip of Alchemy, given to him by the game’s shopkeeper Rinaldo Galdofi. He also can use various weapons, including the classic weapons of the series, like holy water. The combat is very action heavy and is a ton of fun. Thanks in part to the great control set up and responsiveness, chaining combos is not difficult at all.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

Two interesting aspects of the combat: players will learn new and intricate combos as they progress the game. Instead of buying moves from an in-game store, it’s nice to see a game reward the player for doing so well. Items can be combined with crystals the game’s bosses drop. Combining the items with certain crystals will result in new attacks based on a particular item. For example, players can turn the holy water into a geyser.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

There is a great variety of enemies and bosses. The classic skeleton and flea man enemies show up, but Leon has to fight man-eating plants, ghosts and gigantic suits of armor. Each boss fight is challenging and always has something new for the player. The gigantic parasite boss at the beginning is far different from the fight with the Madusa.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

The soundtrack is not full of true songs, but rather atmospheric songs. It’s not every player’s cup of tea, but the songs work for each area. It is nice to hear some orchestral music, instead of electronic music.

Repetition goes hand-in-hand with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Lament of Innocence captures the spirit of Castlevania thanks to its graphics and creepy atmosphere. Walter’s castle has dozens of sections that make up for some great horror themed environments, like a untended garden or haunted theater.

Unfortunately, as creative as the stages’ premises are, the actual stages are quite boring. Save from some generally good platforming and puzzle solving in certain sections, nearly every room in each level looks the same. Rooms in the dungeon area all look like dungeons; rooms in the waterway area all look like waterways. It’s a shame since the ideas behind the levels are interesting enough and could be fleshed out into something truly horrifying.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

The level design also makes the game feel like drudgery. Rooms will be locked off if Leon defeats all the enemies. The save points are also far apart, resulting in many “game overs.” This happens all too often and makes Lament of Innocence feel more like a sluggish dungeon crawler than a straight-up Castlevania game.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Screenshot

All things considered, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a good game, even if it does seem like a chore at times. The gameplay itself is generally a lot of fun and the whole game looks great for the time. And the twist at the end is a fantastic one. Lament of Innocence is in no way a total package, but it is worth playing.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third Metroidvania game on the GBA. It appeared Koji Igarashi and his team were going to keep on going in this direction, as the formula is a proven success. Aria of Sorrow was also released in 2003, which was probably the best time to own a GBA, thanks to games like Advance Wars 2, Fire Emblem and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga among others.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is, depending on how you look at it, the most bizarre or most creative the Metroidvania era. It completely ditches the “Belmont v. Dracula” story, in favor of something different. Even with strange new plotlines and characters, Aria of Sorrow features new gameplay features and has some of the best music out of all the handheld Castlevanias.

Aria of Sorrow’s plot and characters are unique
Aria of Sorrow takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2035. Instead of it being a period piece set in the European countryside, it is in modern Japan. Dracula’s castle also does not occur because of dark magic or it is the result mad cult leader or priest, it appears in Japan during a unique solar eclipse.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Huh?

Setting itself even farther apart from other entries is the actual lack of the Count himself! Instead, it’s his “spirit” or “energy” that curses the Land of the Rising Sun.

What?

To add to the weirdness, players don’t take control of a vampire hunter at all. Instead, they play as Soma Cruz, an exchange student living in Japan. Cruz also has secret powers and a dark one hidden inside.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Ok?

This may sound like a premise for a bad early 2000s anime, but it does flesh itself out into an engaging story with rich characters. The story has Cruz trying to defeat the evil in the land while trying to figure out what is going on himself. It’s a great set up, and the storyline practically begs players to explore the castle.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The main villain is an American cult leader named Graham Jones, who wants to control Dracula’s evil. Helping Soma Cruz along the way is Japanese government agent Genya Arikado aka Alucard under a different identity; Yoko Belnades, a local religious figure and a possible descendant of Syhpa from Dracula’s Curse; Hammer, a former U.S. soldier who is a weapons dealer; and Soma’s childhood friend Mina Habuku, who is acts as travel guide. There is even a missing Belmont, who goes by the name “J.”

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Aria of Sorrow is another great Metroidvania for the GBA
Despite the changes to the classic plot and ideas from other Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow contains fresh gameplay ideas. Aria of Sorrow brings back the array of weapons in Symphony of the Night. Cruz’s sword and hand-to-hand combat skills are up to part with Alucard. This is also one of the few games in the series where the main character can wield firearms. Combat is still as engaging and fun as ever.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The newest feature in Aria of Sorrow is Tactical Soul System. How the system works is, after defeating an enemy or boss Cruz can absorb its soul to gain all kinds of abilities. The souls of the enemies will contain attack enhancements, helpful uses, and even brand new attacks. Some souls allow for summons and using the attacks the enemies use. It’s yet another new process, but it allows for even more creativity. Players can have near endless customization with the souls and weapons.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The graphics of the game take a more dark approach, which fits the tone of the game. It even looks more colorful and crisp than other GBA Castlevanias. Aria of Sorrow has one flaw and is shockingly enough its level design. The backgrounds and themes of the stages are classic Castlevania, but it’s a tad repetitive. Considering this is a massive exploration-based game, it makes Aria of Sorrow a bit of a slog.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

To cap off the game, there is the soundtrack. Castlevania is a franchise with a consistently good soundtrack in each game, and Aria of Sorrow is no different. It’s a bit more atmospheric than most Castlevania soundtracks. There are some touches of native Japanese music too. Which makes sense, since that’s where the game takes place.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is easily one of the most original of the franchise. Its new premise and unique look on the classic Castlevania story is worth looking into. If it’s a bit too odd than players should still give it a shot, thanks to some imaginative gameplay. Aria of Sorrow’s levels may be a bit samey, but pushing that aside, fans and newcomers can enjoy a gripping Castlevania experience.