NINTENDO DS REVIEW: CASTLEVANIA DAWN OF SORROW

I can't exactly decide just what is perpetuating whom or whom is perpetuating what, in regards to Konami's Castlevania series. Are new games being created because Dracula keeps appearing or does Drac keep showing up because new games are being developed? It's the classic "What came first?" question: The vampire or the game?

There is little time to sit around pondering life's most puzzling mindbenders though - Soma Cruz has got a situation to deal with. And yeah, the situation involves monsters, souls and a trek through a large, hard to navigate creepy Gothic castle.

More than just a passing spiritual successor to the GBA's Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow basically picks up where the last game left off. It's a year later and Soma is attacked by Celia, the female leader of the cult that wants the resurrection of Dracula to be successful. Soma, the reincarnation of Dracula, isn't too crazy about the idea and has been fighting to stop it since the events in Aria. Needless to say, some stuff goes down and Soma has no choice but to meet Celia at the stoop of Castlevania.

The game mechanics that made Aria such a treat to play through, even though we've been experiencing Castlevania deja vu since Symphony of the Night appeared on the PlayStation in 97, return in full force for Dawn of Sorrow. While it would be easy to cry "gimmick" at the thought of playing this first iteration of the series on the gimmicky DS with all of its touch screen gimmicky goodness (this review brought to you by the letter "G", as in "Gimmick") DoS is actually a much better game because of it. All of the action takes place on the touch screen while the map appears on the upper screen. Maps are nothing new to the series but being able to see it at all times make traversing the castles numerous areas (how BIG is this place anyway?) much easier than ever before because you won't have to go back and forth between screens. Equally as welcome is a Stats screen which can be instantly activated which keeps a running inventory on your necessary upgrades, weapons, enemies, souls etc. Especially handy is the Enemy status update which fills your brain full of all sorts of info on the creep you've just sent back to Hell; literally. Another new mechanic devised around the touch screen involves doors that feature Magic Seals on them that lead to boss battles. As you whittle away the bosses health you will eventually reach a point where you must draw the Magic Seal with your sytlus that was featured on the door. If you blow it (and you will later on) the boss will regain health and you'll be forced to fight him again until your artistic skills improve and you nail it. Fear not though creators of stick-men everywhere, the game allows you to hone your drawing skills on the pause menu. I really have to admit that it's going to be hard going back to another Castlevania game or playing a new one that might not be on the DS after getting used to the new features available via the touch screen.

The fighting mechanics are primarily the same as in Aria - kill enemies, collect souls, collect special souls to use elsewhere - however DoS allows players to trade in souls for weapon upgrades. Some of the souls you'll need to upgrade are fairly easy to come by, but others will be quite rare. Unlike the way most eBay sellers use the word "Rare", these babies really are "Rare". In fact, if you could actually sell them on eBay, you'd probably make a pretty penny. What this means to you, the eager monster hunter is that there is an awful lot of backtracking and killing that quickly becomes repetitive - but it's not like this is something new for Castlevania. I think Castlevania in Romanian actually means "Repetitive backtracking". But there's a big payoff waiting for you at the end of the game. 3 endings are possible (as of this writing) and one of them allows you to replay the game as a new character. The other allows you to tackle the games bosses again and the other is a bad ending.

Visually the game looks fantastic on the DS screen, especially if you're comparing it to the last GBA title. The characters are larger and more animated and I suspect that many of the monsters were tweaked as well to take advantage of the DS' higher processing power. Fans of the series orchestral background music will love the aural buffet of love caressing your DS speakers - or better yet - headphones. In this day and age when videogame original scores are being left by the wayside in favor of the latest 50 Cent hit, it's nice to hear that some companies like Konami aren't interested in messing with what fans expect. Imagine for a moment if EA ever got their hands on Castlevania - $10 will get you $20 that Rob Zombie's "Dragula" would great players on the Press Start screen and it would just go down hill from there. Let's all shudder uncomfortably together...ready?....SHUDDER.

The only slight knock I can level at DoS is the incessant backtracking and repetitive soul collecting that is really ONLY necessary if you want to strive for the best endings to earn the best unlockables. If you don't care about that or of course know what you're getting into with this series, then it won't bother you in the slightest. Dawn of Sorrow is a feature packed title that is enhanced over previous installments due to the new implementations of the two screens and the touch capability of the DS. If you've been sitting on the fence in your decision to drop the cash on a DS - provided you've played Aria or other Castlevania games and enjoyed them - this game is extremely easy to recommend as the game to christen a new system with. Now if you'll excuse me, Drac's back and I have to deliver his rare stake. Get it? Stake?

Review by Vaughn

Uncle Ben imparted to us "With great power comes great responsibility" but what he really meant to say was "With every new Nintendo handheld comes a new Castlevania game". You got it right on the money, Uncle Ben. I feel pretty silly in these red and blue tights, now.

Taking place in 2036, a year after the events ot Aria of Sorrow, we find Soma Cruz at the epicenter of a mysterious cult's vile plan to resurrect Pauly Shore's career. Those dastardly evil bastards! Oh wait....This Just In....Sorry. They mean to resurrect Dracula! Oh, of course. How silly of me, since this has basically been the plot of Castlevania since....the first one.

Soma must infiltrate the cult's headquarters, which looks suspiciously like every castle you've ever seen in every Castlevania game...because wouldn't you know it? The cult built a towering replica of Dracula's castle and infested it with the undead and other creatures. How convenient. Spoilers - you'll duke it out with Dracula at the end of the game - End Spoilers. Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Okay so we already knew that Konami wasn't exactly going to rewrite videogame history with this game. Stay tuned for more info regarding the touch screen and soul exchange (wireless) between players mechanics.

Features:

  • Defeat foes with the "Magic Seal" system using the touch screen
  • Exchange souls with other players via the DS wireless connection
  • Incredible musical score, next-gen graphics & stunning special effects
  • From the creative team behind Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
System: DS
Dev: Konami
Pub: Konami
Released: Sept 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
5.0
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
4.0