Certain franchises get the benefit of a permanent glow around them, by virtue of having notched continued success over a long period of time. Nintendo’s Mario games are the arguably platinum standard and the character’s ability to be dropped into a bunch of different gameplay idioms goes a long way to making him so beloved.
The Castlevania series gets a lot of love from fans, as it–along with the early Metroid games–minted the idea of backtracking as a gameplay mechanic. It’s the side-scrolling iteration of the vampire-slaying franchise that inspires the most devotion. The franchise evolution for Castlevania hasn’t been as flexible, as it’s been for, say, Mario or Metroid. Samus and Mario have been able to go from 2D to 3D and back again with ease. With dozens of Castlevania games released over the years, only a few have been in 3D and those got middling responses at best. This year, publisher Konami’s taking the plunge again with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Lords of Shadow is set in the medieval Dark Ages and you’ll be controlling new character warrior monk Gabriel Belmont. The soldier in the Brotherhood of Light is mourning his recently killed wife, who died at the hands of nether creatures that are rampaging across the Earth and trying to wipe out humanity. Gabriel undertakes a quest to find the mystical powers that will reunite him with his wife. His journey leads him to the entrance of a foreboding forest and the game opens with a face-off against a pack of werewolves.
You could say that the new Castlevania bears strong some similarities to God of War but it might be more accurate to look at that comparison the other way around. The Belmont family characters who’ve mostly been the heroes of the series were using whips for combat and traversal, long before Kratos was a twinkle in David Jaffe’s eye. Still, the combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played a God of War title. Like almost every character in a Castlevania game, Gabriel wields a whip. He has a direct attack which targets in a specific direction and an area attack that spins the whip in a radius around him. He’ll also wield throwing daggers, too. And, of course, no Castlevania would be worthy of the name without magic. In my two hours with the game, I only acquired the Light Magic, which allowed me to heal as I damaged enemies. Aside from the werewolves I encountered, I also fought goblins that threw crude grenades at me. The mini-boss for the first level was a swamp troll that charged at me and threw headstones, forcing me to dodge and attack until I damaged him enough to trigger a quicktime event.
Some of the sequences in the dark forest involved horseback combat as I was being chased by werewolves that were riding other, larger wolves called wargs. Gabriel, by the way, was on a talking horse with glowing brands. Was all this a mite bit cheesy? Yes, but cool, also.