Reviewed: November 17, 2005
Released: November 1, 2005
As one of the longest running series in videogames, Castlevania still has the ability to deliver, as its portable games have continuously proven over and over. Unfortunately, the 3D Castlevania games that have been released up to this point havenít fared as well, and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness seems to continue this route, despite some really good ideas.
You play as Hector, a master forge master who had once fought under Draculaís banner. You betrayed your dark lord and left behind your powers, sworn to never use them again. Your archrival Isaac however, has other plans. Your enemy has killed your beloved, and in order to exact your revenge upon him, your old powers must surface again.
Since Symphony of the Night, Castlevania games have been largely made up of the same thing: Run through corridor after corridor slaying respawning monsters, gaining experience from them, and upping your abilities. The map of Curse of Darkness is sprawling, and though you donít have quite the variety that you have in the portable games, you have a decent selection of weapons to use to dispatch your foes, as Hector is capable of wielding many weapons.
There are some new features in Curse of Darkness that makes things more interesting. You can now forge your own weapons using materials you gather from the castle and enemies you defeat, and by combining these things to your weapons, you can enhance them. Itís a fairly uninteresting process in practice, but the idea is certainly cool, and the rewards of finding new weapon combinations are satisfying.
You also have the help of innocent devils Ė kind of like familiars or pets Ė that will fight alongside you. Different devils do different things that will help hector on his quest, and they gain experience like you do, and their power increases. Dropping enemies will also reveal evolution crystals, which transforms your innocent devils into more powerful versions, unlocking new abilities for them.
Curse of Darkness revolves almost entirely around combat, and thanks to these additions, combat isnít as boring as it otherwise would be here. The weapons feel good, Hector moves fluidly, and heís very athletic; heís very nimble, helping in gameplay with evasive moves that render him invulnerable during that time.
Itís just too bad then, that Curse of Darkness suffers from some seriously fatal flaws, some of them being resurrected from the last PlayStation 2 game, Lament of Innocence. You will run down countless corridors, doing nothing along the way. Youíll fight the same creatures over and over again, and just when you think youíre fighting something different, you realize youíre fighting just a different colored version of what youíve fought before. Then youíll run down more corridors.
Youíll fight the occasional boss, and continue down some corridors. Repeat this tedium over and over again for the duration of the game and it gets old. The formula just doesnít work as well in 3D, though being in 3D isnít the problem.
It doesnít help that Hector seems to take forever to get to where heís going, as even huge strides while running reveal that he hasnít gone far. At many points in the game, youíll wonder why Hector is doing more running than he is fighting, until you realize youíre avoiding combat on purpose because it gets just as monotonous, just as quick. You may end up running past everything in hopes youíll come across something interesting.
Curse of Darkness has its moments, but the vast majority of the game design is just so uninspired, itís hard to stay focused. While you arenít restricted to Draculaís castle, the land of Valachia is set up basically the same way, turning into box-shaped rooms and corridors that are very boring to look at, and after awhile, it all looks the same. Between the bland level design and boring, drab enemies, thereís just nothing to see here.
Graphically, Curse of Darkness would look pretty good if everything didnít look so bland and generic. There are a few rooms here and there that show some classic Castlevania artwork and inspiration (like the save rooms), and then it all goes back to boredom. The same goes with the models. While Hector himself looks great and detailed, the enemies are as uninspiring as the environments. Itís almost as if this game is truly among the most tired and predictable of action games by its looks alone.
Granted though, Hector does move very well, and while the enemies themselves arenít very numerous, they all die in different fashions and animate excellently. It doesnít make up for the lack of artistic beauty, but itís not a total loss just when you think it is. The game even runs at a smooth, fluid framerate, which is always a help in a game centered on combat.
As usual, Michiru Yamane churns out a fantastic and hum-worthy score that helps to set the mood, especially since the rest of the game doesnít. While you get the familiar sound from other Castlevania games when you hear it, these are all-new compositions. The sound effects are nice too, as well as the voice acting that is convincing most of the time, and helps to bring Curse of Darknessí characters to life. The sound is by far the best element of Curse of Darkness.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness takes about 12 hours to finish, and the unlockable bonuses arenít very rewarding. There is a higher difficult setting that gets unlocked, but aside from that thereís a second playable character that doesnít have the same amount of options that Hector has.
Curse of Darkness is pretty easy all the way through the game, but the final stages of the game are difficult. Itís frustrating when youíve easily survived a game in almost its entirety in autopilot, only to suddenly have trouble finishing the game.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is a great game mechanically speaking, and the ideas implemented are good enough to make it to a sequel with minimal tweaking, and are left open to be built upon. But just like Lament of Innocence, the presentation and core gameplay fails on almost every level, making it difficult to differentiate it from any other generic action game out there.
The new devil forging and innocent devils are interesting, and combined with some excellent music and voiceovers; Curse of Darkness is saved from total mediocrity, but not by much. If the Castlevania series is going to flourish in 3D, there are serious issues that have got to be resolved.