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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
GENRE: Action
October 04, 2005
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

More in this Series
 Written by Dave Hulick  on September 19, 2005

First Impressions: Looks like we're in for a sunrise of sorrow.

Two-dimensional games have been on the endangered species list for quite a long time now. Since the release of the powerful Nintendo 64, and the ever influential Sony Playstation, flashy 3D game titles have been at the forefront of game culture. Many of the franchises that were rooted in two dimensions were updated and released on these new consoles with an added dimension. Some games turned out great, but our beloved Castlevania did not. The 3D Castlevania games released for the N64 were a far cry away from the quality exhibited by the earlier games. However, Konami (like many other publishers) were reluctant to publish 2D games in a time when 3D games ruled the sales charts, and it seemed like a great series was lost forever...

Yet, in June 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance, ushering in a new era of two-dimensional goodness. Accompanying the launch of the GBA was an excellent 2D Castlevania game. Gamers everywhere rejoiced. Konami went on to release two more Castlevania titles for the tiny handheld, Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow. However, the GBA faded away, and powerful 3D handhelds replaced it, the fate of the series was once again in limbo. Gamers feared yet another clunky transition to 3D.

Well, fear not. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS is the direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow. Featuring greatly upgraded graphics, a well-written story, and the same 2D game mechanics that made it's precursor such a hit, DoS is looking to show gamers everywhere that 2D gaming can still be fun. Of course, if you're a Castlevania fan, you're already well aware of this. Fortunately, Dawn of Sorrow is looking to improve many stale aspects of the series.

For starters, there's the continuation of the story from Aria of Sorrow. While story has never played a heavy role in Castlevania, Aria of Sorrow had one of the more interesting story settings in the series. Taking place after the final death of Dracula, Aria focused on the adventures of Soma Cruz, the heir to Dracula's power, and his struggle to remain good. Dawn of Sorrow further chronicles his adventure, and integrates the story into the gameplay more than has been done in the past.

Speaking of gameplay, Dawn features plenty new of that. The most radical new addition to gameplay is multiplayer, a first for the series. In wireless mode, players customize a part of the castle by placing specific enemy types in specific rooms. The other player races through his opponent's creation in an attempt to get the fastest time. It all boils down to who can create the harder castle segment, basically. Unfortunately, online play is not included.

The touch screen also comes into play in a few instances, though it is not the main focus of the game. Throughout certain parts of the castle, ice bricks will block the way. Using the stylus, players can smash through this ice or (preferably) use it to create a passage to a secret area. Additionally, after a boss battle, players will need to trace a seal in order to lock away that boss forever. Thankfully, Konami is keeping the stylus usage to a minimum, as it is fairly obvious that frequently switching between d-pad and the stylus is poor control design.

The rest of the game is peppered with minor, but welcome tweaks to the gameplay. For instance, the map is displayed on the top screen at all times, removing the need to constantly switch between the game and the map. Dawn of Sorrow also promises many different endings, and many new enemies.

Graphically, the game is limited by the low resolution of the DS's screens. At first glance, it'd be easy to mistake Dawn of Sorrow for Aria of Sorrow because of this, but after seeing the game in motion the improvement is very evident. Animation is far more smooth, and the screen is constantly filled with flashy particle effects and detailed enemy sprites. As far as sound goes, nothing is radically new here. The music is still MIDI, and falls short of the quality benchmark set by Symphony of the Night for the PSX way back in 1997. The sound effects are nothing intrusive or special, but they get the job done.

Final Thoughts
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is trying to prove to the world that 2D games are still a viable form of entertainment and fun. And while it is not a radical evolution from Aria of Sorrow, it's the first portable Castlevania in almost three years. Will it have been worth the long wait? Will the few updates to gameplay keep veterans of the series interested long enough to play all the way through? Only time will tell, but if previous incarnations are any indication, then DS owners are in for a great ride.

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