Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: 10/5/2010
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The Good: Excellent and deep combat, light and dark magic is unique, superb boss fights, clever puzzles, gorgeous art style and visuals, well-crafted story
The Bad: A few control quirks, can be very difficult for some people
Castlevania and 3D have not mixed well, and everyone one since Castlevania 3D for N64 has been a total failure. When Lords of Shadow was announced everyone expected another terrible 3D iteration that no one wanted. Lo and behold the game finally redeems itself and becomes one of the best action/adventure games of this generation, and one of the best Castlevania games ever made.
You play as Gabriel Belmont who is trying to find a way to bring his love Marie back, and while fighting along side the Brotherhood he must defeat everyone in his path to get to her. He must reunite three pieces of a mask, and each piece is held by a lord of shadow: The Lycanthropes, The Vampires, and Death himself.
The game is voiced very well and even has some well-known actors like Patrick Stewart narrating the game, and voicing Zobek. The game does borrow elements from other games such as God of War’s combat, and Uncharted’s platforming, but LoS crafts it in its own unique way. The part about combat that sticks out the most is using light and dark energy to defeat enemies, bosses, and solve puzzles. You have both meters and they are both used separately. Light magic is a form of healing which will replenish your life gauge as you whip hit after hit until you meter runs down. Dark energy allows you to do more devastating attacks. Switching between these two on the fly is key to beating the game, and staying alive.
There are an array of move you can buy with points, but there are also separate sets of moves for both energies. You can earn points by killing enemies or solving puzzles. Puzzles have a way to reveal the solution but at the cost of not earning points. I was able to solve every puzzle without revealing a solution, but it’s there for the less cerebral. Combat is swift, tight, and fluid, and Gabriel swings the series iconic whip around with ease and flash. Counterattacks can build up your focus meter quickly which will give off mass amounts of orbs you can absorb for energy. You can even bring down large enemies and use them as mounts for as long as you like to complete climbing puzzles, or just wail away at enemies.
The game also has an array of objects you can use as weapons such as fairies, holy water, daggers, and a crystal that summons a screen wiping demon. Each of these powers can be infused with light or dark energy, and reading the game’s huge bestiary can tell you what the creatures are weak against. Regular fairies can distract enemies, while infused with the light energy they become bombs. Holy water can do a number on certain enemies, but infused with light magic it can create a shield around you as well.
The game has a lot of platforming and it’s solid, but does have its share of minor quirks like Gabriel not jumping at the end of a ledge and just hanging off or dying. Using your whip as a grappling hook works, but most of the time you’ll forget to press X and jump away from the wall to get to different ledges and avoid traps since this isn’t used very often. Platforming even works well in the Shadow of the Colossus esque massive boss battles.
The game is also fairly difficult. It copies the series difficulty with lots of twitch reactions, constant dodging, counterattacking, and blocking. You can’t just wail on an enemy and expect to take a lot of damage. A few hits from a boss and your dead even if you’ve leveled your health bar up all the way. You get a few hits, dodge, wait for the right moment and repeat. Each boss has a unique set of predictable moves, but it’s up to your skills and quick reflexes to stay alive, so predictability won’t help you here like other games can.
The game features a huge amount of enemies probably the largest variety seen in an action/adventure title. The game has a good 30+ enemies, and each is unique and require a different tactic to defeat. Not only this, but the environments range often, and not one level is the same. The game is also beautiful, and probably one of the best looking games to date with a gorgeous art style. The camera angles are chosen perfectly, and each shot is a masterpiece to take in. From sprawling castles, forests, and even a massive in door library look amazing.
The game also has many secrets and will take a couple of play throughs to find them all such as gems to upgrade your meters, scrolls, and other items to get an 110% completion rate. There is art work to buy, different difficulties to beat, and even just enjoying the game a second time is well worth it. This game is just completely different from your standard Castlevania games and is probably going to be the new standard for the series. You really have to come into this game not expecting typical Castlevania stuff, and really expect something totally different. With an imminent sequel, LoS is one of my favorite games of this generation.