One of gaming’s oldest and most-beloved franchises, the Castlevania series premiered on the old NES platform all the way back in 1986, which if you do that math turns out to be almost 30 years ago. How depressing. I’m getting the heck out of this paragraph.
Anyway, the original game was a vampire-themed platformer in the vein (heh) of Super Mario Bros., but with the pleasant cartoon action swapped out for goofy Gothic violence. Instead of jumping over flowers, players fought off vampires and medusae with a whip and boomerang crucifix. Good times.
More than 30 different games have since followed in the series, both in the U.S. and Japan, and now we arrive at the latest iteration: “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” ($59.99; rated M).
A third-person action-adventure title, “LoS 2” continues the saga of the Belmont clan, a family of vampire hunters who’ve been fighting the good fight for several thousand years now. Picking up events from the previous series installment, hero Gabriel Belmont has gone to the dark side, transforming into the vampire Dracula.
“LoS 2” starts out in a spooky 11th-century castle, but soon the action fast-forwards to the present day, where Dracula (voiced by Robert Carlyle) once again encounters his immortal enemy Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart). In order to end his own cursed existence, Dracula must help Zobek defeat the minions of Satan, who intends to return and destroy all mankind. There’s certainly no shortage of bad guys in this story.
Combat, combat, combat
While the dialogue and framing story are perfectly adequate, the excellent voice acting and music bump everything up a notch. “LoS 2” feels properly epic in the important moments, and the escalating scenarios and boss fights build nicely.
But aside from some sporadic stealth missions, the game is really about three things: combat, combat and combat.
The fighting system is fairly standard issue for the action-adventure genre and works well. Melee and area attack options are boosted by combo strikes, and you can use various button combinations to dodge or block enemy attacks.
Being an immortal creature of darkness, Dracula has a few tricks up his sleeve. His Void Sword drains enemy life and replenishes his own. His Chaos Claws can be used to break enemy defenses. A new skill mastery system allows you to upgrade your attacks as you go along.
The combat is gory, over-the-top and undeniably fun. The increasingly gruesome minions and monsters explode into clouds of blood when dispatched, or if you’re into recycling, you can choose to feed on certain enemies in mid-combat for a boost of delicious hemoglobin.
New open-world elements encourage exploration and some limited platforming and puzzle solving.
The designers have thrown in a few surprises as well, later in the game, both in terms of plotting and fighting.
Big, bold Gothic weirdness
As with so many other big-budget action-adventure games, a lot of the appeal comes from just wandering around in the rich, atmospheric environments. From the architecture to the sweeping musical score, “Lords of Shadow 2” is all about big, bold Gothic weirdness.
I’ve never been much of a vampire guy – I typically like old-school swords-and-sorcery and female archeologists in my action-adventure titles. But “Lords of Shadow 2” makes a strong case for the bloodsucking set with its superior art design and flowing combat system.
I still refuse to watch those “Twilight” movies, though. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
“Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2” is now available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows.
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