Tag Archive: castlevania

Whip it, whip it OK

One of the more frequent complaints about the first Lords of Shadow was that it got away from what players have come to expect from the franchise. Most still generally agreed, however, that it was probably the best 3D Castlevania ever (not that that was saying much), so the hype—and the hope—was pretty high for the follow-up.

In Lords of Shadow 2, players get to control Dracula himself for the first time ever, and they do so in the modern era as he wages his own personal war against Hell’s best soldiers. After being awoken from a 200-year slumber by necromancer extraordinaire Zobek, Dracula has to shake off some of the rust that’s accumulated over two centuries and must search within himself—and the city that’s risen over the remains of his old castle—in order to reclaim his once-impressive strength.

After a four-year wait for this sequel, I’ve got some good news: MercurySteam took a lot of the first game’s criticisms to heart. The bad news? Some of the solutions create new problems, and some strengths of the first game just aren’t as good here.

The first—and probably biggest—issue that MercurySteam addressed was the linearity of the first game. Whereas Lords of Shadow was broken up into small stages that took place within one of the game’s dozen chapters, this sequel features an open world for players to run around in and explore. Like most games of this ilk, as Dracula regains his lost abilities, more of the world opens up, and previously unattainable power-ups and secrets become accessible. Simply put, an open-world game is an easy fix to the linearity problem—if it were planned properly.

MercurySteam was so ambitious that they essentially built two open worlds, since Dracula often “travels” back to his castle in the past from various points in the modern world. They’re big enough that you’ll easily get lost in them—and that’s the problem. You will get lost, and not in a “I lost track of time because the game is so good” sort of way, but more like “This is the third time I’ve passed that landmark, and I’ve gotten nowhere.” Lords of Shadow 2 is in desperate need of a better map system, especially in the city. It’s hard to remember where collectibles are or if you’re even going the right way. Several sections look so much alike that the areas almost blend together, and the game does a horrible job of letting you know there’s a marker system buried somewhere in the countless menus.

One change that does seem to have worked out for the better? The combat. In the original Lords of Shadow, many players found themselves simply mashing a button or two and only changing strategies for the few enemies who could counter the more basic moves. To encourage players to mix things up this time around, Dracula has three main weapons—the Blood Whip, the Void Sword, and the Chaos Claws—and they all get stronger by using and then mastering different techniques with them. And this Master System is one of the few straightforward things about Lords of Shadow 2. You defeat enemies to get experience points, then spend these points to unlock new weapon techniques. After using those techniques so many times in combat, you can transfer knowledge of the technique into the weapon itself, making it more powerful.

I’ll admit that I still found myself slipping into the bad habit of using only one or two techniques—like the Guillotine aerial smash—now and then, but the combat system is still much improved and far more rewarding this time around. And even if you’re like me and fall into old patterns, you’ll still use more moves total due to the increased enemy variety, even if you develop favorite tactics over time.

One of the strongest elements from the first Lords of Shadow—and one that most players probably hoped wouldn’t change—would be the storytelling. While it started slow, the first game built up nicely to a crescendo and then a cliffhanger ending to make Lords of Shadow 2 possible. This time, it’s a bit of the reverse.

For the better part of the game, the narrative is still solid. Much like how Lords of Shadows 2 offers two worlds to explore, it also includes two major enemies. The first one is obvious: It’s Satan, in that classic man-versusthe supernatural scenario. The second foe? That’s Dracula himself. As explained by a 15-minute cutscene early on, in case you didn’t play the first game, Dracula was originally Gabriel Belmont, cursed forever to fight his bloodline after absorbing the powers of the original Lords of Shadow. This leads to powerful scenes of him racked with guilt over having not known his son, losing his wife, and his cursing a God who’s abandoned him.

Of course, it also leads to some confusion and plot holes for those familiar with the series. How exactly does Dracula go back in time to his castle to unlock his powers? Are they hallucinations? Has his guilt taken form to test him before he can reclaim his power? Is he actually traveling back in time? Is it all of the above? It’s all really unclear, and just when I thought I’d figured it out, the next story beat would happen to befuddle me again. And if I was confused after having played all the previous games, I can just imagine how it might be for someone looking to get into the series. It’s probably not the best idea to start with Lords of Shadow 2 if plot means something to you.

The story also tries its best—but fails—to cover up the fact that many of Dracula’s objectives for 80 percent of the game are glorified fetch quests to lead him back to his true strength. I would’ve preferred more time with all my powers so I wouldn’t have had to backtrack so much to find all the hidden items. The worst part, however, may be that the story builds towards a preconceived end point, only to provide a cop-out finish that left me unsatisfied.

Even with these problems, though, there’s still a solid core to Lords of Shadow 2. The mood-setting orchestral music is fantastic, and I loved the voice acting, led by Patrick Stewart as Zobek and Robert Carlyle as Dracula. What’s more, the epic boss battles rival those seen in the first game. It’s just a shame that MercurySteam’s evident lack of experience constructing open worlds, and letting the story get away from them, keeps Lords of Shadow 2 from being better than its predecessor.

Developer: MercurySteam • Publisher: Konami • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.25.14
Lords of Shadow 2 runs into a classic sequel problem. By trying to do more and fix the few issues of the first game, MercurySteam actually does less and creates more problems. Despite this, they’ve still crafted a competent tale with solid core gameplay that should entertain longtime Castlevania fans, even if it’s not quite everything they’d hoped for.
The Good Drastically improved, rewarding combat.
The Bad A pathetic excuse for a map system; objectives feel too much like glorified fetch quests.
The Ugly How fast I’d probably succumb to vampire queen Carmilla’s, ahem, charms.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS3 using review code provided by Konami.

Originally Published: March 8, 2011, on youtube.com/RCars4885

I come to you once again with your weekly geek fix from my mother’s basement! This week’s episode sees me review Batman Beyond #3 from DC Comics and MLB 11 The Show for the PS3. My hot chick pick of the week is Jayonna Fabro and this week’s theme is The Ice Titan theme from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.

Originally Published: January 11, 2011, on youtube.com/cgrundertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, an exclusive for the Xbox Live Arcade from Konami.

Every now and then, people actually want to know what I think.

E3 – Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Originally Published: June 16th, 2010, on PlayerAffinity.com and Examiner.com

I had a chance to catch up with Sega, Atari, Spike Games, Disney, and Konami on the first official day of E3 2010!

Originally Published: December 31, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

As the year comes to an end, I think this is an opportune time to take a look forward at the year ahead in gaming. Last year we did this and the nine games we previewed were either awesome as expected (Ghostbusters, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Madworld, and Brutal Legend), pretty good (Punch-Out and Resident Evil 5), or delayed until early 2010 (Bioshock 2, God of War 3, and Dante’s Inferno). The three games delayed until early 2010 are basically shoe-ins for this year’s list as well because all the delays have done is make us salivate more as details leaked out to us. So with no further ado, here are the top 10 games to look forward to in 2010.

1. Bioshock 2: I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year: I will go screaming through the halls here at ESPN the day this comes out from sheer, overwhelming joy. With a lot more revealed in terms of the plot and gameplay, this easily tops my list as my most anticipated game as you return to Rapture and assume the role of a Big Daddy 10 years after the events of the first Bioshock. Along with this new twist from the first Bioshock, there is also a confirmed multiplayer mode and the ability to use your Big Daddy suit to explore the ocean immediately surrounding Rapture, which should allow for all kinds of new and creative ways to explore the once great cultural haven beneath the waves. Barring any last minute setbacks, expect Bioshock 2 to hit store shelves February 9, 2010, for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

2. God of War 3: There are few trilogies in video games that are more celebrated than God of War and this is before the third one has even hit store shelves. Inspired by many classic stories from Greek mythology, you play as Kratos once more as you attempt to work out your anger issues with the gods for the last time. I had a chance to play an advanced demo of this (which I will post a special PS3 Q1 Preview video next week where I got to talk with some of the developers of God of War 3) and you will flip just like Kratos’ point of view seamlessly does in several epic boss battles as you should expect to start wrapping up this classic trilogy on your PS3 towards the end of March 2010.

3. Dante’s Inferno: Many are calling this a God of War rip-off, but I’m a firm believer that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this might be even better because it isn’t limited to just the PS3. Inspired by the part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy of the same name, if Kratos has anger management issues, Dante is the ultimate obsessive, smothering boyfriend as he is willing to fight through the nine layers of hell to save his girlfriend’s soul while having a tapestry depicting the holy cross stitched to his chest. Just like God of War, Dante’s Inferno mixes classic plot with tremendous, bloody action (and a little bit of nudity) and amazing, original monsters based on this classic work of literature to get any action/adventure fan’s blood pumping. Just like Bioshock 2, Dante’s Inferno hits store shelves on February 9, 2010, for Xbox 360, PS3, and PSP.

4. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: Travis Touchdown returns with his beam katana (it’s a lightsaber, but that whole copyright thing can be such a pain sometimes) as he has gotten lazy and let his number one world assassin ranking drop all the way down to 51 (possibly in honor of game creator Suda 51?). When things get personal though, Travis once again hones his wrestling inspired moves and attempts to move back up the ladder to the number one spot with even more crazy, over the top boss battles that are even better than those from the first game. The sandbox system is gone to help save on time while you hunt down your quarry and travel from location to location by just going to a map menu now and since that was one of the major complaints from the first game, it looks like No More Heroes 2 could be another sleeper hit from the deranged mind of Suda 51 and his Grasshopper Studios. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a Wii exclusive and should hit store shelves January 28, 2010.

5. Dead Rising 2: The first Dead Rising broke new ground in zombie bashing by having an unheard of (for the time) amount of NPCs on screen at one time with no lag. And it was set in a mall allowing you to have a variety of weapons from food court table umbrellas to golf clubs to nerf guns. Dead Rising 2 takes several of the great elements from the first game (regular guy dropped into a zombie invasion) and puts a whole new twist on it that has me chomping at the bit as I count the days until this hits store shelves. Dead Rising 2 assumes you failed to completely contain the zombie virus at Willamette from the first Dead Rising and now there are zombie outbreaks all over the country. These zombie zones have been cordoned off by the government, but with times being tough, leave it to reality TV to step in to offer the masses a chance to risk life and limb for amazing prizes. “Terror is Reality” is one of these reality TV shows that asks people to help control the zombie population in new and inventive ways for the chance at huge piles of cash. Of course, you’re being dropped into these living nightmares with nothing but the clothes on your back, but it wouldn’t be a zombie game if you were given a gatling gun from the get go. Add in what could be the best online multiplayer of the year as Dead Rising 2 pits you against three other players in an American Gladiators meets Resident Evil scenario and sends you all on your merry competitive ways. Zombie bashing will never be the same again on your Xbox 360, PS3, and PC come the end of Q1.

6. DC Universe Online: It is hyped as what could be the greatest MMORPG of all-time as it allows you to interact with the best of the best of the DC Comics Universe with your own original character and with a member of current comic book royalty in Jim Lee serving as the Executive Creative Director, you know you are in good hands. Unfortunately, it has been delayed countless times and is a game on life support to say the least. DCU Online was supposed to come out last summer, but now we are still waiting to rub elbows with the Dark Knight and Man of Steel and take down the likes of Lex Luthor, Mr. Freeze, the Joker, Bizarro, and many, many, many more as a loose Q3 2010 date has been set for this possible PS3 and PC powerhouse. If DCU Online doesn’t come out this year, I think the game will be completely scrapped because it has been in production for far too long for us to wait much longer for it.

7. Mafia 2: Another strong title on the horizon from the folks at 2K (why do they even bother with sports anymore when their shooters and action/adventure games are so awesome?) is Mafia 2. Set in a fictitious mob family in the late 1940s-early 1950s, Mafia 2 combines a GTA-style sandbox experience with a Hollywood-inspired cinematic driven plot as you play as Vito, a small-time hood trying his best to get his piece of the American dream in some less than savory ways. Add in some awesome action sequences and Martin Scorsese couldn’t have done a better job with this. Mafia 2 looks to be the strongest release due out in Q2 when it lands on store shelves May 3, 2010, for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

8. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Every major attempt to bring the fabled history of Castlevania into the 3D realm has fallen flat on its face and the only thing keeping the series alive has been a successful run with the classic side scrolling action on handheld systems. Things may change come the next holiday season. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has you cast as the mysterious figure Gabriel as you fight through a massive world in the third person. Mix in some puzzles and some holy (or unholy) artifacts to help power up Gabriel and you have the base for a nice action/adventure game. There aren’t a lot of details out on this one yet in terms of how Gabriel fits in with the Belmont clan or if Dracula is even the main force of darkness here (although I’m sure he is because it wouldn’t be Castlevania if he wasn’t), but from what I’ve seen so far, this could be the best chance to FINALLY bring Castlevania successfully onto modern consoles especially with Hideo Kojima (of the Metal Gear Series) consulting on this project, Patrick Stewart serving as the narrator, and some God of War and Assassin’s Creed style gameplay mechanics shown in the early trailer. Expect Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to emerge from the darkness next holiday season for Xbox 360 and PS3.

9. Super Mario Galaxy 2: Everyone loves Mario, plain and simple. Another game expected to be released in time for the next holiday season, Super Mario Galaxy 2 will be the first direct sequel to another Mario game in a decade (since Super Mario World 2 back for the SNES). Add in that you are definitely going to be riding Yoshi around and I’m sure you’ll see the return of some other classic powers and this is another sure fire hit for Nintendo. Plus, don’t forget that you are sure to see a lot of classic Mario themes, enemies, and puzzles mixed in with the tremendous planetary exploration aspect introduced in the first Super Mario Galaxy and this will be another platforming gem from Nintendo. Super Mario Galaxy 2 should be out in time for next holiday season and is, of course, a Nintendo exclusive.

10. Metroid: Other M: Nintendo has the strongest first party franchises out there and another one confirmed for next holiday season is Metroid: Other M. A lot like seeing Hideo Kojima’s production studio helping out with Castlevania, Team Ninja, best known for the Ninja Gaiden games, has stepped up to help give a bit of an anime style and storytelling flair to this newest Samus Aran adventure. Mixing some classic side-scrolling action and some 3D arena battles as you progress through the game and interchange between the two seamlessly should keep you on your toes and keep you from getting bored. Add in that at least Ridley has been confirmed as one of the boss battles and it should be interesting to see what Team Ninja can do with this beloved Nintendo franchise. Metroid: Other M is another Wii exclusive and should be out in time for the next holiday season.

So there is my top 10 for the coming year and it is one heck of a list. On top of these games, there are also lots of other games that I just could not take the time to go into right now, plus I did not feel they were worthy of the top 10. MAG, Heavy Rain, Bayonetta, Darksiders, Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands (adding a 4th chapter to one of the better trilogies for the last generation of consoles was not necessary and is thus a major reason that Prince of Persia stayed off the list), Mass Effect 2, Just Cause 2, Epic Mickey, Red Steel 2, Mega Man 10, Gran Turismo 5, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and an unnamed Legend of Zelda title for the Wii (not enough info for me to be confident that this will make it in time for a 2010 release, but Nintendo is the best at keeping secrets) all deserve honorable mentions and should be awesome games in 2010, but these are my top 10 and I stand by them. It is going to be another great year for games and I cannot wait. Until then, have a great New Year and my resolution is that I will be sure to try my best to keep you informed over the course of 2010 just as I did over the course of 2009.

-Ray Carsillo