Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Xbox 360 Review

I've got a long standing relationship with the Castlevania series. I actually played Simon's Quest before playing and beating the first. I must have beaten Simon's quest four or five times. I loved Castlevania 3. The series then sometimes had some great releases and some pretty poor ones along the way over the years. In a way, Lords of Shadow feels like that - plenty of really good high points and some really low and lousy points.

Some people said that they did not think this game had anything to do with the Castlevania series other than its name. I can understand that, but I don't know that I agree with the statement. This actually felt to me like a pretty natural evolution in the series, but it was definitely not without flaws.



Graphics - 9:

There are times the score feels a bit lower. There are framerate issues that pop up pretty regularly and many of the cut scenes look a bit roughly animated. Maria never looks as good as Gabriel for example. That said, there is a lot going on in this game too. The environments are varied, ranging from villages to forests to swamps to castles, mountains, deserts and more. In addition to just the variety found here, there is a ton of animation going on, whether there are hints of fog in the distance, cool lighting effects, well-animated characters - and there can be a lot of them on screen at once. Also, this game does an excellent job visually with some of its 'wow' moments. A particular favorite of mine was about 2/3 of the way through the game when you are traversing a giant chain and there is an amazing backdrop involving a huge castle. Still, it can't be a ten given some of the stiffer animations and framerate issues that pop up more often than I cared for.



Sound & Music - 8:

The sound effects are good, if somewhat lacking in variety. You use the same basic weapon for 90% of the game, and there's only so much you can do with that from an audio standpoint. The music was mostly excellent I thought, fitting the scenes and visually impressive backdrops. There are some very good voice actors in this game as well - and they do a good job of delivering their lines the majority of the time.



Gameplay - 7:

This game's combat does a better job of mimicking the God of War formula than most. The whip has weight, and it is easy to get around the menu. There are several elements baked into this game, much like God of War - which is the obvious inspiration for this blend of combat and puzzle-solving. The puzzles however, never feel as organic as the majority of the God of War ones. Also, there is a large reliance on quicktime events. I realize that a lot of people enjoy these - but I'd prefer not to have them there. I feel like it takes away from my ability to take in and enjoy the actual action while not really adding a lot to the game itself.

The camera angles drove me nuts at times. As good as the visuals are, the fixed camera drives me nuts in places. It can be hard to see where you are going, and they use these fixed angles to hide items and it feels a bit cheap - especially when it leads to death.

The platforming elements are not too bad. They actually verge on easy most of the time, reminding me somewhat of Prince of Persia in that you are not really punished for trying crazy jumps and grapples. To be honest, I liked that personally. I know some people felt that the platforming was too easy, but I don't really like super-difficult platforming, so it suited me just fine.



Intangibles - 8:

The game is long. It actually feels a bit too padded at times, and the above fixed camera gave me my share of fits. Some of the puzzles were underwhelming. So why an 8? Because the game is large - 2 discs, 12 chapters and probably twice the playtime of a lot of similar games. The combination of puzzles, combat, platforming, character progression and hidden items give you a good deal of variety.

You can go back to beaten stages in an effort to beat the 'trial' of each page, and to try and pick up anything you might have missed. You also gain experience you can put toward unlocking various skills. There is also unlockable artwork, and like many games some of the sketches are pretty 'meh', but some of what is there is quite excellent. My oldest daughter doesn't game much, but she really enjoyed looking at the artwork with me.



Overall - 8:

There is a lot of action here, and that is a good thing. Some of the boss fights are better than others, but the three 'titan' ones are impressively huge. It feels like a summer blockbuster movie - lots of great visuals and audio make it a fun journey and the ending was something I did not expect at all - and definitely got me excited about some of the downloadable content and the sequel that was announced. The camera angles and some of the puzzles might be enough to turn you off to the game, but I was able to get past those and lose a good chunk of time in this overall excellent game.


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