Friday, October 26, 2012

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Castlevania Symphony of the Night"

XBLA "Box Art"

Castlevania is one of the oldest series of games that’s still being made today, with the latest game Lords of Shadow having come out a few years ago and a sequel to it – the ingeniously named Lords of Shadow 2 – coming out next year.  The original Castlevania was, to put it simply, hard.  But then a lot of Nintendo games were back in the day to extend their lastability, whether we liked it or not.  Now, I personally wasn’t born early enough to play the original Castlevania when it had first come out in the late Eighties, but I have played the original and Simon’s Quest on ROMs.

And before I go too much further into the review, I’m not a horrendous fan of either of them.  Don’t get me wrong, I like them both in their own ways (the original more than Quest), but I’m barely past twenty and I’d like to keep all my hair in my head to a ripe old age. And so I naturally jumped for this game when it came out on the Xbox Live Arcade, and with Halloween right around the corner, I figured it might just be time to take a trip into Dracula’s castle one more time.

The story picks up with Richter “Die Monster! You Don’t Belong In This World” Belmont, a descendent of Simon and Trevor Belmont, learning of Dracula being resurrected once more by the evil priest Shaft (you’re damn right).  For the prologue level of the game you control Richter with the traditional Castlevania whip and trusty secondary weapons at your side and you battle Dracula and defeat him.  Really, a rather short game, though kind of enjoyable and even in its short time…

…and then awesome ensued.

I was introduced to Alucard, the son of Dracula himself, who decided to come to his father’s castle and put an end to Dracula’s reign of terror once and for all (until the next game).  Instead of a whip, Alucard wields a kickass sword and just tears his way through his old man’s front door and starts taking apart the legions of the damned like a hurricane of complete and utter badass…only to run into Death who takes all his equipment and scatters it to the four winds.  Alucard’s awesome is not at all diminished though as, awesome equipment or not, he remains focused upon his task to take down whatever the malignant force that has taken over the Castle.

One criticism I will give for this game is that the combat can get very repetitive very quickly.  Unlike the old games where non-boss enemies would take a few hits before they died, Symphony runs on a damage system.  This doesn’t become too much of a problem until later, where enemies will take less damage and subsequently more and more hits in order to bring them down.  When I have an Infinity Sword +1, things should not take upwards of nine to ten hits to kill.

And, in a contrast to the Belmont family’s style of combat – e.g. the whip – Alucard has a limited range with his sword, and so it requires you to get in close to hit anything. This, largely due to the aforementioned enemy placement and movement, can be quite the hair-puller in some situations.  Mind you, this isn’t bad per se…most of the time, at least. You can’t just brute force your way through the game, and you really have to think about how you’re going to approach your enemies and take them out in some places.

Another thing I will say is that the music is the stuff of awesome, every single track was memorable from the moment I first set foot into Dracula’s Castle.  It really made the atmosphere at times when the creepiness needed to be turned up and when it wasn’t needed, it was all still very memorable and made the experience all the more awesome for it.  Even the ambient music roaming around Dracula’s Castle was nice and memorable almost everywhere.

Top tip for playing this game: get a walkthrough and stick to it.  I had the fortune of having the internet and thus such a walkthrough was available to me, but I really want to give credit where it’s due to people who played this back when it first came out and the internet was a not so widely available thing, so walkthroughs weren’t exactly just floating around.  Some things are self-explanatory, but certain things in the game (such as the various power ups you get throughout the game) give you no indication of how or where to put them to use.  So it takes a bit of running around and experimenting with, something that you don’t see very often in modern games.

So, does this game get a recommendation? You bet.  True, the combat can get very tedious at times and the roaming around to find everything you need and how to use it can be the cause of many a hair-puller, but in the end, it is a very fun game that’s not dragged down by those shortcomings.  So, have fun storming the castle!

Happy Halloween!

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is now available for download from the Xbox Live Arcade.

This review is based on...well, the Xbox version. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dishonored" 
Dishonored lets you slip into the skin of Corvo Attano, the bodyguard on the Empress of Dunwall, who is framed for the Empress’s murder and then jailed, only to be released by a group of loyalists to the Empress who want Corvo to become the best assassin like no one ever was and kill their enemies in attempt to save the Empress’s daughter, Emily, and put her on the throne.  Done by Arkhane Studios and published by Bethesda, I can say I was honestly thoroughly impressed with this game.

It’s entirely done from first-person, which makes it a big of a challenge having to keep awareness of your surroundings. I’m used to having third-person and being able to do that without having to do more than a click of the control stick and a rotation.  But here, I simply resolve myself to find an appropriate hiding spot and surveying the area from there.  To the left hand the player can have the handy use of a gun or a crossbow or a magic spell, and to the right hand is Corvo’s trusty sword.  The interface reminds me quite a bit of Bioshock, so much so that one could easily be forgiven for thinking this was some sort of Neo-Victorian prequel to that game.  You pick up items much as you do in Bioshock and your magical abilities could easily just be called “plasmids” and it would make little difference.

 However, the game also puts me in mind of the Fable series, and the storyline is to blame for that.  Corvo has his mission set out before him, to kill the current heads of the government and put the daughter of the Empress on the throne, simple enough. However, Corvo soon finds that he has a mystical ally (sort of) in the form of “the Outsider”.  It’s never explained what he is, but he is mentioned several times by the people of Dunwall as well as showing up every so often.  He seems to be an almost neutral being, observing Corvo and his effect on the world for his own reasons.

Who is he? What’s his interest in all of this? These questions, spoiler alert, are never answered, but then they aren’t really given that much importance, either.  In fact, only one other character seems to have actually coming into contact with him outside of Corvo and it wasn’t a direct encounter.  Why this puts me in mind of Fable is a parallel I’m drawing between the Outsider and Theresa, the blind seer of Fable II and III. 

 Both are enigmatic insanely powerful, but seem to prefer to sit in the shadows and guide rather than directly act in the world with their godlike abilities, working through agents such as Corvo or the Heroes of the Fable series, that they give powers or knowledge to, such as when Corvo is branded with the mark of the Outsider and given magic powers to unlock through the use of runes found throughout the world.

The Outsider also appears to question Corvo’s choices at points as the narrative progresses, more so toward the end than in the beginning.  But I wonder why, really.  The only thing that really comes of it is the endings, of which there are only really two.  Depending on Corvo’s actions (read: how many bodies you’ve piled up), you either have a city consumed by chaos or a golden age. The aforementioned “chaos” comes from a running subplot about a plague carried by the rats that creates Weepers, basically zombies, and there’s really nothing you can do about perhaps finding a cure or something to that degree.  But then, that’s not what you’re here to do, either.

 But then, maybe I’m just not getting “the message”. Regardless, this game is fun and I would definitely give it a recommendation.  Someone more skilled at stealth games might not find it so, but I found it challenge and rather fun.  It’s been getting a lot of positive buzz and it is all definitely right.  It was just the right mix of storyline and gameplay that kept me interested and wanting to play, and I can’t really hate on it too much.  It’s enjoyable, though I expect once you’ve gotten both endings, there’s really not too much to do.  I also don’t really see this game having any sort of sequel, considering how things are wrapped up and the ending cinematic.  But I’ve been wrong before and game developers, if anything, are perfectly willing and able to milk a franchise cow into dust when they’ve got one, so Dishonored maybe very well be followed by at least a sequel, if not more.

Eh…I suppose it’ll give me more to review.

Dishonored is developed by Arkhane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks and is now available on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.