The home video game industry was built on the backs of side-scrolling platformers.
The selling power of Super Mario, Sonic The Hedgehog, and Mega Man allowed video game companies like Nintendo and Sega to muster their forces together and engage in full-scale takeover of a burgeoning home gaming market.
Fast forward to 2012, where the future of gaming is held within the unshakable grip of first person shooters, motion controls, and angry birds; A digital world dominated by downloadable content and Modern Warfare. But for a whole legion of gamers who wish to bridge the gap between retro aesthetics and cutting edge technology, it is the tablets that have come swooping in to save the day.
With more and more developers getting on board with smart phone and tablet games, it seems that we are bearing witness to the dawn of the next gaming revolution.
Ladies and Germs, welcome to the first installment in a brand new series of reviews, dedicated to the best and –worst– of the “smart” gaming world: the “Android Gamer Review” of Castle of Shadows.
You should probably know that I absolutely love Castlevania. Every single one of them. I even played through Castlevania 64 with both characters. And that is precisely why I picked Castle of Shadows to be the first game covered in this new series of reviews.
Right from the get-go you cannot help but notice the similarities between Castle of Shadows and Castlevania, particularly the Nintendo DS incarnations of the series. Even the name “Castle of Shadows,” seems amusingly familiar. Character design, artwork, and subject matter are all very ‘Vania-esque, but Castle of Shadows is definitely looking to make its own mark on the scene with fast-paced, ultra flashy style, and a really enjoyable weapon upgrading system. Of course, Castle of Shadows has a great many flaws as well, but we will get back to those a little later in the review.
Developed by China Wireless Arts and published by PlayPhone Inc, Castle of Shadows was released in December of 2011, as a free-to-play app for all Android-based systems running version 1.5 or greater.
Being free-to-play, you can expect to find the all usual marketing techniques in place, with options to purchase in-game items using real world money.
Game-play is surprisingly well-balanced and smooth for an Android game, with sharper controls than many other platforming games in this category., especially where combat is concerned. Every screen of the game seems to be swarming with enemies, and all of them head straight for you as soon as you enter the level (which, honestly, can be pretty infuriating at times). Slowdown will sometimes occur on lower-end phones and older models of tablets when you get too many enemies on screen at once, but for the most part the game plays like a touchscreen dream.
Castle’s music is pretty decent, if a little repetitive, and does a nice job of rounding out the game in true ‘Vania style. You won’t find anything on par with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as far as the soundtrack goes, but overall, not too shabby.
Now, before I tell you all about the little problems I had with this game, let’s talk about the many radical weapons and magic of CoS. During the course of the game you will collect new and more powerful weapons, each with their own bonuses and unique damage types. These new swords can be obtained by either defeating a boss, or purchasing them from the item shop in Distorted Space (a mirror dimension where your character can save, shop and improve his weapons).
Once acquired, weapons can be upgraded through the use of the game’s Enchant feature, with enchantments ranging in effect from experience boosters to damage amplifiers. Interestingly, when all three enchantment slots have filled on your weapon, you unlock a fourth, secret ability.
Magic is also particular to each weapon, as certain swords come complete with 2 different magical attacks which can also be boosted via enchantment. All the various spells are well-animated and have excellent hit detection, with the Ice Cross definitely being my personal favorite.
Now it’s time to go over some of the less appealing aspects of the game, which one might expect from a free-to-play Chinese import.
First off, the story makes absolutely no sense. None whatsoever. In fact, I had played through 5 whole chapters before I finally muttered gruffly to myself , “I really have no idea as to why I’m doing this whole quest thing. This sucks.” Even when the story does start to come together, you get hit with another cut-scene and it quickly flies apart again. Something to do with a Vampire Queen, a girlfriend, and a sword-wielding hero named Montano Cypress. Granted, many of the issues with CoS’s plot could have been cleared up if a little more time had been put into translating the dialogue. Or really any time at all.
I know, that’s a bit harsh considering the free nature of the game, but Spider Solitaire has better dialogue translation than Castle of Shadows, and I’m not afraid to say it.
Another issue I have with CoS is the repetitive level design that can unfortunately be found through much of the game. I swear, 3 different chapters took place in the exact same town, or one that was similar enough to make me think I had already played the level, and must have restarted by accident.
Enemies are also pretty repetitive but this doesn’t really effect the game to badly, as enemies level up with you character, and new foes are introduced fairly regularly.
All in all, Castle of Shadows isn’t perfect, but it certainly makes for one heck of a platformer. Fast, fluid combat and the cool factor of your collectible swords keeps the action firing on all cylinders, which mostly makes up for the non-existent plot. So, until Konami finally get off their collective duffs and release Castlevania Chronicles on the Kindle Fire, fire up this beast and get your demon-hunting fill!
Stay Tuned for more awesome Android Gamer Reviews featuring the hardest rockin’ tablet games in the Universe!