XBLA Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
21 Mar 2007 7:13am
A platforming masterpiece is resurrected on Xbox Live Arcade
While Xbox Live Arcade has allowed many of us to relive our gaming youth, some gaming classics haven’t stood the test of time well; even Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 has had its crown tarnished by the removal of the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. So it’s with an undeniable degree of satisfaction that Castlevania has proved to be an exception to the rule; it was, and still is, a gaming masterpiece. The term ‘Must Buy’ was created for games like this.
A freeroaming castle environment replaces the straightforward left-to-right level design of the past Castlevania titles. Exploration is left entirely to the player’s discretion, with the developer’s judicious use of plot strands suggesting, not enforcing, a solution if you ever get lost or reach a dead end in the labyrinth of corridors and rooms, each brimming with monsters, items and secrets.
The level of animation on the different characters still elicits wide-eyed amazement today. Cut a zombie swordsman in half and his legs remain standing, spurting blood from shredded arteries. Even the billowing cloak of central protagonist Alucard will leave you entranced. Alucard is another shake-up to series tradition; usually the central role is taken by a member of the Belmont family, who have sworn to defeat Dracula when he resurrects every 100 years. Not only is Alucard not a member of the Belmont clan, he’s actually Dracula’s son, and a neutral in the eternal struggle between good and evil, who finds himself drawn into the conflict.
Konami has also engineered pseudo-RPG elements to Alucard’s quest; by defeating enemies, Alucard earns experience and levels up. As new areas are uncovered, you’ll find new weapons, equipment and abilities, allowing you to customise your combat style and defence capabilities. As your attributes grow, so too does your confidence; whereas at the game’s start you approach werewolves and zombies cautiously, zealously guarding your health, soon you’ll be attacking screen-high bosses with fervour and leaping down mine shafts into enemy-ridden rooms, confident in your mastery over the pixel-perfect fighting system.
Save points dotted around the castle mean you’re in no danger of losing any of your 20+ hours of gameplay time. It really is that big and, just when you think you’ve completed the game, Konami throws you the mother of all plot twists and the game doubles in size.
Symphony of the Night set the standard for every Castlevania game to come. All have adopted its freeroaming environments and upgradeable character stats as the norm, but none have ever quite matched the majesty of this first time – in animation, in music, in style… in everything. You can check out the history of the series in Retrospective, OXM Issue 20, on sale 12th April. It’s still one of the greatest games ever; buy it now and give yourself a history lesson that you’ll never forget.
Pros: Incredible value for money | 2D platforming at its finest | Memorable soundtrack | Enhanced graphics option actually useful
Cons: Missing extra areas/characters from Sega Saturn version
Verdict: Probably the best spend of your Microsoft Points this year - 9/10