Castlevania (Lament of Innocence) is the latest instalment of Konami’s series. I have somewhat controversially put the subtitle in brackets, as even though this is part of a larger franchise, Lament of Innocence is not actually written on the box, so until you probe further, you don’t know that the word ‘lament’ is in the title. Castlevania, as the name sort of suggests, is set in Dracula’s realm, but this is more fantasy adventure than horror in genre - much to my relief, as Konami has churned out some terrible horror games in the past few years.
You play Leon Belmont, as seriously hard vampire hunter come adventurer and general good guy. The gothic seems to get a bit carried away - it is Dracula after all - but there is also that Konami feel, that you are playing something aimed towards the Japanese market. This is not essentially a bad thing, but be prepared for that tedious opening that gets you up to speed with the plot. It also gets a bit carried away with the music - overall the sound is good, but the orchestral music and voiceovers can get a little overwhelming.
Gameplay itself is a little better - control is fairly simple, but there are a range of skills that need to be mastered. A disappointment at the very start of the game was to walk up a path and then have no indication of what one is supposed to do. Whether this was some clever trick to make you think from the start, or just some very scrappy game design, I don’t know, but it caused a poor first impression. Things thankfully got better than that.
You make your way through the game slaying the undead and colleting the ubiquitous charms. Your main weapon is a whip, and rather like Indiana Jones, you can use it for more than just tickling a bit of ass: it can also be used to swing across gaps and climb onto balconies and such like. The first level is something of a tutorial directing you through the actions. As Castlevania touches on the adventure/roleplay side of things, figuring out what you have to do forms quite a large part of the experience - as a consequence you seem to spend a lot of time walking through the same areas trying to figure stuff out.
On the tropic of weapons, the whip, already mentioned, is the primary weapon, but you can collect others as you go along; the throwing knives are greatly satisfying, slinging out death think and fast. The charms that you collect allow you to do various exciting things. In many games you can ignore a lot of that and just use muscle, but in Castlevania you will struggle to beat some enemies if you don’t use a little hocus-pocus against them.
On the whole the game plays fairly well, but it feels like something you need to sit down and get into - not a quick fix, but the long haul. The gameplay and gaming environment is perfectly respectable, but I feel the major shortcoming is that this is something you really need to get into. As this is part of a series, I’m sure that there will be an existing fanbase who would disagree with me, and love the involved nature of the game, but for me, there are many other games that are much more satisfying.