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An uninspired entry in the Castlevania series

Supernatural creatures locked in epic battle in the most boring place on the planet — welcome to Castlevania! Who knew the Carpathian Mountains were the locus of such unrelenting monotony? You’d think that a 15th-century castle would offer some interesting sights, but this one turns out to be mile after mile of gray stone hallway punctuated by the occasional courtyard. Where does Dracula sleep? Does he have a fridge in which to store fresh victims? Does he ever go to the bathroom? Castlevania does not answer these critical questions. It does, however, offer acceptable hack-and-slash gameplay spiced with just enough role-playing elements to keep things interesting.

In Curse of Darkness, you play as Hector, a "devil forgemaster" who looks and acts like a gloomy 16-year-old who’s just discovered the goth scene. He wants revenge on another devil forgemaster who remained loyal to Dracula during the war against the Belmonts — well, never mind. Hamhanded storytelling is a Castlevania hallmark; the needlessly complicated story line advances via cutscenes with dialogue and vocal performances that would be right at home in a high-school Shakespeare production.

A devil forgemaster, when not seeking bloody revenge, makes his living creating "Innocent Devils" out of "devil shards." This means that throughout the game you’ll acquire helpful buddies who will heal you, fight alongside you, and more. This is a series staple; Curse ups the ante by allowing your IDs not only to level up but to attain whole new forms.

Devils aren’t all Hector can forge — as he accumulates different metals, he’s able to create more powerful accessories. No whip, I’m sorry to say, but he has his pick of swords, axes, and spears. Resources can be scarce, and there’s a premium on choosing the right combinations from what’s available because what you’ll mostly be doing is bashing your way through hordes of undead foes. The camera is fairly cooperative, and collision detection is generous. Still, despite an alleged combo system, every brawl can be powered through by mashing the buttons. And when you do start a combo, it won’t stop until the animation is finished. Sometimes that takes precious seconds, an eternity when you’re facing a screen full of ghouls. You’ll see Hector dancing off into some barren corner, flailing a sword the size of an NBA player, while reptile men are still hopping around unmurdered.

As you progress, the levels get bigger but not more interesting. Whether you’re in a castle, the streets of a town, or a forest, you’re heading down straight, narrow paths from which there’s no escape. There’s no practical difference between any of the maps. You won’t climb trees in the forests, dangle off cliffs in the mountains, or swim underwater in the aqueducts — if you even try, you’ll slam into an invisible wall. This is also the sort of game where you’ll realize you missed something at the other end of the level and have to spend 10 minutes backtracking. That wouldn’t be a problem if there were anything to look at. The graphics are pretty enough, but it’s hard to tell since the camera is pointed permanently at the ground.

"Mediocre" is the perfect word for this competent, workmanlike game, which is completely playable from beginning to end. Sometimes it’s even fun.

Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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