The lights are on
(Attn: Major Spoiler alert at end of review)
Wow, what a great game. Full disclosure, this is basically the first Castlevania game I've ever played. I'd messed around very briefly with one or two a LONG time ago as a young kid, but this is the first one I've actually gotten into. So take that into account while reading this review: This is my first Castlevania experience, and I'm not judging this at all by previous entries in the series; I'm judging it merely as a game on its own merits.
As far as the gameplay itself, I'll keep this brief. You could certainly read other reviews that describe it quite capably basically in the same way that I would. Again, as a Castlevania newb, I was not familiar with the weapons that may have appeared in previous installments. The combat is excellent. Very fun, challenging, but not overwhelming. New combos are unlocked at a steady pace, meaning there are always new things to try. There is an exploration element as well, featuring story scrolls (which add minimum value), life, magic, or weapon upgrades. While its not quite the satisfaction of backtracking in Metroid, Arkham, or Shadow Complex, it is still nice to find every upgrade you can. There are also some puzzles spaced around, which add a welcome, but not too difficult, change of pace.
One of the major highlights of this game are the boss fights. There are some that feel just like a boss fight from, well, pretty much any other very good game, but there are a few that define the word epic. I've played plenty of games in which the boss "intro" is made to make you appear puny and insignificant. This game NAILS that. I started more than one boss fight thinking, "I have absolutely NO shot at this". This may be my number one game ever as far as epic boss fights. I've never felt quite like I was fighting something so much beyond me as I did in this game.
My few minor complaints are these: There are a few frustrating combat moments. Not many, the combat is very well done, but enough that there were 3 or 4 times in which I grew a little frustrated. My other complaint is that there are a few occasions in which its a little difficult to determine where you need to go. They could have made it a tad clearer from time to time.
Bottom line is this: this game is higly overlooked and underrated in my opinion. I know it got decent to good reviews, but I think it should be right up there with the top games of the last few years. I don't ever hear it mentioned in that respect. A few minor quibbles is all that keeps it from the upper tier of games. Here's all you need to know. True stories: While finishing the game, I could totally legitimately scream, "Die, Satan!" at my television and not look like a crazy person. And, later, if asked what I did that afternoon, I could completely honestly answer, "Not much. Did some laundry, defeated Satan, made lunch". Not every game provides that.
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