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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Clocking in at a bit under 100 MB, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is taking advantage of the recent size increase in Microsoftís Live Arcade policy. Released back in 1997, this title rose to the top of the sales charts for the Sony Playstation and received well-deserved critical acclaim. For those unfamiliar with the story, this chapter in the Castlevania series follows the son of Dracula, Alucard, and his quest to destroy Castle Dracula. Along the way, he has help from his sister-in-law Maria Renard against the dark magic and eventually the Count himself.

The outer shell menu of the gameís presentation is fairly barebones. The menu provides a place to compare your stats against friends on an Xbox Live leaderboard, check out the achievements you have finished, and pop into the options section for help. There are also a couple pages of gameplay help and a 2-page controller layout to learn the buttons.

The game is essentially a 2D platformer. Alucard has the ability to jump, crouch, shield, throw, and swing his sword around. The levels scroll with the character rather than the opposite. This allows Alucard free exploration of the castle and the secrets it holds. The castle is broken into various sections, each with a specific name. Roving through the Library, climbing the Royal Chapel, or diving into the depths of the Underground caverns all require rapid combinations of Alucardís movement abilities to navigate safely.

This title incorporates a high level of RPG elements into the mixture. As the player starts to eliminate enemies, they will accumulate experience. Experience points allow the player to level up and receive stat bonuses along the way. The player also has the ability to collect items such as weapons, armor, jewels, and magical items. These items can be assigned to the player via the equipment menu for a major increase in power. Alucard will come across these items when searching the castle or fighting off powerful foes.

I was surprised to see the varied amount of enemies within this arcade title. Each section of the castle has enemy types specific to the area and can range from a few to several. Everything from bats, skeletons, zombies, ghouls, flying Medusa eyes, flying books, angry plant life, knights, fire breathing skulls, frogs, centaurs, and archers are roaming around the castle. Also, the different types of bosses are impressive as well. Bosses typically require a bit of strategy and luck to eliminate, but occasionally brute force is simply the answer.

Weapons include handheld items such as daggers / swords / spears and magical ranged items such as holy water, floating bibles, & throwing axes. Higher quality weapons can be found as you progress through the game along with the various magical tools. There is even a magical ability to stop time, which allows Alucard to annihilate opponents while they stand unable to defend. Handheld weapons can be assigned to each hand, but itís usually a better idea to use a shield for defense. Shields and armor are hidden within the castle as well. Once you get to the library, you can purchase new equipment from the librarian. Additionally, the librarian will purchase any gems you find around the castle, although you shouldnít have a problem finding money.

Navigating the castle is a breeze with the accessible mini-map via the left trigger. The map pops up, pauses the game, and offers all the possible routes from your location. It also shows the save points in red and the mirror points in a separate color. Mirror points allow Alucard to warp to a separate section of the castle. It comes in quite handy, as the amount of rooms in the castle is vast in number.

The achievements are all assigned to single player tasks, as there is no multiplayer mode built into the game. The majority of the gamerscore points are weighted toward competition of the game, specifically those concerning collection tasks. Searching through every room in the castle or saving up 100K is a tough task for anyone. Knocking out the entire set of 12 achievements will take a considerable amount of time. Thankfully, Konami didnít make it frustrating to complete and rack up those 200 gamerscore points.

The developers updated the visuals for this title with a bit of a smooth touch. While you have the option of defaulting back to the old-school graphics, the new visuals are much easier on the eyes due to the smoother pixels. Additionally, an option to stretch the screen vertically and horizontally is available to fit your display. Unfortunately, it still doesnít look as polished as any of the latest arcade releases. Character models, special effects, and the environmental textures definitely show the gameís age. Also, itís tough to read some of the text in the loading area as well as the heart counter at the top of the screen. While itís one of the better conversions from old to new, itís just not to the level of recent arcade goodies.

Itís impressive to see how much recorded music and voice clips made it into this arcade title. The musical score certainly captures the mood and doesnít seem to show its age at all. Sadly, the voice clips donít hold up as well. The dialogue is still utterly ridiculous and the voices sound like they were recorded by a couple of kids in their parentís basement. The sound effects are faithful to the original and seem appropriate to the material. All in all, the auditory effects are fairly solid due to the fantastic score and that the voices are really kept to a minimum.

Is Castlevania: SOTN worth those precious 800 Marketplace points? Regardless of the gameís faults in the audio and visual department, Iíd have to say yes. The sheer amount of content within this arcade title is mind boggling. The single player campaign will take many, many hours to complete as well as knocking out the tougher achievements. For those too young to have played this title back in 1997, itís definitely a game that shouldnít be missed. For those looking to rekindle the nostalgic feeling of tearing through Castle Dracula, you would be wise to snatch it up.