Category Archives: Nintendo DS

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

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Spirit Tracks is not known for being the best Zelda game around, this little fact made me pretty cautious about how to approach this Zelda game. Some people tend to overestimate Zelda games, they have them in some kind of pedestal of games that should only be released if they will somehow change the way we see games as a whole. Not every Zelda game is meant to be breathtaking.

The first DS game wasn’t anything spectacular and this one is no exception. The puzzles are somewhat interesting all around, growing in difficulty as the game progresses to a point where it becomes quite a challenge. The best aspect of this game are the puzzles, quite ingenious use of the DS capabilities. Everything else is simply derivative. That’s not necessarily a bad thing so to say.

Story-wise every Zelda game is pretty boring, some of them might be slightly above average but the true nature of Zelda is sticking to clichés. In this one you train to become an engineer and drive trains around. Link is caught up in a series of events during his granting ceremony as an engineer in Zelda’s castle, the ceremony held by the princess herself. What needs to go wrong goes wrong and Zelda ends up losing her body.

Somehow this is hailed as a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass. I wouldn’t know, both plots seem pretty bland and forgettable, let alone the complete madness that is Zelda overall plot, nothing really makes sense so we’ll leave it at that. Long story short there are four Spirits of Good that seem to imprison the mighty evil spirit and somehow they don’t work anymore. Zelda’s spirit and Link must travel the land to restore the force of the central Tower of Spirits to bring forth peace and prosperity once more.

The symbiosis between Zelda and Link if fenomenal. As a delicate princess wearing a dress she wouldn’t be of much help, but in spirit form she can embody certain baddies and carry out their abilities. Unfortunately she’s still afraid of rats so that pretty much covers her weakness. The princess is not a constant partner in action but when she comes in she allows for pretty nifty puzzles.

The worst aspect of this game has got to be the musical instrument. Much like Ocarina was the instrument for the Nintendo 64’s releases, this one present the Spirit Flute — which might be the single most detesting piece of video-game gameplay items ever. Choose the flute and start blowing into the DS’s mic to play it, control the notes via the touch screen. Doing both at the same time is clumsy, completely ineffective.

Playing most songs is easy enough, and it hardly demands you to, but every time you complete a temple you must synchronize one specific song with the representative of the Spirit Tower. Some of these songs are so unwieldy that you’re better off just tapping the touch screen and blowing air like crazy. It’s that bad.

Driving around in a train is even more boring than Phantom Hourglass’s boat. Wind Waker was awesome because it gave you freedom and the overworld was interesting enough. Phantom Hourglass just felt contrived, limited. The train mechanics are easy and won’t get in the way, just the long distances traveled and slow-ish speed might get in the way… of fun.

Everything about the overworld is cut down to the bare minimum. The towns are small, nothing much diverse to do except the usual inter-temple affairs. When a new quest is put forth it’s hard to keep track of what was asked and your own progress through them. They should have worked on that, not really an RPG quest book but at least something to remind us of what we’re doing since not always the quests are possible at that moment and when you advance you completely forget about them.

As I’ve said this game is meant to be taken as a primitive Zelda experience, at least that’s how I see it. The temples offer significant challenge to keep the player busy during the 20-30 hour campaign. There’s nothing excessive brilliant about it but except for the amazingly bad idea for a musical instrument, there’s nothing really bad about it. Sure it’s not the best Zelda game around, but it’s a fun ride if you don’t expect it to blow your mind.

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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

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There’s certainly something unique about the cel-shaded Zelda style. I was one of those few who didn’t have an instant heart-attack when Wind Waker was first announced, and now I see why. Of course having the so-called mature Zelda — having absolutely nothing mature about it — is cool and we all want them to keep coming, but the cartoon style can’t be forgotten. From what I see it seems pretty reasonable that consoles get the “normal” Zelda while handhelds are graced with joyful titles like this one.

This is a changing point in Zelda’s handheld games, mostly anything before it had the retro vibe due to insufficient hardware power, those games were amazing in bringing some of that magic the 8 and 16 bits eras had. Now everything looks 3D, even though the controls feel like a mix of 2d with some occasional situations where you go deeper while controlling link or the boat. I wouldn’t like a complete depart from the old-school Zelda, but if it is futile to fight against it, cel-shade is definitely the way to go.

The biggest change here occurs on how Link is controlled. No more d-pad for movement, the touch screen takes the role by touching the direction you want Link to go, the farther from the character you touch, the faster he’ll go. At first it feels pretty awkward, in time it manages to feel natural, or at least less intrusive. I still wish, some how, Link could be controlled using the d-pad.

If moving the character doesn’t feel right right away, the touch screen surely adds much to the gameplay. Things like using the boomerang or throwing arrows are much better by touching the direction you want. For the boomerang for example, you can even go circling the path you want it to move, allowing for various different types of puzzles.

You can only equip one item at a time, you can set it for use by pressing on the touch screen or holding the shoulder button. Managing through items is easy since a items bar is located in the lower part of the screen. With some practice changing and using the items quickly become easier and easier.

When it comes to use your sword the controls turn out to be easier, but not exactly the best feature ever. To use your sword you simply tap the touch screen — opposed to holding the touch, making Link move to that direction. To perform the spin attack you just need to make a circle around Link. Pretty functional and don’t get in the way of moving the character, like it would seem at first. But if you encounter some enemy, chances are you’ll simply tap the monster, since touching the monster through touch screen makes Link go after him right away, hardly ever missing.

Maybe fighting feels functional, but sometimes it just seems too easy, especially with the tapping and automatically attacking, even if you’re facing the opposite direction. Overall the game is easy, I can think of one or two that offer real challenge (one of them actually stands as vile, as far as difficulty goes). The dungeons, although fun, won’t offer much to stop your quest.

The story is average Zelda, while navigating through the seas a ghost ship appears, the ship kidnaps Link’s friend Tetra and Link decides to go after her. On the way he meets a mysterious old man and a fairy. After the old man teaches you how the handle a sword, you and the fairy look out for someone with a boat, after finding the three of you embark on the journey. Although only you and the fairy actually go off boat and explore.

Maneuvering the boat is actually pretty different from what you might expect. You don’t actually “control it”, you simply use your stylus and the touch screen to create a path in which the boat will navigate. As you automatically navigate through the path, enemies might emerge, like deadly birds or sharks, it’s up to you and your cannon to defend the boat and yourselves. A feature from Wind Waker returns, the treasure hunting, this time much more fun, having to control the crane as it dives all the way down to the bottom of the ocean and back.

An0other interesting feature are the boat parts, you start with a common boat but acquire new parts as your adventure goes on, by exchanging these parts you can create many different combinations. Parts of the same set give you a bonus on the boats stamina. Though many will simply use this feature for its cosmetic value, even though the combinations doesn’t give you the best result on the boat’s health points.

Something innovative is one of the dungeons, the biggest one of all, probably of the entire Zelda franchise, where you don’t complete it right away, instead you keep returning to it, as you gather new items. Also, the dungeon is cursed, so you lose hearts by simply being there. Togo around this Link finds the Phantom Hourglass which give immunity to the curse and allows him to venture through. The hourglass has limited time though, so to reach the lowest chambers of the place you’ll have to upgrade the hourglass to make it last longer.

Many people complain about this dungeon, it’s certainly strange to keep returning and having to redo what you have already just to reach your last checkpoint with that new items that will allow you to go further. On the other hand, it’s something that adds a completely dynamic to the game, something that the Zelda franchise is, by now, known for. The repetitiveness is just a price to be paid, and not a steep one.

One aspect I though was a downside was the antagonist. You never really see him, he actually don’t even exist since it’s a ship. So the absent antagonist actually makes is a little unfocused at times, not really sure who you’re fighting against. Some villains are absent, some creating a sense of being untouchable and all, but in Zelda Phantom Hourglass not even that feeling is present, because you don’t even feel his evilness inflicting any damage whatsoever on anything. With the obvious exception of the kidnap of your friend, which also happens out of nowhere, so it all feels strange when it comes to this aspect.

If you’re looking for a true Zelda experience you’re bound to find here. Most Zelda keys features are present, even the innovation that comes on the form of the giant dungeon and the controls. Something fresh when the DS still hadn’t come up with nothing major yet. This game, while not being the best Zelda ever, most likely not even the best handheld Zelda, is still solid and deserves to be taken into account.

Pokémon White

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Pokemon has reached its 5th generation of games. As a staunch fan of the series, I’ve accompanied it since its birth, and there’s no new release which I don’t go mad about the new games. When black/white were announced I couldn’t help but feel it was a little bit too early, the DS’s successor was just a matter of time and certainly the pictures showed a much more advanced game graphically. I thought these games would get postponed but they ended on the DS anyway, so let’s get down to business.

I believe most fans of Pokemon know the formula by now. There has been some major improvements over the course of its life, some were groundbreaking and completely changed the way we played, like second generation’s day-care center, for Pokemon procreation. Double battles, abilities, and natures can also be called major, but to a degree. As I see they did not make the game any better or added constructive depth, they simply made the game more complex, and mostly not in a good way.

In this generation we have few major announcements to make, most of what catches the eye instantly are the graphics, with some 3D visuals, rotating environments and eventual cutscenes in important moments of the story. The added triple battles seems ridiculous, it’s like they ran out of ideas and did the most obvious choice of all, one more Pokemon battling at the same time. Some might find some fun doing that kind of battle in meta-game but it’s hard to even think one would dedicate time and effort into crafting an entire team based on triple battles. I can’t see why someone would ever want to battle with more than one though.

As always, a whole lot of Pokemon debut this generation, as well as many fresh moves. There are a whopping number of 156 new Pokemon in White/Black, never before have we seen so many new Pokemon in one new generation, even if the first one is counted which brought us the beloved first lot of 151 pocket monsters. Those were the days. The new Pokemon do feel fresh and inventive, some have pretty interesting aesthetics, I don’t believe this comes nowhere near close Pokemon’s most tempestuous days for new entries (AKA third generation). The new monsters are a welcome addition to the series.

A wide selection of new moves can be found as well. Especially fighting type moves, following the strange trend of this generation to add fighting Pokemon and moves. There are so many new ones. If you think about it it’s not that strange, previous generations were pretty scarce when it came to fighting type, some day it had to change. It’s nice that we get to see new entries outside the common water/fire, or any of those types saturated with Pokemon already.

When they create something, they stick to it. Gym leaders are no exception. As always, you fight 8 of them, if somehow you manage to get a gym badge out of them all your participation on the Elite Four is granted. The overworld map design is pretty straight forward, you almost feel forced to ask yourself whether they got lazy or simply left to get creative on the go. The visuals do feel they could become memorable, at least most of them. Most of the fun one could have in previous games was rediscovering new areas where they had already passed. Using surf on that obscure lake on route who knows where, venturing through the grass or a cave only to find a Rare Candy have always been priceless.

Another new introductions is seasons, yes seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn. They do not function like real life though, they have a month cycle, every month the season changes, and with it many distinct aspects change as well. Like Pokemon appearing in certain seasons or at least changing location. The Elite Four has seen a breeze of freshness as well. Now, for the first time in the series, you don’t have to necessarily follow the order of battles. When you enter the Elite Four you can choose whatever path you want to go first. Of course it doesn’t matter which order you choose, you still have to battle them all to face the champion.

The story tries to take things to a whole new level this time. Pokemon have always had pretty safe stories, that got the action going and the good old formula would kick in for the real Pokemon experience. This time they managed to make things a little more complicated. It revolved around a guy who had the dream of freeing every Pokemon from its owner. His moral inclinations are fairly logical: people make Pokemon suffer with all the battling and stuff. I don’t think that’s far from the truth, after all, if the humans in the Pokemon world like battling so much, then go fight themselves, right? There’s no denying that fainting a Pokemon and passing by a Pokemon Center several times a day shouldn’t be called “love”.

So, this guy called N (yes, they gave him the name “N”) thinks that way, but even though we could philosophically discuss whether he’s right or completely right, we wouldn’t have a game to play. So we’re left with the arguments of the people around Unova that Pokemon and people form a friendship, a bond that transcends all, even battling, so everything is all right. More like feudal lord and his vassal, but anyway. They will fight their way to take these mad ideas from the mind of that guy N. Also, there’s another guy who shares N’s ambitions, and we’ll see that not everything is what it seems.

The story develops in a more coordinated way than previous games, and the emphasis is much broader. Still, the story fails in moving even the ones who couldn’t care less. Mostly because it’s still depicted in a childish manner, I know Pokemon is not the most adult-focused game around, but by now, with all the added depth for the meta-game, you’d think we had gotten over that. They go far with desperate measures to make the story stand out, giving the two main legendaries big part in it, which ultimately fails.

Taking advantage of the Nintendo DS’s several features and online capabilities, we’re introduced to many hot stuff, some back from previous titles in more, well, complicated ways; some new and still complicated. For starters, everything you do happens on the upper screen of the Nintendo DS, the lower screen is reserved for the social interactions you might want to have with other poke-trainers around. There are numerous types of stuff you can do.

Every time you start the game a text comes up and asks if you want to turn the C-Gear on. While it’s on, several wireless/online/infrared features get enabled. Among these features there’s the Entralink, whenever you use it you are teleported to the center of Unova to the place called Entralink. It’s a large place with some NPCs and allows interactions with other players, by letting you vising other player’s worlds, as well as other players come to yours, and such.

The Xtranceiver is a voice and video communication system, used to mainly connect with friends nearby, although it can be used online. The player can communicate to up to 3 more people. For video signal is required either a DSi, a DSi XL or a 3DS; if a regular DS or a DS Lite is used, only voice is available. For online usage there’s the Game Sync, which allows the player to upload his save file to the Pokemon Global Link website and receive some bonuses from that through the access of the Pokemon Dream World, allowing you to send a Pokemon through the internet and playing with them. giving players the possibilities to obtain new items and Pokemon. You have to have an account on the website.

As for the infrared features players can battle, trade, or play mini-games. There’s also the tag log, a little feature that keeps track of people you might have passed by and had a Nintendo DS with Pokemon white/black and the C-Gear turned on, not the easiest task to tell the truth. There are so many interaction features that it’s easy to get lost, will take a while until you test them all, and who knows, it could be fun with some friends.

Generation after generation Pokemon tries harder to keep things interesting and fresh, even though they refuse to change the core gameplay, they’re positively sure the new elements make up for another great experience. I’m not going to say this is the best Pokemon game ever because it’s not, but it’s also not the worst. Ranking a game in a series with many solid titles, and some masterpieces, is no small task. Pokemon White/Black manages to stay true to the series quality, even though most of what’s actually new and fresh feels uninspired. All in all, a solid experience.

Mario Kart DS

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It’s quite a relief to know that Mario Kart got a proper release after the atrocious Double Dash. Everything in Mario Kart DS follows the formula of success introduced in the SNES days. Even though Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 still stand as the best releases on the series, and that hardly is ever going to change since the formula has been overused and a revolution is unlikely, this might be the best Mario Kart game aside those two. It’s good to know that the two-characters per kart gimmick is out, it added absolutelly nothing gameplay-wise and was downright boring.

The gameplay is similar to Double Dash’s, but this game puts the player more in control of the kart than the GameCube installment. The controls feels more responsive and less loosy. The Mini-turbo system is back and works much like it ever did in the console days, by drifting you first reach a blue smoke, then reach a red smoke which will culminate in a boost. The boost has received an upgrade and now works almost like a mushroom boost. Another opportunity to gain speed comes from the new system of wind resistance, if you’re behind some other kart and manage to stay in a straight line behind it, there won’t be resistance of the wind making the kart gain speed. If done during a certain period of time, a larger boost is unleashed greatly helping to pass the opponent ahead.

One of my main complaints about Double Dash was the lack of imagination when designing courses. Sure, they were full of little details, cannon blasts up mountains and many other ways to jeopardize the driver’s safety while playing or simply to make the course a little more glossy for the eyes of the player. They ultimately added final arrangements to artistic design than the actual track design. Mario Kart DS also has a share of those gimmicks, but the track designs feel improved. Still, no one dares to mess with the first track of the first cup, always having that “8” shape since Mario kart 64. The expected designs are present in the form of a castle for Bowser, the Rainbow Road, circuits for Mario and Peach and so on.

New tracks worth mentioning are the Luigi’s Mansion course, which was designed after the GameCube hit. The Delfino Square as a road circuit through Delfino Island. Waluigi Pinnbal recreates a pinball where the players must descend and reach the finish line. The Tick Tock Clock circuit designed after the iconic Super Mario 64’s fourteenth course. Another surprise are the cups formed only by a selection of retro tracks. There are 4 cups with new tracks and 4 more composed of tracks from old games. All prior Mario Kart games preceding the release of Mario Kart DS got tracks into this new installment, be it from the SNES release or the GBA one. A god set of tracks if you ask me, all properly remade.

A new mode by the name of Missions is available and is a welcome adition to the Mario Kart series. The player basically has many levels with several different missions in each of them, after completing each mission the next one becomes available and after completing each level the next one gets unlocked. There’s a boss battle at the end of each level. The challenges are many, they range from hitting every Goomba in a course in a certain period of time to hitting King Bomb-omb with bombs until he’s defeated. They are rarely based on racing and when they are there’s always a dividing factor involved. Let’s just hope it comes back in future releases because the idea is awesome.

The multiplayer is a no-brainer, no Mario Kart would be the same without it. In Mario Kart DS you can play with friends locally by download play if only one has the cartridge; or by a more complete game system if everyone owns a copy of the game. The online play debuts and doesn’t fail to meet the requirements of a good online game. The community though is pretty hardcore and takes karting to a whole new level. After all, no one said it would be easy, and if you want to excel at karting online playing is a great way to do it, worthy opponents are sure to be found. Up to 8 players are supported in both local and online multiplayer.

Other modes that aren’t new to the series make a come-back. In Balloon Attack the player must hit the opponents to take them out of the game. The usual items are used for such objective. What’s actually new is that you have 5 balloons total and two of them aren’t available right away, as always, the character has 3 balloons over his head but only after one or more of the initial 3 balloon burst they can be replaced by the other balloons. What’s actually funny is that if you want to replace the balloon you must blow the microphone on the Nintendo DS. A nice touch. In Shine Runners players compete to see who holds more shines at the end, by hitting your opponents they lose shines giving the perfect opportunity to raise your own.

I understand Mario Kart. It’s a hardcore racer nor does it strive to be. It’s almost a party racing game where multiplayer shies the most and the satisfaction of star-sprinting your way through cpu/friends-controlled karts can be compared to that of winning a race. It’s a game primarily focused on fun and a more reckless way of seeing racing, as someone can stay in last place for the whole race and get a star only to start climbing your way to the top and win at the last second. I get that, but some points must be made.

A grading system exist in Mario Kart DS where the player is awarded by a crescent score depending on how well they did. It goes from E all the way to 3-stars. It’s fine, Mario Kart: Super Circuit had that. The problem is that the requirements to reach these standards in GP mode–not actually in mission Mode since it’s pretty clear you must simply do it faster–are pretty obscure. It must go beyond time since the races also rely on luck, sometime a player will finish a clean race with it flowing naturally, but sometimes the first place gets bombed by blue shells, rays, red shells and other items.

It’s ultimately frustrating really. You can’t know for sure what needs to be done but can imagine. Even though what’s apparent to be the case feels too dependent on luck rather than skill. And there lies the problem. Replaying GPs waiting for CPU’s mercy to hand you the merit is beyond frustration. If they kept a clear way to measure the requirements and made it the least dependent on luck possible would certainly make it a little more attractive.

Mario Kart DS may not be the best Mario Kart but that’s only because the best Mario Karts are the ones that had the opportunity and the honor of being the first to taste the beloved formula. Now the formula is overdone, a shame. It doesn’t revoke the fact that Mario Kart DS is a great game, and probably the best handheld Mario Kart ever done. Be it with its undeniably fun multiplayer or by going solo. The new Mission mode adds playing time and makes a great debut. As the first Mario Kart game online and knowing Nintendo’s policy on online games, Mario Kart DS does surprisingly well. Definitely recommendable to anyone fond of the best Mario spin-off series ever.

Castlevania Order of Ecclesia

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The trilogy has reached an end, three successful titles for the DS, each with its own soul. Dawn of Sorrow stands as the closest to the roots of Castlevania series, the darkest Castlevania and the title that opened the way and set the standards for the next two. Portrait of Ruin, one more step into innovation, two characters at the same time on screen, a slightly better story, non-castle locations, challenge system, and even more unlockables. And now we have Order of Ecclesia, which also has a vein for innovation, and arrives as a worthy successor and member of the trilogy.

The first thing you need to know is that now the Dracula’s Castle has an even smaller role in this, in the first part of the game you actually wonder if you’ll ever come across something resembling a castle, fortunately you do come across a castle, and it is indeed pretty huge, but its role is significantly smaller, to reach Dracula’s domains you’re gonna travel through many different places, most of them will be quite enjoyable to play through offering good challenge, meaning this formula still has a lot of fire to burn yet. You also have a lobby, or something like that if you will, which is a small village with some local residents, all of them were captured and locked inside crystals and as you wander through the game you’ll have to find each of them, after released they’ll present challenges for you to perform as side-quests, much like Portrait of Ruin had with Eric presenting some side challenges to lengthen the overall playtime and keep you busy for a little while longer, it serves the purpose just right.

The new character feels like a pretty good choice, her name is Shanoa, and aside from being an already very stylish character aesthetically, she seems to portrait a distinct personality throughout the game, with all the “I don’t have feelings” stuff, captivating really. The characters resemble less an anime style, differently than the other two, receiving a more mature-oriented design, this goes for all characters found in the game when shown during conversations. The difficulty is unforgiving as always, but this time they really stepped out of line here, making a game difficult is one thing, but letting some broken parts go by is a whole different story, like when you keep dying trying to activate the “ultimate glyph” with no idea of what’s happening or what to do, really frustrating, especially since you have to beat an already hard boss to reach that. The weapons system has changed a bit, now you control weapons based on glyphs you acquire from enemies wielding them, a good system once you get used to it, at least it’s a try to keep things fresh. Something recurrent in these recent Castlevania titles, a special mention goes to Portrait of Ruin, is the bad translation applied to it, it won’t jeopardize the experience in any way, but even for those who don’t really care for this kind of stuff will find some translations strange to say the least; to tell the truth, I’m one of the guys who don’t care about it and even I thought some parts deserved a little bit more attention.

One thing that plagues this game and haunts it without a bit of mercy it the fact that it won’t cause the “wow” factor in anyone, if you know Castlevania you know this, if you love Castlevania you’ll love this. What this game actually does is being solid from start to finish, probably more solid than any of the other games in the DS. The pace is more dynamic as well, especially compared to Dawn of Sorrow, you feel more in control over Shanoa than you probably did with Soma Cruz; that comes with natural advancement of control mechanics, as well as some new ideas of skills here and there. An aspect this game might earn the top spot comparing the three is bosses, they are all pretty imaginative, there’s not one boss in the game you won’t have trouble at first but soon, after many death and retry’s, get the hang of it and start finding its weak spots and patterns; and these weak spots and pattern are amazingly thought-out as well, this is certainly a strong point this title has. The rewards and ways to keep the player playing the game after beaten are strong, as well as the other two, especially Portrait of Ruin, game modes like the no-brainer boss rush are unlockable, new difficulties, the possibility to replay the game file you’ve beaten the game with with all equipment and data is a pretty nice touch, and if you feel like it, you can apply a level cap and play through the game having a maximum level of 50 or even level 1; if you’re brave enough, maybe play a level 1 cap game starting from scratch for the ultimate Castlevania Order of Ecclesia experience.

Graphically the game is pretty much what you’ve seen in Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, the music, like the other two, shine bright, hearing amazing songs like the ones in this game while exploring is always a pleasure; I’ll go ahead and say that this is probably the best game sound-wise in the DS trilogy, sure I could point out some songs that are potentially better in Dawn of Sorrow or Portrait of ruin, especially the former of the two, but as a whole this game feels more solid in the musics department. The story revolves around this clan, which Shanoa is a member of, named Order of Ecclesia, they are a group of people in a mission of researching ways of fighting Dracula’s evil in case he comes back from the shadows someday somehow, and they manage to create a very powerful glyph known as Dominus which is made out of Dracula’s power itself, to use it Shanoa is chosen by the group leader to be the subject of a ritual. Of course the plans go wrong when another colleague of Shanoa steals the glyphs and run away, as you chase down the traitor you’ll uncover new facts and realize that the problem is much deeper than firstly thought. Again, the story feels more solid than the first two.

Basically Order of Ecclesia is a worthy closure to the successful trilogy, it suffers from some technical problems with difficulty here and there, some low level of polish eventually, and the curse of being a sequel to two successful titles bringing little new to the table, what is brought actually is often superficial and you’re bound to the premise that, if you like the previous titles, you’ll probably like this one as well, because frankly, there’s not much to dislike except maybe the previous stated problems and some lack of freshness or any brand new idea that would move the franchise forward in a more meaningful way. Order of Ecclesia is by any means a good game that should be played, but should be played especially by those who enjoyed the first and second games in the DS, if you haven’t played a Castlevania game or haven’t played a Castlevania in the DS, you should start with those two.

Castlevania Portrait of Ruin

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Castlevania Portrait of Ruin is the second iteration of the Castlevania series on the Nintendo DS, the first one, Dawn of Sorrow, released in late 2005, was a success, at least critically the game was highly acclaimed. This sequel, released a little more than a year later at the end of 2006, follows primarily the formula and style found in Dawn of Sorrow, with more than needed new stuff to keep it interesting and fresh.

The major change here seems to be the addition of a new character to play simultaneously and cooperatively, this is also new to the series, some quests along the way require the help of your partner, the dual puzzles are generally easy to follow, but don’t get fooled, the rest of the game can be a nightmare for unaware adventurers, especially after you finished the game already and feel ready to raise the difficulty level, the bosses stay true to Castlevania and will give you a hard time. So the puzzles might not get in your way, but the rest of the game will, Portrait of Ruin is not a walk in the park, at all. You can change the character to whomever you want to play with, you can even set for them to be both in the screen slashing enemies, one controlled by you, one controlled by the CPU, any damage the CPU takes counts for your magic meter, while you take damage with the HP bar normally.

The transition from the Game Boy Advance to the Nintendo DS with Dawn of Sorrow sure was a bang, this makes a much less impact than its predecessor, for obvious reasons, but it’s in no way less fun. I felt this game being less dark than Dawn of Sorrow, though it might be just an impression, some people might not notice, especially if they are not that intimate with the roots of the Castlevania franchise, the style still delivers that gruesome experience with many grotesque enemies and bosses along the way. What is actually a fact is that this time they’ve introduced more imaginative places, having a bit more variety to it, one of the places that stand out the most is a pyramid, with an Egypt-like atmosphere and enemies like mummies, ghosts, skeletons, undead snakes, and so on. To travel to these locations you use framed paintings, hence the name of the game, there are many around the main location–Dracula’s Castle–and upon entering you’re immediately transported to the area of the painting, a nice idea to add variety to such a peculiar looking game. One thing I had trouble with was remembering to which location each painting warps you to, maybe when you warp around the actual stage you’re in, especially Dracula’s Castle, there should be indicators on the map.

The RPG elements are present as well, you go picking up new equipments along the way and upgrading your characters, you have more to equip this time, there are 8 slots to fill, including two accessory slots; body, legs, and head protection; a main weapon and a subweapon; and a dual attack performed with together with your partner. The more you use some sub-weapons the better you get at it, until a point of mastering it, reaching master level will grant you several types of attack bonuses on each particular weapon, with the bonus depending on which skill you mastered. Completionists continue having a blast with Castlevania, practically everything on Portrait of Ruin has a percentage counter, skills, items, enemies, quests, map explored; if you’re up to, you’ll be able to extend gameplay time far after completing the main story; also, there are games modes unlocked post-completion ready to challenge the player’s mastery of the game. The quests are a good addition too, upon talking to a guy named Wind you are presented with many of them, as you go completing the ones listed new ones become available, granting the player with rewards as well.

The art style continues with the anime-oriented dark atmosphere from Dawn of Sorrow, it has evolved to a more accessive vein, but the known formula is still present and strong. The graphics continue solid, and the music still steals the show, the soul of Castlevania has become the incredibly haunting and captivating music, and Portrait of Ruin is not exception. The story is perhaps a little better developed than Dawn of Sorrow, and told in a more concise manner, it’s nothing incredible but serves you right. The only downside is the bugs, the game has a whole lot of them, they range from corrupted save files to freezing when using too many skills at certain areas, if you’re lucky enough you might rarely see them, but if you dedicate a serious amount of time into it the chances are high that you’ll experience them at least once. Dawn of Sorrow maybe felt like a more inspired game overall, basically when it comes to detail and polish, but Dawn of Sorrow was released before and introduced the transition to a more powerful handheld, the possibilities were fresher; also, Portrait of Ruin’s main game length is bigger than Dawn of Sorrow.

Castlevania Portrait of Ruin is as recommendable as any Castlevania game, if you liked Dawn of Sorrow you owe it to yourself, if not, maybe you should get that game first. The quality is as high as Castlevania can get, the mix of platforming with other elements like RPG and exploration still delivers wonders. Portrait of Ruin is one of the best games the Nintendo DS has to offer, and a pretty satisfying experience overall.

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

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It’s hard to find a truly original idea these days, between every first person shooter or RPG that does little to nothing in terms of bringing new stuff to the table we find a game that actually strikes us with innovation, out of the ordinary. Maybe the last big innovative idea was Portal, it was charming, simple and fun. World of Goo is all that as well, it succeeds in its simplicity, you have little ball-shaped organisms called Goos and they form structures of all kinds and shapes, it’s up to you to go creating with its vast variety of Goo types, the goal is to reach the pipe located somewhere around depending on the stage you’re playing and save as many Goos as possible, you lose Goos either from placing them somewhere in the structure you’re making or through pits, though some types of Goos can be placed more than once, thus not making the placement definitive. The most common kind of Goo connects to other Goos to form a triangle, but as the game progresses other types will be available, and necessary, for each level the player faces. There’s a whole lot of levels presenting all sorts of challenges, they’re themed each in its own, the worlds they’re grouped are separated in seasons, like Spring Summer, etc. The difficulty doesn’t go easy on the player, it’s not a hard game but it’s tricky, some levels will require a few tries until you get the hang of it, sometimes demanding new approaches to this or that, at first glance, unsolvable stage.

As I mentioned Portal earlier for being a game that shares the general premise of World of Goo, like both having a simple gameplay system that allows complex puzzles, among other things, it’s also clear that one of Portal’s most eye-catching features also plays a massive role in World of Goo, the physics. Just as Portal imposed serious logical use of the two portals and speed momentum to go through the game, World of Goo requires a nice share of sensitivity when it comes to building structures, as you must know, you can’t simply go building a straight horizontal column without gravity doing its magic of demolishing it to the ground, some goes for vertical structures, if you base isn’t solid, it certainly won’t go far up. Everything you find in World of Goo has been specially taken care of, the graphics aren’t anything to rival Crysis, but they’re charming, with a fixed style and great use of colors; the sound is basically the background music and effects, the effects are pleasant and the background music tracks are pretty well composed and addictive. This does only good to the Wii, since it lacks high definition and graphical prowess, when you have limited resources, you’ve got to make the best out of what you have, and that has been done. There’s even a story backing all up, it’s light and perfectly forgettable, just like it should be for a game like this, most bits from the story you’ll catch from signs all over the levels written by some mysterious character identified as Sign Painter. Another thing that fits great on the Wii are the controls, it positively feels right playing with motion sensing controls.

Overall World of Goo is a game that should be experienced, its depth comes from the several imaginative puzzles the players encounter along the way, they should keep you busy for a while, when it’s all done and clear and the single player doesn’t quite cut it for you anymore, the metagame could serve you just right. It doesn’t have multiplayer nor does it need multiplayer. The fact is, it’s a nice idea and even if you somehow dislike in the end, you still owe it to yourself, in fact, you owe it to gaming, for games that aren’t all about shooting virtual soldiers or wielding a sword, games like this are more than welcome, and let’s just hope they keep coming.