"A wooden puppet master whose chamber is lined with several iron maidens for you to be trapped in and a clawed wall-hopper eerily reminiscent of Street Fighter 2's Vega are two of the many highlights within Dawn's impressive bestiary."
Symphony of the Night was fantastic, and Aria of Sorrow only slightly less so, but for the last couple of years I've thought that the Castlevania series would do well to go back to its action-platformer roots. As much fun as exploring a mazelike rendition of Dracula's castle always is, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the sheer excitement of the old games. Watching Death decapitate himself with his trademark scythe in the stylish Rondo of Blood, scaling Bloodlines' ever-swaying Tower of Pisa, hanging like a fool from one of Super IV's whip hooks and spinning aimlessly... well, I could do without that last memory, but most of the older entries in the series packed thrilling moments and a degree of challenge that none of the more recent adventures seemed able to match.
Surprisingly, Dawn of Sorrow put my fears to rest. Its predecessors suffered from benign opposition scattered about less than liberally, but Konami's latest effort is an entirely different beast in that regard. Even early on, the minions of darkness attack you with a refreshing sense of purpose; Aria's foes were largely passive, but this one has cape-adorned demon archers flying about an unholy chapel while pairs of ballroom-dancing ghouls float erratically around the screen. Elsewhere, dozens of the infamous Medusa Heads swerve about the surprisingly tricky jumping rooms of the trap-laden clock tower, while discus-swinging armored knights do their best to bounce their weapons off the Condemned Tower's sloped interiors and into you.
And the bosses! They may not be among the most visually remarkable of the series--in fact, a good handful of them can be disappointgly ugly--but it's hard to care when they're this intense. A wooden puppet master that traps you in the iron maidens lining his chamber and a clawed wall-hopper eerily reminiscent of Street Fighter 2's Vega are two of the many highlights within Dawn's impressive bestiary, but the dog-like Gergoth that lies atop the more recently mentioned tower was my personal favorite. Halfway through the duel, after he's lunged about and shot all sorts of nasty things in your general direction, he gets a bit angry and tries to pounce on you with all his weight. He misses, and the floor crumbles beneath him; for the next thirty seconds, you get to smack him around during a delightful freefall through the tower that you just spent fifteen minutes climbing! Who needs Paula Abghoul when you've got this?
Plus, you'll still get to suck his soul once you finally end the battle by drawing a silly pattern on your DS' display, as Aria's innovative magic system is back in even better form than before. There are some returning favorites, but many of the powers you'll get are all new; instead of raising some stat by a few points, the zombie's soul lets you summon your very own horde of the undead, and after beating the muscular fire-spitter Gaibon yet again, you get to summon him to fight on your side! It's still addictive as hell, too. You can collect more than one of each to power them up, and even infuse them into your weapons to make new and improved equipment... and try as you may not to, you more than likely will spend half an hour hunched over your DS until you finally nab that one last soul you need to complete your collection.
Even if you don't feel the need to catch 'em all, though, you'll still have to sink some serious time into Dawn of Sorrow thanks to its elaborate layout. Even when there's only path open to you, you'll never feel as if you HAD to go a certain way thanks to all the dead-ends and alternate routes scattered about the castle. Better still, it's nowhere near as repetitive as the last game was, as a set of rooms aren't just copy-pasted over and over to make entire levels. Your adventure begins in a snowy, grey-tinted village featuring wooden platforms held up by cables and impressive-looking foliage; later, you'll progress to a greyish church with stunning stain-glass windows, and an overrun garden featuring grey walls and...
...sure is a lot of grey, isn't it? While its levels are far more interesting than the last game's, Dawn occasionally doesn't look the part thanks to its over-reliance on grey. Aria used color brilliantly; from the turquoise sky of the Floating Gardens to the sandy bricks that made up its Arena, every little bit of its repetitive stages had a distinctive, striking shade. This game... well, it has lots of grey, although many flavors of it.
But while the colors can be a bit monotonous, the graphics as a whole are still very well detailed, and it's easy to forgive the slight drabness when everything else about the game is so good. It's surprisingly difficult in all the right ways, and Aria's strong points are back in full force for this second tale of fashion
queen king Soma Cruz; exploring the mazelike castle locales is a blast, vying for each and every enemy's soul is as all-consuming as it was before, and with three unlockable characters to play as once the main quest is over, you'll be scrunched over your handheld playing Dawn of Sorrow until your shoulders pop. Who knows, it might even convince me to buy a DS...
Staff review by John L (October 10, 2005)
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