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SummarySymphony of the Night fans, rejoice! 2D Castlevania rides again.
The GoodWell, it's 2D Castlevania - for retro fans, that's a no-brainer. The beauty of Castlevania since Symphony of the Night has been firmly rooted in navigating a gigantic maze while steadily powering up your character. Happily, CotM continues this proven gameplay while adding a few new wrinkles. While the hero is nowhere near as cool as Alucard (and the plot is pretty predictable and cliched as well), you do get powers that Alucard didn't. These take the form of the card system. Throughout your travels, you'll collect a series of cards divided into two groups. When you combine a card from each group, your character takes on a certain power. For example, one set of combinations modifies your basic whip into a number of magical variants, each having its own strengths and weaknesses. Actually, the card system is the game's biggest strength AND its greatest weakness (more on that later). The boss battles are good and tough, the maze is puzzling (perhaps a bit too puzzling for its own good), and there's some incentive to replay after you beat it.
The BadAs I said, the card system is also one of CotM's biggest drawbacks. There are A LOT of card combinations - in fact, so many that I never had the time nor the capability to discover what they all did. Many of the combinations produce results that are not immediately apparent - you might be running around for thirty minutes or more before the highly specialized nature of your current combination reveals itself. This seems to me to represent a wasted opportunity - why make a game function more difficult to access than necessary? On the item front, SotN gave Alucard plenty of useful items that restored health, augmented powers, and so on all throughout the game. CotM, on the other hand, commits a terrible flaw in handing you very weak and ineffectual items from the beginning until the climax, especially in regard to health power ups. I can't understand why the designers didn't make the health items restore a percentage of your health as opposed to a set amount of points - anyone familiar with the old flat-tax scheme can tell you why this setup just doesn't work. Finally, the whole thing is just way too dark. Get ready to squint - and don't play unless you've got lots of sunlight.