Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Hands-On

After playing the demo of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, it is a pleasure to say that after years of sub-par games sucking on the teet of a beloved franchise, Castlevania is fun again!

If you grew up with the NES, then you likely have fond memories of Simon Belmont fighting every iconic monster that you could think of- from Frankenstein to the Grim Reaper, and of course, Dracula. It was a good time for the franchise, and the name of Belmont was on a par to those of Link and Mario in terms of popularity. Unfortunately with each progressive game in the franchise, the fanbase dwindled a bit. By the time the PlayStation One came out, Castlevania had lost its shine. By the time of the PS2, it was all but forgotten. That should soon change.

The story is still being kept a secret for the most part, but we do know some of the basics. You play as Gabriel Belmont. It is still unclear how or where Gabriel fits into the Belmont lineage. In truth it really doesn’t matter, but knowing that Hideo Kojima is involved, it just seems possible- maybe even likely- that there will be a surprise that connects Gabriel to the rest of the clan ($5 says Gabriel is Simon’s Dad). Konami has said that the game is a total reboot with no real canonical relation to the previous games, though. But we’ll see…

Gabriel is a member of the Brotherhood of the Light, a group of knights sworn to fight evil. Think Jedi with whips. As the game begins, he is on a quest to find the three pieces of the Mask of Light, a relic that can bring his beloved wife back from the dead after her brutal murder. She exists as a ghost, neither alive nor dead, so she makes appearances throughout the game and occasionally acts as a guide.

In the demo we played, Gabriel is sent to a village by the Brotherhood to help them fight off a supernatural attack. Gabriel’s “Combat Cross” chain-whip, attacks like Kratos’ chains in the God of War series. In the best possible way. It is easy to rack up huge combos and to chain attacks for huge damage. The inclusion of a secondary weapon (in this case daggers), further allows you to chain attacks for some impressive moves.

The demo fed us werewolf cannon-fodder before a mini-boss fight against a giant wolf began. As it was still early in the game, the foes presented little challenge, but it was fun to dish out a lot of punishment in a fluid series of movements.

The block, roll, and dodge features were also easy and intuitive, so with little effort, you could end up dancing around your enemies while looking like a master at the game. Konami reps told us that the weapons were upgradeable, and would allow more combos as the game progressed, to further unleash havoc on your enemies. The secondary weapons will also be upgradeable, and while only the dagger and holy water have been announced, two more are coming (boomerang and stopwatch?) We did not see the upgraded weapons in action, but we were told to expect thing that could be used on specific foes- like silver daggers that would add damage against werewolves- and increased area attacks- turning the holy water into a holy hand grenade for example. No, they didn’t call it the Holy Hand Grenade, but it would have been awesome if they had.

The level ended with Gabriel continuing into the forest, where he received help from a spirit horse- Gabriel will be assisted in his quest by good spirits. The next section was a chariot like chase, as Gabriel tried to escape giant wolves called wargs, and their riders. No, wait- that isn’t right. Escape is not the right word, because Gabriel dominates enemies. Gabriel moved quickly towards his destination as enemies tried to stop him. When they got lucky and knocked Gabriel off his horse, a fight began. Once the enemies were dead, Gabriel was picked up by his horse and they jumped over a canyon to end the level.

The game has a heavy emphasis on experience and upgrades, and we were told to expect upwards of 20 hours or more to complete the game. There will be several new abilities along the way, and many will be required to progress to pass certain areas. There are said to be over 50 levels, and while the demo we saw was linear, we were told that a “shocking event” happens early in the game and opens up the world to more exploration.

Castlevania promises to be one of the best games of the year when it hits shelves in Fall. Old fans of the series should love the familiar mythology, while new fans will love the gameplay. Expect several old favorites to make a return, although which enemies will return is a closely guarded secret. And yes, we asked about Dracula, but Konami would neither confirm nor deny anything.

Keep an eye out for more news on this game when it becomes available.

Warning: This trailer may not be suitable for all ages.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: