I clearly remember the sense of fascination and wonder I experienced the first time I scored a strategy guide for Metroid back in the late 80’s. Seeing all of Zebes laid out on the pages at once was a joy for me, and I would take it with me to school or on family road-trips. With no NES to play on away from home, I would project myself into the pages and mentally practice the routes I would take when I played the game next.
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night (iPhone)
Released: July 22, 2010
Despite the wild departure from the platforming and combat elements of other games in the series, Konami definitely nailed the vibe for this title; Castlevania Puzzle feels very much like a Castlevania game should. Most character and enemy sprites were pulled as-is from Symphony of the Night, although it does look like a few were touched up. Much of the excellent music also makes the transition to this game, and even though it sounds like it is cut and looped at times, I’m more than willing to overlook that given the short length of most battles.
The map is nearly a one to one replica, with all the major landmarks there; the Clock Tower, Alchemy Lab, and the Long Library are all waiting to be explored again. The seminal item-procurement and subsequent backtracking elements are in full force as well, although an added handy-dandy fast travel function between discovered safe rooms removes much of the tedium of getting around.
As you travel between frames in the castle, you will trigger battles with recognizable SOTN enemies; there will almost always be an enemy in a frame the first time you enter, but it reverts to a random encounter design when backtracking. When a battle is initiated, you are taken to a new screen where you will engage in deadly puzzle combat with your foes.
The core gameplay is distinctly akin to Columns; blocks will fall into your play area, and matching 3 of the same color clear them from your board. Certain blocks will be unclearable until you form a match-3 adjacent to them, which will allow you to plan ahead and set up cascades of match-3 chains as you get the hang of the game. Chaining your matches are the key to victory, as successful chains drop a shower of blocks onto your enemy’s play area, which increases the amount of HP they lose.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the base puzzle mechanics, but when you add the RPG elements on top the result is very satisfying. As you level up, you can allocate points to stats such as attack, defense, or different magic schools. All of these options for your character build can radically alter your play experience, as different spells can change the complexion of a battle a great deal. Levelling up can become a bit grindy if you’re just wandering around the castle, but taking note of which areas have enemies that offer the right amount of XP without overpowering you can offset this if you’re attentive.
As much as I want to gush over how well Konami has merged the SOTN experience with a genre that seems wholly unsuited for it, I would be remiss not to point out a gargantuan flaw in this title. On the battle screen, the portion of the iPhone screen devoted to your play area is woefully inadequate. With the character/enemy sprites covering the center, and your opponent’s play area on the right, you’re left with a paltry one-third of an already tiny screen with which to maneuver your blocks while puzzling.
Unless you’re sporting petite elvish Orlando Bloom-like fingers, you will encounter a healthy heaping of frustration when you can’t get a crucial block to drop how you need it to. To the developer’s credit, they do include the ability to adjust the touch sensitivity which helps to mitigate this problem to an extent. Regardless, even with the responsiveness just the way you like, there’s just no way to avoid the many frustrating errant rotations, missed placements, and premature block drops you will experience while playing.
Without the issues surrounding the use of screen space and controls, Castlevania Puzzle would have been a phenomenal title. They really nailed the presentation, and I have no doubt that this game plays like a dream on the iPad where there is ample real estate for proper puzzling. I would snatch this game up in a heartbeat for XBLA or PSN if it were released there as well. However, issues and all, Encore of the Night is still a good game with a lot to offer SOTN fans looking to get their Alucard fix on a elbatrop.
Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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