Monday, February 21, 2011

Castlevania Puzzle for WP7 impressions

Konami recently released Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night for Windows Phone 7 and iPhone/iTouch. I picked it up recently for my Samsung Focus, and thought I’d share my thoughts thus far.


Castlevania is a falling blocks game where you attempt to get three of more blocks of the same color lined up next to each other in order to make them disappear. There are five colored blocks that I’ve seen thus far; red, green, purple, blue/aqua, and white.
To make things a little more complicated, but interesting, is the fact that some blocks are what is referred to as “inactive.” Inactive blocks will not contribute towards making other blocks of the same color disappear. However, should a group of blocks adjacent to them disappear, they will go from being inactive to active. When active, they will act the same as normal blocks.
Inactive blocks can be useful to set up chain reactions. When one group of blocks disappear, the blocks above them will fall. If those blocks then form another group and disappear, then you’ve started a chain reaction (or a “chain” for short). This will keep going until no more reactions are set off.
If you’re familiar with puzzle games like this, then I’d say this lies somewhere between Capcom’s Puzzle Fighter and Compile’s Puyo Puyo (called Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Kirby’s Avalanche in the US).
What separates Castlevania from those two titles is rather than victory and defeat relying on seeing who doesn’t fill up their side of the screen, you have Hit Points. An hour-glass in the middle of the screen flips over every so often, with damage being allocated to the player and the CPU opponent. I’m not entirely sure how damage is calculated, so I can’t really comment on that. Unlike traditional falling block games, hitting the top of your play area does not cause you to lose; the game will remove several bottom layers from your play area. However, you will take damage from this, as well as lose anything you might have been setting up in that area, so obviously reaching the top is not something you want to do.
This takes a little getting used to, as a match could be won or lost rather unexpectedly if you’re not paying attention to your hit points!


I’m very please with how the game controls. A single tap anywhere on screen will rotate your falling pair of blocks. Dragging downward anywhere will make the blocks drop faster. I’ve played a few games that insist that you tap exactly on and where you’re interacting, sometimes with awkward results (at best), so this was rather refreshing and quite pleasant. Green square outlines will show where your blocks will land, so that takes the guesswork out of it, thankfully. Konami thought this out, and it shows.

Story mode

The game comes with a story mode and an arcade mode. Right now I’m primarily playing through the story mode, which I’m finding to be enjoyable. Story mode has you going section to section of Castlevania, fighting monsters randomly (but frequently), exploring the whole of the map. Rooms you’ve not been to yet are colored out, although rooms with bosses are outlined with red. You travel along routes between rooms; if you can go there, there’ll be a blue line. If you can’t get there yet, it’ll be in red. I rather like the exploration aspect of the game, and the fact that enemies will change depending where you are is quite nice.
Spread out throughout the various areas will be safe rooms. You can teleport to safe rooms at anytime, which will also refill your hit points. There is also a shop where you can buy and sell items. I found out the hard way that there’s no buy-back feature in case you accidentally sell something you didn’t want to, so seller beware!
As you travel about and fight, you will earn money, gain items, and of course earn experience points to level up. When you level up you’ll get points to allocate to various attributes to help customize your character. You’ll find various items that will restore hit points, as well as equipment that will help you in one way or another. In a nod to Diablo, World of Warcraft, and other such games, some items will be part of a set; while an individual piece might not be the greatest, having the whole set can offer bonuses you might appreciate (coincidentally, the piece of equipment I accidentally sold was part of a set!).
What’s more, increasing certain attributes will give you access to spells that can affect gameplay. You can’t have everything, but this definitely will add to the replayability!
Certainly, story mode is where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time. Its where the meat of the game is, and right now I’m finding it very satisfying. Mundane enemies can be defeated in a relatively short amount of time, and the game seems to save automatically every so often, so its great for when you just want a quick game during lunch or between here and there. This is something I prize highly in games, and I’m glad to see Konami made Castlevania this way.

Arcade mode

Arcade mode might better be called “practice mode.” My initial expectation when seeing the Arcade mode screen was a Puzzle Fighter experience; pick a character, go through 4-8 characters and then finish against a boss. Sadly, this did not seem to be the case.
You will indeed pick a character, then a character to fight against, but that’s really about it. After that you choose a stage (nice touch) and a difficulty level. I found that choosing was a little finicky on my touch screen, which I wasn’t thrilled with but its livable.
The problem is that, win or lose, you’re done. They’re singular, one-on-one battles. I was hoping you’d get to go through the whole roster (which seems like seven playable characters and one hidden character), with the difficulty going up a bit each fight, but it seems not.
As such, I find arcade mode to be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe this will get changed in a future patch, but I can’t say for certain.

Closing thoughts

I bought Castlevania Puzzle for $6.99 when it came out, and have to say I’m enjoying it quite a bit so far. While some folks will balk at the price, its well made, and this sort of game has some long legs – it’ll be something that you’ll come back to repeatedly, in my opinion.
I am a little dissapointed that there’s no multiplayer, either via Live or some sort of ad-hoc networking through Wi-Fi. I don’t know if that wasn’t available as an option for them or what. Its also possible the game isn’t balanced for multiplayer, or they thought it would drain the phone’s battery too quickly. Alas, but regardless I can live without it.
While I can’t speak for the iPhone version, I think its safe to say this is a game to buy for your smartphone if you can. If you’re not familiar with this genre, do yourself a favor and download the demo when you’ve got a chance.

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