Castlevania is a series of games involving vampires and side scrolling combat. With Dawn of Sorrows, Soma Cruz is a teenager who has the soul of Dracula within him. A year ago (in the game before this one) he had to fight off the dark powers within him. He won and thought his life would be normal again. Unfortunately, when this game opens, he immediately comes under attack and has to vanquish a new set of foes.
The game is a pixel based side-scroller and involves human figures fighting skeletons, werewolves, and other monsters. The look is definitely old school / retro. If for example you ran this side by side against Robots, another title I reviewed recently, the Robots figures were crisp and detailed, while the Castlevania characters and screens showed a granularity. It's a style difference that many people appreciate.
You primarily move left and right, slashing with your sword, throwing bones, and performing other styles of attacks to take out your enemies. There is some platforming as well, jumping up and down ladders to get to new areas. This works in well with a storyline, so it's not like, say, Mario where the platforming is all there is to the game.
For example, there's a 'hunter' who has sworn to kill Dracula. Soma knows about the hunter, and understands that the hunter will have to fight him if he loses control of himself to Dracula. They are enemies who have a truce, and who both respect each other, but who know if circumstances change they will have to lock in combat.
There are some touch screen aspects to the game. You find 'seals' which are in essence patterns of lines. To perform certain actions - for example to finish off a boss - you have to create this seal. This involves drawing that pattern perfectly. You're allowed to practice, but when the time comes, if you don't get the seal done just right, you could be in great trouble. It's a neat idea, but I wish it had been something a little less "perfectionist" oriented. I know many people who just can't draw well or who have hands that shake a bit. If they'd gone with a memorization game - or a logic puzzle or something - it would be more about real skill / intelligence and less about "having perfectly steady hands".
In general I did like the fun action, and I did appreciate the RPG and storyline here. I got drawn into the story rather quickly. I think for the next version I would like to see the graphics kicked up to match the DS capabilities, the 'seal' puzzle changed to be less about perfectionist drawing, and I'd also like some of the dialogue to be less cliche. I loved the 'flow' of the plot but winced at several of the comments made by characters.
Buy Castlevania - Dawn of Sorrows from Amazon.com