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    Jan 11th, 2007 at 15:57:03     -    Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)

    The Castlevania series has been the backbone of my game playing for quite a while now. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SotN) was the first game I bought when I got a Playstation, and it remains my all time favorite. Since then, I've tried to play through each Castlevania game past and present.

    The current one that I am working on is the first DS Castlevania. Dawn of Sorrow is actually a sequel to Aria of Sorrow for the GBA. My favorite part of the handheld editions is that they follow very closely to the form of SotN. Most notable is the level design. The game consists of one large castle with many dfferent sub areas each with increasing difficulty of enemy. What makes the level design interesting is that you always pass by areas that are inaccessable with your current abilities. There is always a jump that is just too far to make or a path too small to fit through. As you progress you gain different abilities (double-jump is the most common) that allows you to now go back and find these out of each passages and move on to new areas. To draw a parallel, this set up is very similar to Super Metroid for the SNES.

    I find this kind of design very engaging because it imbues my game experience with an adventuring and exploring spirit. The moment you aquire a new power, your mind races to recall all the possible places that this power will allow you to travel to. Granted, some of the uses of the powers can be pretty obvious, but, for the most part, the game feels open ended despite actually being fairly linear in its progression. This adds to the player's feeling of accomplishment as he or she figures out how to use their new power to progress.

    SotN, the three GBA games, and the two DS games are wonderful examples of how good level design can make the game experience far more enjoyable. These games could have chosen to present their content is a truely linear fashion and have the player go from one level to the level until they reach the end. However, but combining and interweaving the games level, the player feels like he or she is exploring in order to learn and create a new way to progress. So, even though there is only one way to go on, the player feels like he or she was brilliant enough to come up with it on his or her own.

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