The 2D Castlevania games are always mind-blowing. The 3D ones are always crap. That's pretty much an indisputable fact, and after playing Castlevania: Curse of arkness we were forced to accept that it's still a fact.
Curse of Darkness seems to try to clone the principle gameplay from the 2D games, adding nothing more to the equation than polygons. Unfortunately, that's never really going to work, is it? It's okay to run from corridor to corridor battering various monsters in the 2D games because 2D gameplay is faster and more spontaneous, and locations are more tightly packed and with more monsters. Doing the same in 3D just seems like a slower more monotonous ordeal.
There just seems to be so little effort put into any aspect of this game. The enemies are uninspired, and most of them can be defeated with simple button-mashing, slashing away continuously until they die. There's very little skill involved. Other, larger beasts might force you to block now and then, but it's hardly testing. What it is is a chore. Even the option of running past the dull enemies is taken away from you - you're forced to fight them because you need the experience points.
The same old levelling-up system is back too, only this time you can make your own weapons and upgrades by combining materials that you find over the course of the game. Some enemies will drop particular useful materials when killed. Gather them up and you're able to combine them with each other to create new items with which to upgrade your stats.
Thankfully, it's pretty simple to do. You won't have to mess about trying to combine random materials to see what happens - a Combine menu on the pause screen will tell you when you're able to great a new item and what ingredients are needed. If you don't have enough of everything, you can look in a directory of all the enemies you've defeated to find out which enemy drops the material you need.
Even though the enemies aren't particularly challenging, it still feels great when you upgrade to a new weapon. We made an axe and chuckled in excitement as we wrecked armoured soldiers with a single combo. Combos are basic until you get yourself an Innocent Devil, though.
The ability to conjure Innocent Devils is your character Hector's special power. As you explore the caves, dungeons and castles you will acquire these helpful companions, each with their own unique abilities. Some reinforce your defensive measures, using magic to make small safe zones for you to rest in. Some have healing properties and can provide you with a much-needed boost of health just when you need it most.
Then there are the bad boys. The ones that refuse to stand around watching vicious wolves and brutal wizards try to smash your face in. They roll their sleeves up and jump into the ruckus, throwing head-shattering blows and casting spells that wreck entire groups of enemies. Sometimes you don't even need to do anything - you can just sit back and watch as they wreck the joint.
Innocent Devils also act as lookouts, highlighting anything of importance. For example, we were in what appeared to be a dead-end room when our Innocent Devil brought to our attention a weakened stone pillar. With a few swings of our hefty axe, we smashed the pillar, taking out half the wall with it. Game on.
Unfortunately, the environments don't get much more interactive than that. Just take a look at the screenshots to see for yourself. Yes, the worlds are every bit as dull as they look. For a game in a series that proudly comprised some of the most detailed 2D games ever, this 3D incarnation looks shockingly bad. There's no life in these worlds at all. The environments are so square you can almost count the polygons. Apart from small fire torches and the occasional little waterfall, there's hardly any animation at all. The textures are blurry and the character models aren't much better. Your Xbox will be yawning from the lack of pressure put on its poly-chomping brain because this game would look more at home on the PSone back in 1996.