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Lords of Shadow: The best Castlevania yet?

How does Mercury Steam's effort stack up?

Since the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897, Count Dracula Vlad Tepes has terrorised the human world in nearly every form of media imaginable.

If you need evidence of the Lord of Darkness' ever-lasting reign of terror, you only need look at Konami's Castlevania series.

Now, like the undead count himself, Castlevania has been resurrected in the thoroughly modern guise of Lords of Shadow.

With all the advantages modern gaming affords, a stellar cast and the guiding hand of Hideo Kojima, Lords of Shadows has garnered plenty of 90% plus reviews and attracted new fans to the classic series. So we have to ask: Is it, quite simply, the best Castlevania yet?

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Castlevania Origins
To find out we'll have to draw back the veil on the mists of gaming history. The first Castlevania game was released in 1986 for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, with a cartridge based port later made available for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

'Castlevania' took place in a peaceful world where times of death and chaos had become long forgotten memories. However, the beginning of a new Century also brought with it the return of the Prince of Darkness and his forces of Hell. True to the legend, the events of Castlevania opened with a demon uprising and Dracula's return to his magnificent ancestral, titular home.

The side-scrolling exploration gameplay in Castlevania was heavily influenced by Nintendo's Metroid games. Though Castlevania was far more linear, requiring players to complete just six levels, it was critically acclaimed for its haunting and atmospheric portrayal of Dracula's castle.

With the forces of Hell attempting to purge the world of humans, the task of returning Dracula to his 100-year slumber fell to Simon Belmont, a young Vampire hunter from the Belmont bloodline, a family sworn to oppose Dracula through the ages. Simon wielded the iconic Vampire Killer, a legendary whip and fought his way through Dracula's home, battling Medusas, Mummies, Frankenstein's monster and even the Grim Reaper himself. Though Simon eventually defeated Dracula, the Lord of Darkness' cursed Simon and the Belmont clan for all eternity.

The game's use of music was the subject of much praise - and has since come to be a defining characteristic of the franchise. Since the release of the original Castlevania, the games have stuck close to their roots, rarely departing from side-scrolling, action- exploration gameplay.

Each new incarnation of Castlevania has been more ambitious than the last - both in the physical layout of Dracula's sprawling castle and in the mechanics layered on top of the core experience.

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Bitter Sweet Symphony
Though Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and Super Castlevania IV both had a significant impact on subsequent instalments, Castlevania's watershed moment came with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation.

Symphony has since been heralded as one of the greatest video games of all time, the power of the new platform allowing Konami to reinvigorate Dracula's castle with beautiful new artwork, highly detailed character and enemy sprites, as well as one of gaming's most memorable soundtracks.

Symphony of the Night also added a new twist to the traditional gameplay by including RPG elements such as weapons, armour, experience, levels and attribute stats. The innovative new gameplay mechanics, timeless 2D visuals and unforgettable audio of Symphony not only propelled Castlevania into the upper echelon of gaming, but also secured the series a passionate and devoted cult following.

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