Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Gone next-gen yet? Good for you. That Xbox One sure is shiny, with that single game you’ve got to play on it. That better-looking version of a game that’s been kicking around since the 16-bit era. You’re having a ball right there.
But even if you’ve traded in your 360 and a seven-year-stretch software collection for Microsoft’s new console and only the latest FIFA to show off its graphical capabilities, you’re probably feeling more comfortable with your investment than if you’d bought a Wii U.
Nintendo’s eighth-generation machine, in direct competition with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is in trouble. The gaming giant’s president, Satoru Iwata, announced some very reserved sales forecasts for the 2014 fiscal year, revising a figure of nine million units sold to fewer than three million. Cue a cavalcade of critics questioning whether or not Nintendo will imminently go the way of SEGA, which canned its hardware business after the critically celebrated but slow-to-sell Dreamcast.
It (almost certainly) won’t. Nintendo posted overall profits in 2013, its stock has risen after naturally dipping with Iwata’s news, and it’ll expect to see the Wii U kick on commercially, buoyed by the acclaim for Super Mario 3D World and the reveal of a Zelda game for the system, to be unveiled at E3 2014. There are new Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros games scheduled, too. As strong as these Nintendo-only series are on paper, though, do any qualify as the killer app that the Wii U needs? And aren’t they all a little... old?
It’s a question that IGN contributing editor Keza MacDonald posed on Twitter: “Not sure what Nintendo can do to turn the Wii U around. People calling for Metroid and Zelda, but those have never sold millions of consoles.” But childhood nostalgia does drive today’s market – many will be hoping the new Mario Kart manifests the same multiplayer magic of its SNES and N64 iterations. Nintendo’s long-standing icons will enjoy at least one more console cycle in the sun.
But one of its most famous third-party developed series, Konami’s Castlevania, won’t be giving the Wii U a supportive shot in the arm. Having separated from the confusing chronology that’s crawled inexorably onward since its 1986 Famicom/NES debut, rebooting with Lords of Shadow in 2010, Castlevania’s latest instalment is Windows, 360 and PlayStation 3 only.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, developed by Spanish studio MercurySteam and released in late February, doesn’t pick up directly from where the first LOS left off, as Mirror Of Fate emerged for the 3DS between play-at-home versions. But newcomers are brought up to speed with the story so far via a (lengthy) cutscene documenting the transformation of its protagonist, Gabriel Belmont, from honourable holy knight into the dark lord himself, Dracula.
So, one begins LOS2 with all the incredible power that you’d expect the guy who’s traditionally been Castlevania’s primary antagonist to possess. In the game’s earliest moments, you guide Belmont up the incredible frame of a castle-smashing titan, dodging projectiles and tearing smaller opponents apart. Combat in this third-person adventure is much as it was in the first LOS: you’ve light and dark abilities triggered by the left and right bumpers, combos are stringed for maximum damage and enemies possess specialised defences requiring varied tactics to overcome.
But Belmont’s obliteration of what is basically an entire army inside the first half-hour of LOS2, in a distinctly Dark Ages setting, doesn’t telegraph what follows: the degradation and decay of Dracula, who the game catches up with in the present day, a wretched wraith wrapped in a curtain. He’s encouraged to feed, to regain his strength – and anyone with the most cursory experience of vampire fiction knows what’s necks (sorry). Everyone except US Gamer’s Kat Bailey.
Bailey’s interpretation of what’s been called the family scene – Dracula feeds on a mother, after killing the father by slicing open his throat, while a son cowers – is that it comprised a kind of rape. This was met by some strong reactions, largely along the lines of: it’s not rape, he’s Dracula, what were you expecting?
Bailey’s words come at a time when many excellent writers, male and female, are challenging the mistreatment and misrepresentation of women in games. We’ve come a long way since 1982’s Atari 2600 rape-horror Custer’s Revenge, but last year’s Grand Theft Auto V attracted valid criticism for its negatively one-dimensional depictions of women as nagging bores, cheating harlots and cheap strippers.
But Bailey threatens to undo the fine work of GameSpot’s Carolyn Petit, who highlighted GTA V’s “unnecessary strain of misogynist nastiness” to the tune of over 20,000 reader comments, and Edge columnist Leigh Alexander, whose observations on sexism in games cut straight to the heart of the matter: that there’s no place for it. By seeing something that isn’t there, Bailey undermines this important perspective, this essential analysis. There’s a time and place for drawing parallels between fictional murder and abominable acts of real-life violence – and a first-impressions report on a Dracula game probably isn’t one of them.
A clutch of gameplay refinements and additions – right-stick camera control being the most instantly appealing of them – ensure that LOS2 improves on the original, while a 20-something-hour campaign promises explorative depth and fan-pleasing visual cues harking back to previous titles. It’s not a consoles-by-the-millions shifter, but it’d have represented a welcome addition to the Wii U catalogue had MercurySteam taken that option. Producer David Cox cited resource restraints in early 2013, but perhaps he’s a supernatural soothsayer? Someone dunk him in a river to check.
On a final nostalgia tangent, Pac-Man is back – in 3D platformer form. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures (Namco Bandai, multiplatform) is the video-game partner to the cartoon series of the same name, which airs on Sky 1 in the UK. It’s a brightly coloured, completely kids-friendly affair. Unless you misguidedly connect the power pills between Pac’s ghosts-munching habits and the sordid subject of necrophilia, in which case: ban this sick filth before Keith Vaz explodes.