Thursday, 28 October 2010

iPhone Castlevania & Silent Hill

I’ve been doing a spot of travelling as of late and like any other time that I travel, I tend to acquire a couple of games to play on my various portable devices. On this occasion I picked up two Konami games for the iPhone; “Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night” and “Silent Hill: The Escape”.

First up is the poorly titled, “Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night”. It's a  Puyo Puyo clone with spats of Puzzle Fighter. The screen is split into two grids with two sprites opposite each other in the centre, these sprites represent both the player character and enemy. Gameplay consists of randomised pairings of coloured blocks falling to the base of the grid. These pairs can be rotated before settling at the lowest vertical point – at which point the next pairing begins to drop. Once 3 or more coloured blocks touch, they are cleared from the grid. Pretty standard stuff. There’s the added complication of protected blocks which don’t become active in play until they are adjacent to a successful matching, but it’s nothing unusual if you’ve played Puyo Puyo or any of it’s many clones (I’m also reminded slightly of the Sega classic, “Baku Baku Animal”).

Puzzles aside, this is still Castlevania, and thus several game mechanics from the series make a return; such as the health bars and RPG-like stats of previous Castlevania title, Symphony of the Night.

Throughout play there’s a constantly emptying hour glass – once empty an attack occurs for both parties, and the sprites attack each other accordingly. The damage done during the attack depends purely on the two character’s stats – which are determined by the player when they distribute their XP (gained by winning battles). The automated attacks are periodic and occur throughout the round. Additional attacks can be caused by spells, which can be cast at any point (MP willing) and also by filling up the opponents grid. Spells are awarded when XP is spent on the various different magic stats. An opponents grid can be filled up by chaining multiple coloured blocks into a combo – this is a pretty awesome feature, because even if your grid is full, you’re still not out of the fight. Like Puzzle Fighter, this is a puzzle game where comebacks can be strong and frequent – it’s not unusual for the balance to shift multiple times in one round.

The game actually plays like a metroidvania title not unlike Symphony of the Night, only puzzle battles take the place of the standard two dimensional fights one would expect from this game’s name sake. It's a pretty interesting take on the genre, not unlike Puzzle Quest.

It’s also quite well presented, the age old sprites look pretty good on the iPhone screen and the backgrounds (which look ripped from Symphony of the Night) are rich and colourful. The menus are generally clear and are simple to navigate, with the exception of some of the stats screens which can be a little fiddly on the old chubby digits. The sound design is authentic to the series and the music loops suit the game’s pace. However, I do suggest using the game’s built in custom music function and playing “Castlevania: Sonata of the Damned” (free download).

It’s not all rainbows and blowjobs, however, the game’s controls are rather clumsy – one can manipulate the blocks by rubbing or swiping left, right or down across the screen, with screen taps causing the blocks to rotate. I've yet to really find the sweet spot as far as sensitivity is concerned, and I had to disable any gesture based input as it was resulting in blocks dropping unintentionally. It can feel rewarding to win over this slightly lacklustre control scheme, but it’s a hollow victory - I don’t agree that Resident Evil’s fear comes from bad controls, it’s a poor man’s way to provoke an emotion or in this case, challenge.

This game is begging for an Xbox Live Arcade port, the visuals would stand up pretty well (especially after seeing the recent Xbox Live Arcade title, “Castlevania HD”) and the controls would no doubt benefit from something as tactile as a Directional Pad. That said, after reaching the 85% point after 10 hours and witnessing the series staple “bad ending”, I am unlikely to revisit the title again - I already own Puzzle Fighter on Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s still my favourite block based puzzler on the platform (take that Puzzle Quest).

Castlevania is available on iTunes here.

Next up I downloaded “Silent Hill: The Escape”.

It's awful.

One of the most confusing and awkward control schemes ever – like many games on the iPhone, the developer hasn’t even slightly taken into account the platform it was created for (see the unfortunately awful “Duke Nukem 3D” on iPhone for another example). The movement mechanics almost always have me walking past a turning or running into walls. The iPhone just isn't a natural fit for first person shooters that require advanced movement and camera - give me a rail shooter over these badly shoehorned experiences any day. One thing that bothers me is that there was indeed a Silent Hill rail shooter - why not simply port that?

I’ll touch on the controls to ensure that one’s curiosity won’t lead to a purchase of this car crash (no, there’s no “lite” version or free demo). A Directional Pad is placed on the screen wherever you place your finger – this controls forward/backward movement and left/right turning (no strafing).

Okay so far.

Next couple in the fact that the camera is controlled by the position of the iPhone (tilting the iPhone down/up will result in the character looking down/up).

What a novel idea?

Now, layer in the fact that to fire your gun you need to tap directly in the centre of the screen…

It’s fucking ridiculous.

I’m not giving out a download link.

Kill it with fire.