Video Game DEMO-lition: CASTLEVANIA, DEADLIEST WARRIOR, More

Castlevania - Game Trailer

A little late this week, thanks to a little something called New York Comic Con. Nevertheless, we have mini-reviews of last week's demos for you here, so check 'em out and tell us what you think! As far as THIS week? Well, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II demo hits, so I imagine Seth will be writing the whole rest of the column, as I'll be playing that about 400 times.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Xbox Retail)

In an attempt to break a decades-old curse on its 3D action adventure titles, the venerable Castlevania franchise now reboots with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.  The effort of the new talent on the game really shows, especially the impact of Kojima Productions (Metal Gear Solid) who didn’t forget to bring along their penchant for extensive narration, though Patrick Stewart’s performance makes it welcome.  In a fantasy version of Dark Ages Europe your chain-whip wielding hero, orphan warrior monk Gabriel Belmont, first faces waves of werewolves in a dark and impressively wet looking rain-soaked village.  This demo area takes you though the basics of combat but it also reveals the game to be overall a more visually remarkable title than its thematic cousin Dante’s Inferno.  The dark and gloom of the night rain turns annoying visual noise into a real tension builder as the glowing red eyes of the werewolves are the only clue that something is lurking.  In combat, grapples and timed blocks are emphasized over lengthy combos, as foes are quickly dispatched even with a single use of the ranged dagger attack.  After a brief boss fight, the game transitions to a chase sequence where you hold off warg riding werewolves atop a magic horse that suddenly appears out of a magic portal to aid you to what is surely unintentional comic effect.  After whipping your foes away from you and occasionally stopping to battle them on foot the demo ends with an impressive trailer of full game’s locals, a rundown of the game’s voice cast and new interpretations of the franchise’s macabre elements.

Comic Jumper (Xbox Live Arcade)

Like the recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Comic Jumper takes the flexible comic book world format as license to experiment in different visual styles, if not different play styles.  Its 2.5D side scrolling action is largely split between brawling and shooting, often times while platforming, occasionally broken up by QTEs and rail shooting sequences.  The action can get repetitive quickly, and the pull to just keep running rather than try to duck and weave through enemy attacks is very strong.  The game’s characters constant quipping also makes it clear that the gameplay takes a backseat to the game’s writing.  For a plot, a series of machine gun paced meta-textual jokes and fourth-wall breaking that makes Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard look coherent leads earnest hero Captain Smiley to a job guest-starring in other genre/styles of comic books (Modern age, Silver Age, Fantasy and “Manga”) where the action plays out in their respective visual styles.  None of which is experienced in the demo, which after the first action stage and boss battle ends with a forced tour of the combat-free hub area (which gives you the opportunity to buy other games from the same developer) and then just a cut-scene tease of the first Fantasy comic world.

Alien Breed: Impact (PSN/XBLA/PC)

This is a simple 3/4 top-down shooter from Team 17, the company that has been bringing us the stellar Worms franchise for a couple decades. The game controls like pretty much any other shooter, with you holding one direction and holding down a trigger, knocking off the aliens attacking with a variety of weapons. The weapons themselves can be found on the ground or purchased at little consoles strewn throughout the environment. This is apparently a remake of a previous game (which I hadn't played, so I can't speak to the original). There's upgradeability, challenges and puzzle solving galore, of course, but overall the demo left me a little cold. My first thought was "Well that's a game I could play through without being totally bored," and in the busy Fall/Holiday season, that's not enough to warrant a purchase. For a similar style of game, the recent Lara Croft offered much more variety in enemies and gameplay, along with simpler overall mechanics.

Deadliest Warrior (PSN/XBLA)

Out for a few months already for XBLA, this game hit PSN last week. The demo allows you to play simple 1-on-1 matches featuring Ninja and Spartan warriors. Combat in this game is brutal and 'realistic' in the sense that well landed blows do serious damage. It's possible to chop off limbs, impale with spears, and even decapitate your enemy, of course leading to instant death. The series' signature Close, Medium, and Long range weapons are intact, along with a special move that if landed cleanly will score a quick win. Matches have the potential to be incredibly short; one match, playing as a Spartan against a Ninja, consisted of blocking one attempt at an attack with my shield, then throwing my spear through the Ninja's skull. All told, it was about 3.5 seconds long for that victory. With unlockable gear and a lot more warriors in the full game, this could be a fun "warm-up" game; one you sit and play for 10-15 minutes before jumping into something else, but I don't see it as a game worth plunging hours at a time into. Still, the controls (once you look at them; don't try to figure them out yourself) are solid, the visuals brutal, and it does capture the general feel of the re-enactments done at the end of the program pretty well.

Play any of these demos? What'd you think? Play any of these demos? What'd you think?

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