Few games are as highly regarded as the 13-year old Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a beautiful, complex action game with two sprawling castles to explore and hundreds of secrets to discover. It’s also, in many ways, the swan song of 2D video games, which were soon shoved aside by 3D polygon-pushing platformers. Castlevania Puzzle revisits the exact same environments and storyline of Symphony of the Night, but instead of jumping and slashing, you’re dropping colored blocks to battle the castle’s nightmarish minions.
The game’s sole castle is broken up into large rooms, which act sort of like spaces on a board game. You move one space at a time, and often you’ll be warped into an instant battle against a minor enemy. These random encounters are constant throughout the entire game, and they can make traveling from point A to point B rather tedious at times.
Alucard rolls a 1, yet again.
That’s because you’ll be so focused on leveling up your character, Alucard, that you’ll want to explore the castle uninterrupted. Backtracking and exploring alternate routes, which was part of what made the original game so absorbing, is painfully slow when you’re interrupted by constant battles.
When you’re stolen away to puzzle battle mode, blocks will drop onto your side of the screen, and you can rotate them and slam them down, Tetris-style. There are regular blocks, which can be matched in groups of three, and special blocks that must be ‘broken’ by matching sets next to them first. With some luck and skill, you can create cascades of combos that will inflict more junk blocks onto the enemy’s side of the screen.
In a strange twist on the puzzle combat seen in games like Puzzle Fighter, the battle isn’t over when your opponent’s blocks reach the top of the screen. Instead, some damage is dealt to your opponent when this happens, or throughout the match as ‘turns’ of 15 seconds pass while an hourglass fills in the center. Hidden calculations based on your strength, defense, and state of your puzzle blocks will determine the damage inflicted on both you and your enemy after each ‘turn’.
This system feels needlessly confusing to us, and even worse, it results in a lot of pointless matches. When backtracking, you may be whisked into a random encounter against an enemy much weaker than you. After 15 seconds of matching blocks, they’ll automatically die– not because of anything you did, but just because your attack power is so much higher than their defense.
Your reward for sitting through these unbalanced matches is a pittance of gold or experience, and a waste of a minute or two of your time. Only by constantly pressing forward will you receive enough experience points to level up Alucard. Because of these constant encounters, the game can stretch on for eight hours or more. While this is a great value for any iPhone game, not every second of it can be considered quality time.
The notable exception, however, are the game’s boss battles. Epic and intense, you’ll be forced to use your very best equipment, items, and spells to survive these landmark encounters. Just about every boss battle from Symphony of the Night is included, and these are the definite highlights of the game.
Your playtime may vary. Ours sure did.
Once you beat the game’s quest mode (there is both a real and fake ending, just like in the original, but no second castle) you can play individual versus matches with eight of the game’s main characters. However, Castlevania Puzzle is sadly lacking a multiplayer mode for human competition. Wi-Fi or Bluetooth multiplayer would be a strong addition to this game.
If you know Symphony of the Night like the back of your hand, Castlevania Puzzle is a worthy purchase. The rooms, bosses, and even quest items are exactly where you left them back in 1997. The only difference is the lengthy, challenging, and sometimes frustrating puzzle gameplay that completely replaces the classic platforming.
We’re still eager to play a 2D Castlevania action game on the iPhone, but this unique twist on one of the greats is an enjoyable consolation prize.