When you consider the recent surge in vampire popularity caused by the sensation that is the Twilight franchise, Konami’s decision to unleash its highly-esteemed Castlevania series onto iPhone is nothing short of pure genius.
Sadly for fans of Edward Cullen this title is rather lacking in teen angst, but thankfully it boasts enough depth to suck in (pun absolutely intended) any self-respecting gamer.
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night is essentially a re-imagining of the 1997 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It's a gothic side-scrolling adventure retooled with match-three puzzle mechanics.
Fangs for the memories
The gameplay is simplistic: link together three or more coloured gems to remove them from play. Touch anywhere on the screen moves gems around, whereas tapping rotates them. A downward-flick drops the gems to the bottom of the screen.
Not all blocks can be linked initially. Some fall from the sky in a dormant form and must be adjacent to a linked collection of gems before they shift to active status and can be cleared themselves.
With these rules understood it’s possible to create massive chain-reactions which dump cleared gems onto your opponent’s playfield. Encore of the Night is always played in competition with a rival, although the lack of wireless multiplayer means that, disappointingly, you can’t fight against a fellow human.
One of the key differences that Encore of the Night has over similar match-three puzzle titles is that once your play area is full of gems you don’t die. Instead, the bottom few rows are removed and damage is dished out on your character’s health bar. It’s only when this bar reaches zero that you actually bite the dust.
Blows are also dealt when the hourglass in the centre of the screen flips, with the amount of punishment being dependent on how many blocks both you and your enemy have removed.
A real gem
Thankfully, you can use special items to replenish your life force, although these are manifested as a gem which must be removed from the play area before its medicinal properties can be exploited.
You’re also able to equip your character with armour, weapons, shields and trinkets to boost you skills. Just like in a role-playing game, you obtain experience points when you triumph in battle and levelling up boosts your stats.
This layer of depth works well with the simplistic puzzle gameplay, offering straightforward action combined with the nuanced strategy involved with using items and outfitting your character.
In fact, the simplicity of the match-three gameplay actually works in the game’s favour as it keeps things manageable when you start to introduce variables such as special items and spells.It’s in the blood
Encore of the Night offers hours and hours of gameplay, with achievements to unlock (known here as honours) and countless items to collect. It could be argued that the core mechanics would easily become boring if it were not for these additional layers of complexity and the immense challenge posed by some of the tougher enemies.
The inexplicable absence of multiplayer is the only real criticism you can level at this sublime title, and there’s every chance that Konami will deem to add this element into the game via a future update.
Taking a title as renowned as Symphony of the Night and strapping on puzzle elements might seem like a foolhardy venture on paper, but Konami has handled the process superbly, creating a game which is not only faithful to its source but also heaps on layers of additional depth that will keep you consistently returning for weeks to come.