Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

If you really think about it, the lure of the undead is over hyped. Sleeping in uncomfortable coffins and scared of the sun, Italian food is another no-no. But the worst thing about being Court Dracula (cue evil lauhahahahauuuughter!), is there's always some group of mad cultists either out to dig you up and resurrect you, or dig you up and stick a sharp stake through your unbeating heart. What a life!

And so it is with the latest bout of bloodlust from Konami's long-running Castlevania series. Set in the unlikely year of 2036, the plot follows on from the GBA's Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - not that any previously knowledge is required. The main characters rejoin their battle however, with the mysterious Celia out to kill your character Soma Cruz so she can... (wait for it) resurrect Dracula.

The twist in all this is that there's more to Soma than meets the eye. In fact, in a case of fighting fire with fire, he's actually a vampire. It's a plot line which develops with throughout the game, so we won't reveal anymore...

Being a vampire certainly has its advantages though - not least is the power to absorb the souls of fallen enemies and inherit their powers. As you progress through the game, your collection of souls increases and so does your repertoire of attacks and abilities.

There are three types of souls you can equip: bullet, guardian and enchant. Bullet type souls give you a special attack of some kind, perhaps a magical bow and arrow or a giant scorpions tail. Using these attacks nibbles away at your magic bar. Guardian souls use up magic power whenever they are activated. Amongst other things they let you summon helpful familiar spirits that will attack any nearby enemies. Finally the enchant souls don't use up magic power but give you passive bonuses like a boost in strength or the ability to regenerate health when seated. Some of the souls you collect, usually from bosses, don't need to be equipped and provide permanent abilities that will help you progress further into the castle. Examples include double-jump and the power to break ice blocks using the stylus and touch screen.

And seeing as there are over 150 different enemies in the game, the combinations are practically endless. Some monsters drop souls more often than others, dependent on their rarity value, and it's certainly rewarding to get a soul from a beast that rarely gives one up. A system where you can keep two different soul setups and switch between them by hitting the 'X' button helps ease the limitation of only being able to equip three souls at one time.

There are other uses for the souls, too. Each of the multitude of weapons in the game can be enhanced by being fused with a soul. It's a reversible process, so you can get the soul back if you decide you want to use it for something else. You can also link up wirelessly with a mate and exchange souls, via the Soul Trade mode, which is a great way of adding to your collection if some awesome ability is eluding you. There's an in-game shop, where you can shell out for regulars such as health and strength potions, as well as new weapons.

Explaining how the game works says little about how enjoyable it is to play however. Technically, it's superb. The huge castle is beautifully realised and the characters are impressive, each with their own quirky characteristics and death animations. And there are some humorous touches with boomerang-throwing skeletons comedy-cowering when you come near, and one Shakespeare-inspired enemy kicking his own head around like a football. The audio is awesome too. An orchestral score accompanies your journey through the game, setting the atmosphere perfectly. The touch screen is put to good use. Be it destroying ice blocks that block your progress, directing your familiars or vanquishing boss monsters by drawing a deadly magic seal to finish them off, it rarely seems contrived and adds to the gameplay immensely.

Overall, in fact, it's hard to fault Castlevania:DoS. The plot is well rounded and compelling, the graphics and sound are excellent and the level design ensures that you are never frustrated by the lack of save points. Collecting souls and upgrading your abilities is great, you never know exactly what the new souls you pick up are going to enable you to do but you can be sure it will be something cool every time. Maybe it's fun to be a vampire after all.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is on sale now.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Whether you're already a fan of the series or a newbie, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is an excellent adventure with loads of depth,