Every year we're inundated with derivative sequels that look and play just like the earlier version. Yet Castlevania never seems to lose its bloodthirsty, explorative spirit. Dawn of Sorrow crucifies all three Game Boy Advance vamp hunts by offering a longer quest studded with gruesome, fleshy bosses and enough customization to make even the most obsessive gamers arch an appreciative eyebrow.
As with many entries before it, Dawn drops you into Dracula's enchanted castle virtually powerless. Only through extensive rooting about and monster slaying can you find hidden power-ups necessary to advance. This means searching the castle from its spike-laden clock towers down into the underwater caverns, often uncovering items and doors just out reach. All this wandering would get annoying if it weren’t for metrosexual hero Soma Cruz's fondness for soul-sucking.
Every floating skull or ravenous ghoul you see houses a soul; its abilities can be added to your own. Some are much harder to steal than others, so repeatedly killing the same monster may be in the cards. This isn't exactly a problem; there are so many villainous miscreants running around the castle, each affecting your overall power in a different way, that roaming around the grounds is never once boring or tedious.
The new abilities you gain, whether they open secrets or just look damn cool, make these diversions worth the investment. On top of that, ripping the same soul increases its potency; with nine bat souls you can practically stand still while they go nuts shredding everything around you. We'd need some kind of superhuman calculator to figure out all the combinations of weapons and souls there are, and none of them handle exactly alike. In an age of super-short adventure games, meet one that delivers for weeks, if not months.
The DS’ top screen is a given. It’s a map of the castle, something you’d normally have to pause and view every few rooms. Uninspired, but very handy. It can also display the intricate inventory you've racked up throughout the game, plus your hit points and info about what creepy-crawlie you're bashing.