The original Shaman King: Master of Spirits
was one of the titles that fell through the cracks last year during the glut of holiday releases. Shame that so many (including many game reviewers) missed it, since Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2
is a surprisingly fulfilling and well-developed action adventure that's essentially one of the familiar "sequel rehashes" of the original game. Placed side by side with the original you'd be hard pressed to find any differences other than newly designed levels and challenges, but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt since we missed it the first time around.
Like the original Shaman King: Master of Spirits, the sequel clearly utilizes Konami's already established Castlevania engine for its gameplay. This gives Shaman King strength in game design because the Castlevania GBA series is some of the tightest and most enjoyable action on the handheld. Shaman King look, feels, and plays just like a Castlevania, right down to having a whole series of skeletons and demons to shatter across all of the game's worlds.
But since the game's based around the universe created in Shonen Jump's manga and the anime, its target audience is much more limited than a Castlevania game. And for anyone who has no prior experience with Shaman King will be completely lost -- it's an incredibly tight and satisfying action adventure, but when you have no idea who's a good guy, who's a bad guy, and who's a good guy turned bad guy, the whole idea of a "quest" is completely lost, especially when much of the game involves encountering a variety of characters that don't offer any sort of history of what their background is. At least in Castlevania it's a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end that doesn't require prior knowledge of any previous Castlevania title.
And that's the only major complaint about the game: the license, and the fact that the game requires some previous experience with characters and settings. Outside of that, the game's a whole lot of fun, if just a little too derivative of the Castlevania design. Even though there really isn't anything tremendously original (most of the game's layout has been done in one or more of the three Castlevania GBA titles), it's still fun as heck and tough as nails.
Unlike Castlevania titles, though, Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2 doesn't have an overworld level progression like a massive castle to traverse. Instead, this game offers a grid-like map where each spot on the grid is a three to four screen big level with one or more entrance and exit points back to the overworld grid. Because of this, there isn't a detailed map keeping track of player's progress like in Castlevania, and as a result it's not as convenient to backtrack within the game to find all the secrets since the game doesn't offer any easy way of knowing which areas have only been partially explored. It's up to the player to mentally note the locations that they'll need to return to in order to uncover the extra paths.
But because of the Castlevania engine, Master of Spirits 2 enjoys a lot of luxury for a secondary GBA release. The game looks, sounds, and plays great simply because the engine allows the game to be that way. Of course, it couldn't look or sound good without the proper assets, so credit must be paid to the team for providing really nice art and music for the Shaman King experience.
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