CASTLEVANIA : DAWN OF SORROW / Konami / DS
Castlevania : Dawn of Sorrow is the first direct Castlevania sequel we've seen (plot-wise) in a while. It brings back Soma Cruz, star of the last Gameboy Advance adventure (Aria of Sorrow), for another outing as some evil cult tries to kill him off and he assaults their headquarters to put a stop to their nonsense.
The most important thing to know up front about this game is that, if you haven't played Aria of Sorrow and plan to, you might want to do that first as this one ruins that one's major plot twist right out of the gate.
Soma basically is the same as he was in the previous outing, capturing monster "Souls" and then using their various abilities in addition to the usual suite of Castlevania weapons (and the occasional handgun, this being set in the year 2031). New to the gameplay here is that you get "companions" at certain points who will follow you and sometimes toss out an attack, and there's a two-player wireless mode where you can place monsters (whose souls you have previously captured) in a level and then compete to get through it the fastest.
You also use the touch screen in a limited fashion, to draw "seals" which are used to open certain doors and finish off certain monsters. There's also a couple of abilities that involve tapping on the screen, such as one that destroys certain types of blocks. I don't know why everyone who develops for the DS feels compelled to force "touch screen functionality" into every single game regardless of whether or not it fits or there is a need for it, but Konami is no different in this one. The "monster seal" thing really doesn't add anything positive to the game and is just an added chore, and gets frustrating towards the end where you have to start drawing finicky complex patterns. Additionally switching from the pad to stylus and back is annoying; fortunately, it's kept to a relative minimum, but it really shouldn't have even been here at all.
One of the nice points of this one is that graphically, it is the first to even begin to compare to what Symphony of the Night was. Unfortunately, unless you are hooked up to a monitor or high-res TV, you are going to miss a lot of the fine detail on the small screen as the sprites and background effects are not always all that visible. At the very least a good screen magnifier is recommended for this one. In the audio department, Michiru Yamane returns and turns in a score that is not as stellar as that of Symphony, but is still better than any of the Gameboy Advance games.
All-in-all, it's a fine sequel if you just want more of the same, but I found it a touch too rehashy to really get excited about. There's a few minor tweaks which are nice, as is the enhanced graphical and sound capabilities, but the only really big addition is the touch-screen functionality and it's quite dubious and debatable as to whether that even adds anything worthwhile to the game. As Zelda has been proving as of late, it's possible to get tired of even the greatest formula if you don't switch it up significantly. This is the 4th follow-up to Symphony over the space of ten years, and while they've all steadily improved over time, they've yet to do much different or evolve in any major way. It gets a recommendation just basically for being Castlevania and executing everything solidly (except the touch screen), but I can promise that yet another game in this mold with no significant changes is going to be met with a resounding Meh at absolute best.
* Gameplay Video