Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is the series' first plunge into 3D on the PS2 and it pulls off the change very well indeed. It's also the first in the Castlevania series, in that it's a prequel and therefore lays the groundwork for the other games. If you've played other Castlevania titles you'll already know what you'll be doing. The tried and true Castlevania formula is in place, so you'll be fighting scores of undead to reach a deadly Vampire Lord. That may sound simple, but believe me it's not. The undead are extremely persistent and very deadly, so you'll be working your buttons at a feverish pace to get through them. But you'll be loving every blood-spattered second.
Lament of Innocence takes place during the Crusades era, the 11th Century, when mortals shared the earth with zombies, demons, ghosts, vampires and all manner of undead nasties. A powerful vampire, Walter Bernhard, has abducted Leon Belmont's fiancee, Sara Trantoul, and imprisoned her in his huge trap-ridden castle. But before racing to Sara's rescue, Leon meets the alchemist Rinaldo Gandolfi who gives him a mystical whip. That whip is his principal weapon against all that seek to stop him reaching his true love.
Bernhard's colossal castle is divided into 5 areas. Many of the rooms and hallways look very similar, so you'll be using your Select button often to bring up your map. Each area is packed with complex puzzles, cryptic rooms and intricate traps that test your timing and talent while a mammoth menagerie of damned try to stop you succeeding at any of them. Magic potions, your trusty whip and your quick wits are your only weapons against one stunningly rendered creature after another. The foreboding atmosphere of the castle comes vividly to life with its dancing shadows, swirling fog, moving floors and hungry vines as Leon fights his way forward, whip in hand. As Leon learns new whip attacks he become almost savage in his intensity as he links fast and ferocious moves together. His lashing whip and deflective gauntlet make him a terrifyingly efficient killer.
Leon's whip is not only a deadly weapon, it's a means of getting from one place to another. You use it to scale walls, swing across gaping chasms, climb up to the next platform and you can even use it to flick stubborn switches. The sub- weapons scattered about the castle are excellent when used against particular enemies, and they also become much stronger when combined with orbs. True to the other Castlevanias cunning use of relics will boost your attack power, allow you to run super fast or become invincible for a short time. And it's these little touches of brilliance that shift a Castlevania game from being an ordinary Action game into being a terrific Action game.
Having said that, I'm a little disappointed that Lament of Innocence has broken the Castlevania rpg mold and is actually an Action game. There're times when I would've liked to have had the power to choose which abilities to give Leon and had points to allot to Health and Mana. A more hands-on rpg development of my protagonist into my own idea of a lean, mean fighting machine would have given Lament of Innocence a nicer, all-round, feel for me. But don't get me wrong, this is still a great game, it's just that it could've been better. Yes, Leon can perform some magic, but for what he gets out of it it's almost worthless, and then his Mana meter takes a long time to refill. You start the game with the majority of skills that you finish with, and I found that somewhat frustrating.
The Castlevania series is known for its fantastic Bosses and Lament of Innocence won't let you down. These Bosses are jaw-droppingly rendered, so much so that you can almost count the scales on Medusa's writhing snakes, the succubus is gorgeous in her scanty costume, and who would guess that a maggot could look so darned good?