Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Xbox Live Arcade Hands On

Last year, it was revealed that Konami's classic sidescroller Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would be making its way to Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade. Despite little official mention of the game since then, reassurance of its existence came this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where it was present in playable form. Symphony of the Night, originally released in 1997 for PlayStation, was a landmark for the long running Castlevania series. It was the first game in the franchise to feature the now-standard Metroid-like nonlinear world design, and also marks the first Castlevania game worked on by current series producer Koji Igarashi. I got some hands on time with the game to see how the transition over to Microsoft's current-gen console is shaping up.

Despite the lack of an announced release date, Symphony of the Night's Live Arcade incarnation seems to be fairly far along. Emulation is solid; the is game running well, and graphics and sound are intact. The controls map over fine, though oddly enough I was unable to find the map (it's not Start or Back, if you're curious). Those who played the original PlayStation game will be pleased (or possibly dismayed) to learn that that characteristically cringe-worthy voice acting has been perfectly preserved. As in many Live Arcade retro ports, there are two graphical options: Original and Enhanced. Original simply displays the game in its original form. Enhanced applies a basic upscaling filter that attempts to smooth out the low resolution graphics' heavy aliasing. Personally, Original mode's crispness seems preferable to the muddy--if higher-res--look of Enhanced, but some will no doubt prefer the latter. Also like many retro ports, the game runs in a centered window in order to fit the original aspect ratio; on the widescreen display being used, there was quite a bit of unused horizontal screen space, but this would be diminished on a 4:3 screen. The build on display did not have an option to scale the game to fit the full screen.

Frequently, Xbox Live Arcade games that are far from release do not have all of their Achievements in place. Here, that's not the case, with all Achievements apparently done, suggesting that the may be getting close to release. Many of the Achievements are simply related to linearly reaching required parts of the game, though there are a few exceptions. Seeker requires the player to unlock 200.6% of the game, Money Bags is awarded for collecting $100,000. There are also achievements for completing the main game and inverted castle as initial character Richter Belmont, and for defeating Dracula in Richter's initial battle without getting hit once.

As is standard for Live Arcade titles, Symphony of the Night has online leaderboards. It is unclear what exactly these boards will be tracking, and without the show floor Xbox 360s being connected to the internet I couldn't find out. Presumably there will be some kind of time-related comparison, perhaps comparing times for total game completion times or specific areas.

Interestingly, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night circumvents one previously unbroken Xbox Live Arcade requirement, the 50 megabyte download limit. This requirement was instituted in order to allow players to copy games onto Xbox 360 memory units, which have a 64 megabyte capacity; among other benefits, this allows those without hard drives to download Live Arcade games--even if only one. Despite SOTN's precedent, the size limit will remain in place, and will only be waived in cases of necessity.

It's tough to imagine how exactly something like this would be screwed up, and based on its current state, it does indeed to be doing fine. Fans of the original have been anticipating Symphony of the Night's arrival on Live Arcade since it was announced, but those who missed this seminal release should seriously consider giving it a shot as well.

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