Lunar Knights - Staff Review  

Castlevania in Space!
by Jason Schreier

Moderate to Hard
10-20 Hours


Rating definitions 

   When Hideo Kojima, creator of the acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series, released Boktai for the Game Boy Advance, fans didnít know what to think. Sure, it was a great action-RPG with some cool stealth elements that made it a lot of fun to play, but because the Boktai cartridge contained a light sensor that actually detected whether or not the game was being played in the sun, players were limited as to where and when they could play. Although an innovative tool to be sure, this sun sensor was anathema to portable gaming because of its restrictions; it alienated anyone who couldnít or didnít want to be exposed to sunlight. Consequently, Kojima and his team decided to throw away the Boktai stigma and keep the seriesí core elements while discarding the light sensor, naming the new product Lunar Knights.

   The world has been attacked by vampires. Holding an environmental control system known as paraSOL, they have blacked out the sun and covered the land in night, as well as enslaved its human population. Enter Lucian, an infamous vampire hunter and swordsman who harnesses the power of darkness for the sake of revenge, and Aaron, a gunslinger trainee who protects his friends using the strength of the sun. These two unlikely allies, along with their respective elemental assistants, a flying cat and a potted sunflower plant, must work together in order to defeat the vampires before they can enslave the entire world; think The Odd Couple meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Scare enemies off with circles of paint Scare enemies off with circles of paint

   Combat in Lunar Knights is simple, yet has enough unique factors to make it challenging and fun. Since the player can switch between Lucian and Aaron at will, thereís a level of strategy when it comes to deciding how to hack away at bad guys. Some enemies are more susceptible to Lucianís Dark Sword or other short-range weapons, while others will fall to Aaronís long-range Solar Gun. In typical action-RPG fashion, one button controls attacking while another puts up a shield for defending. Lucian and Aaron can also interact with the environment, destroying crates and pulling levers using their weapons. The knights can also dash when the directional pad is tapped twice, which costs some energy and adds another strategic element to game play; however, tapping the pad twice can be difficult to pull off in a tight spot, and is at times extremely frustrating when it doesnít work, which can make the difference in a tough boss fight.

   Easily visible meters depict the current characterís health, energy, and Trance levels. Energy, which Lucian and Aaron can regain either through items or by calling upon the moon or sun respectively, is used both for dashing and attacking with the power of Terrennials, elemental creatures that the vampires have taken captive. Enemies are aligned with certain elements and take more damage from attacks using the Terrennial of the opposite element, while taking less from their own. Trance powers, on the other hand, are effectively Kojimaís version of Final Fantasyís limit breaks. The Trance meter, charged by attacking or being attacked, can be used to activate the special power of whatever Terrennial is currently active. Although it is a hassle to suddenly switch from the button based interface to tapping the screen with the stylus, Trance attacks are so powerful that itís hard to notice the difference.

   Bosses are innovative and usually require strategy to defeat, but the coolest aspect of combat is when Lucian and Aaron defeat a vampire and must purify its body in order to prevent the creature from regenerating. They do this by, obviously, flying into space on a starship and shooting down enemy ships while avoiding asteroids in order to transport the vampire corpse to an interstellar satellite. Even though the idea is very silly, the shooting game takes advantage of the touch screen and ends up being a refreshing change of pace and a lot of fun to play.

To the moon... and beyond! To the moon... and beyond!

   Aesthetically, the game is great. Graphics are isometric and have an anime feel to them, and sprites are beautiful and detailed, although dungeon graphics can be very repetitive. The top screen shows the current weather and sunlight conditions, which are constantly changing. Some of the information is unnecessary Ė we donít need to know the exact wind speed at all times Ė but it sure looks cool. Cutscenes are fluid and extremely well-animated, featuring voiceovers that, while somewhat lackluster, are rare treats for a portable game. The music is nothing special but it fits the game well; tunes tend to be ominous and dark, as they should be.

   Lunar Knights does a lot to take advantage of the DSís capabilities. Both screens are utilized well for conversations, cutscenes, and even regular game play. Even the microphone is implemented; blowing into it makes the character whistle, attracting nearby monsters. There are some problems with the interface, however, such as the necessity to switch between buttons and the touch screen at inconvenient times; it should be an industry standard by now to make dialogue in DS games scrollable both through a button and touching the screen. There also seem to be some bugs: a continue screen pops up upon death with the option of paying 200 Sol (currency) to start at the same point with all vital stats refilled, but it seems like players can choose this option infinitely, as even when thereís no money in the bank, the game can still be continued.

   Lunar Knights is a pretty good game. Other than some minor issues, the interface is solid. Puzzles and fairly interesting bosses help propel players along, and the story isnít bad at all. The game is short, but there is enough optional content to nearly double its length, from a giant optional dungeon to hidden secret weapons. Lunar Knights is definitely a worthwhile buy for what it is; a short, action packed RPG with a lot of cool features and a fair amount of replay value.

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