You know those "What If?" comics (like, "What if Spider-Man's spider-sense didn't tingle, but burned?"). The best way I can put Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Nightfor iPhone to you is as one of these scenarios. Only in this case, it's "What if Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had been a puzzle game and not a Metroid tribute?"
If you'd asked me what my excitement level was for this app back when it was announced, I don't think it would've registered above "meh." But Encore of the Night has really turned out to be a lesson in not dismissing a title simply because it's from a beloved franchise and has seemingly been adapted to a totally inappropriate genre.%Gallery-98023%
This is a real Castlevania game – not in that it has platforming and all that jazz, but rather it captures the atmosphere and basic RPG trappings of Symphony of the Night so very well. You get the intro, with Alucard entering his father's castle in order to defeat the crusty old grampire, and from there you make your way from room to room – the castle map is identical – battling enemies not with button presses, but through puzzles.
Granted, the actual puzzle combat isn't as clever as, say, Puzzle Quest 2, but it still offers up some novel elements. It's a match-three puzzler, where some blocks can only be "activated" for matching by being next to chains you set off. Thing is, these blocks can be strategically placed (via touch controls that are just a little too sensitive) to activate in chain reaction fashion upping your combo and sending more blocks onto the opponent's side. There's a twist in that, too, as filling their side to the top with blocks doesn't necessarily defeat them. Instead, it causes blocks to drop off the bottom, which deal damage. Same on your side, but eventually one of you will run out of hit points and lose.
That's where items, spells, and weapons come in handy. Yep, just like in SotN you pick up loot for defeating opponents (or, in some cases, just find it when moving from one room to the next). Alucard levels up, gaining more HP and dealing more damage, which can be augmented by equipping weapons and armor. Spells and items can be assigned to one of four "Quick Cast" areas on the screen, so if you're, say, almost out of HP, you can eat an apple.
This is a real Castlevania game – not in that it has platforming and all that jazz, but rather it captures the atmosphere and basic RPG trappings of Symphony of the Night so very well.
The whole thing is loaded with backgrounds, music and characters from SotN, with occasional text-based cutscenes and tutorials. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Alucard and his enemies, while looking faithful to the PSOne game's versions, actually have more frames of animation in Encore of the Night. Combined with various added effects, the puzzle battles are really pretty dynamic. My only wish: Retina Display support. At a time where many iPhone developers are adding it to their titles, this one appears just a tiny bit "muddy" on iPhone 4.
Even with its rough spots, Encore of the Night is a great game and a genuine surprise. You don't have to be a Castlevania junkie to enjoy it, but you'll definitely appreciate it even more if you come from the vamp-stamping camp.
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night (Konami, $4.99):App Store Link
This review is based on the full version of Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night purchased by the reviewer.