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Castlevania: Order of Shadows – J2ME (Mobile)

Castlevania: Order of Shadows – J2ME (Mobile)

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsPlatform:  J2ME (Java Platform, Mobile Edition) (Emulated on Android Device)

Release Date (NA):  September 18th, 2007

Developer:  Konami Mobile

Publisher:  Konami (?)

Genre:  Action-Adventure, Platforming

Nerd Rating:  6 out of 10

Note:  Order of Shadows was an exclusive mobile phone game long before our current notion of mobile device games existed.  I was able to emulate this on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3; click here for instructions on how to do so.

Nokia 1200-something

Believe it or not, phones like this were the top-selling of 2007, and by a huge margin at that. Some didn’t even have color screens!

Let’s go back – way back in terms of cell phones – to the year 2007.  Full QWERTY keyboards were just starting to emerge as “the next big thing” (LG’s enV was one of the year’s most popular) and standard numerical keypad phones were still the norm.  In fact, devices like the basic, no frills Nokia 1200 topped sales charts with units sold reaching the hundreds of millions.  The new “slider” design was beginning to eclipse the popular flip-phone for those who only needed 12 keys, and texters everywhere were adjusting to full keyboards more than five times smaller than that of a standard computer.  Exclusive touchscreen phones began to appear (Apple’s first iPhone debuted during the year) but these were still out of most consumers’ reach, not to mention absent the extensive support framework that exists today.  BlackBerry (or was it CrackBerry?) was at the top of their game, the choice of outspoken techies, business professionals, and rich teenagers, having sold 15 million BlackBerry Pearl units the year before.

Now let’s remember what the games back then were like: expensive, shallow, and pointless.  If you were lucky, you may have stumbled across a basic RTS-ish game that held your interest, but for the most part all we had were shitty Tetris rip-offs, or electronic versions of board games like Yahtzee and Chess, and the ever-popular card games such as Solitaire and Hearts.  Usually games like these went one of two ways: the AI was so horrendous that it was impossible to simulate a real experience, or the AI had easily identifiable patterns that, once spotted, removed any trace of a challenge.  Even if you were able to find an awesome game for a mere $3.49 per month you only had a 1″ x 1″ screen to play it on and a tiny little keypad to do all the work with.  Sure, we can all still complain about the low quality and lack of artistry in today’s mobile-based games, but let’s face it, we’ve come a very, very long way from those made in the early and mid 2000’s.  Hand cramps, eye-strain, headaches, immense heat (from the phone sucking up battery), battery loss, interruptions from actual phone functions, and ungodly pricing held back whatever potential earlier mobile platforms may have had, and almost all of these issues have been resolved or improved upon significantly.

LG Env

Have one of these lying around? Using the SD card might be your best bet at experiencing Order of Shadows as closely as possible to how it was intended.

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsCastlevania: Order of Shadows is one of these games.  I suppose it is about time I started discussing the actual game, but I wanted to provide some level of context to view the game in.  It’s not a flashy, HD, touchscreen based game packing 200+MB, just a simple little program of only 550KB.  Would anyone call this a great game?  I doubt it, but to get the best possible answer we’d have to travel back to 2007 and look at it alongside similar action-adventure attempts.  It’s marginally fun, and it does manage to make the use of its limited controls for a playable and well-rounded experience.  In the larger world of gaming it doesn’t hold much water, but I still like to imagine Order of Shadows as a pretty sophisticated stab at the popular Symphony of the Night style of Castlevania gameplay.

Castlevania: Order of Shadows

Belmont siblings – a first for the series!

The Castlevania storyline seems to be in a constant state of revision, redaction, and re-addition, so at the moment I’m not 100% sure how canon the events of Castlevania: Order of Shadows are or what (if any) bearing they have on any other events.  Whatever the case may be, here the player takes the role of Desmond Belmont, once again setting off with the Vampire Killer whip in search of Dracula.  He’s really upset about something that happened to his father; I wish I knew who his father was to help me piece together events, because it seems he has some history with Dracula as well.  (Recently I’ve done some digging into the Belmont Family Tree, and based on given years of birth and when certain games occur, it looks like Desmond and his siblings may be children of Soleiyu Belmont, who is the son of Christopher Belmont, our protagonist from The Adventure and Belmont’s Revenge.)  Along for the ride are Desmond’s sisters, Zoe and Dolores, who are also running around the mansion and periodically bumping into Desmond with information.  Set in the late 17th Century, Desmond and his sisters have learned of a secret cult, “The Order,” who’ve entered into the final stages of bringing Dracula back to life.

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsThe levels are mostly linear, and although there are a few divergent paths, it becomes almost immediately apparent that Desmond is unable to traverse them with his current abilities.  There’s no real exploration present (although one can technically backtrack to any previous room), and instead we have lots and lots of basic combat. Besides the whip, Desmond can also wield a subweapon and later gains a gauntlet allowing him to use alchemy.

Gameplay has a surprising level of depth, all things considered, with an inventory system, multiple different items (to be used as subweapons and spells) to switch between at any given time, an upgrade to the Vampire Killer near the end of the game, and a cleverly hidden flame whip near the middle of the game.  What caught my attention the most was the addition of abilities as Desmond progresses.  He gains enhancements to his basic movements such as a quick retreat, slide, and double jump.  They don’t factor into the game as much as the same sorts of abilities in games like Symphony of the Night, but they are needed to access subsequent areas and generally tend to make gameplay a little easier.  Also included is a leveling system, the rechargeable MP meter for subweapon and alchemy use, and any number of one-time use items to regain health or temporarily boost certain attributes.  It may not be as extensive as a full game, but when taking the size of Order of Shadows into account, one has a number of options available and there is no single “right way” to play.

The controls are a bit strange, but I won’t get into them too much since I wasn’t exactly playing Order of Shadows in a conventional manner.  At its most basic, it’s able to utilize only the numeric keypad of a phone plus 2 softkeys.  When packaged for use on an Android device, one can use the touchscreen to simulate the controls, but it’s almost impossible to have an experience resembling enjoyment.  Alternatively, I bought a small BlueTooth keyboard and played it that way, using similar controls as the phone but in a different layout.

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsOnce you get around the unconventional layout, Castlevania: Order of Shadows offers up an impressive amount of control.  Desmond can move in all directions, jump, jump at angles, use his whip, subweapon or spell, and pull off his special moves such as sliding and backwards dashing with minimal effort.  Functionality has been well tested and fine-tuned.  Once your fingers get used to pressing the correct buttons, navigating this new world is effortless.  I had no problems dealing with the necessary platforming efforts nor combat mechanics, an aspect which quite frankly surprised the hell out of me.

Castlevania: Order of Shadows

This is the most we see of Death in this entry.

Castlevania games have a reputation of being difficult, merciless affairs.  Not having some kind of “mobile GameShark,” I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to fully experience every corner and crevice of Order of Shadows.  Luckily, I made steady progress.  In most cases, the game is pretty easy.  It might take a few tries to make it through a particular room or some minor experimentation here or there, but anyone who is reasonably proficient in gaming will have no problem making their way through most of it.  The bosses do pose somewhat of a threat but their patterns are easy to recognize.  Patience is key.  Save your HP regenerators for boss batles; if you die at any point, you’ll respawn at the beginning of the room you died in, making it completely unnecessary to survive for long stretches at a time.  Plus, as Desmond levels up, he becomes quite the tough bastard.  Krause (the officiator of “The Order”) and Dracula are marginally difficult battles.  When taken slow, and with Desmond properly leveled up, it’s possible to take severe beatings and still emerge victorious.  One awesome trick I discovered was that merely touching a boss doesn’t hurt Desmond, so it is possible to use his slide to slide under/through them when they launch projectiles, thus ending up on the opposite side from where the boss is attacking and being in a wonderful position to lash away freely.

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsGraphics have a nice low-tech aesthetic.  Even though Order of Shadows was built for screens of 2 inches or less, it translates nicely to my 7 inch tablet.  The quality is reminiscent of the 16-bit era with a bit more detail and increased sharpness.  Lots of colors, simple sprites, and static but beautifully detailed backgrounds make for a great looking game, even if somewhat dated.  It’s obvious that Konami worked on this title themselves instead of outsourcing the development elsewhere because it retains the Castlevania look and feel without fail.  Enemy sprites are, as usual, the game’s visual highlights.  Backgrounds are also far beyond anything I’d expect on such a small platform and anyone excited by the “retro look” back in 2007 would’ve been more than pleased.

Castlevania: Order of Shadows

Krause, the leader of The Order. The impressive part here is the background; fantastic considering other games of the era.

Castlevania: Order of Shadows

No 2nd, 3rd, or 7th form of Dracula in this one.

A snyth-driven, somber score was crafted, and upon finishing the game, an option to replace it with “classic” music is unlocked.  I wish I understood how it originally functioned, as I can’t imagine it plays as intended on my device.  It seems like what happens is that when a new track is played (via entering a new area with its own theme), the music plays but soon quits.  My guess is that during the conversion the track fails to loop and instead plays through once without starting over.  Another sonic oddity entails the total lack of sound effects.  I can’t understand why such a well-crafted game would contain such obvious oversights, so until I know better, I’m chalking up the errors as being “lost in translation.”

Castlevania: Order of ShadowsWithout a doubt, Castlevania: Order of Shadows is a technically accomplished entry in the series.  However, it lacks innovation or anything to really distinguish itself.  Gameplay is the same throughout, and the relative ease and lack of replay undermine any of the memorable moments.  Castlevania fans may be interested in it for the novelty, but casual gamers probably won’t find much use for this relic unless they happen to be wildly interested in what cell phone gaming looked like circa 2007.  As a specimen of said era it’s a solid piece of work, though I’m not so sure the nostalgia wave will ever hit pre-touchscreen mobile gaming.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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3 Comments

  1. I f**king hate touch screen says:

    Though i don’t remember most of games i played in the early 2000’s i can show you one game that beats the crud out of this game and most crap games like froot ninja.

    Prince of persia warrior within for mobile is an excellent game by 00’s standards.

    Prince and his enemy sprites have very fluid animations and the game captures the essense of its console counterparts, it has traps,wall juping and some light puzzles thrown in with combos. And the OST is kickass as well! Mobile games used to be awesome with REAL TACTILE BUTTONS as opposed to the UGLY FLAT SLATE I’m using to type.

     
  2. I f**king hate touch screen says:

    “we’ve come a very,
    very long way from those made in
    the early and mid 2000’s.”

    HA HA NO! I Will gladly play any ancient pre iphone era game over braindead trash like froot ninja and angry turds.

     
  3. Pingback: Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night - iOS - Nerd Bacon Reviews

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