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Nintendo DS Review: Lunar Knights

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Lunar Knights marks Konami’s interesting new foray into the Boktai series, which is now appearing for the first time on the Nintendo DS. While gamers have always seemed to have mixed opinions on the series that “forced” people to play under the sun, what happens when you take the sun away from the game’s universe?

Straying away from once again using the infamous sunlight sensor, Lunar Knights launches players into a world where vampires have succeeded in placing the world under perpetual darkness. While this might seem like a bad thing at first, it initially puts players in the shoes of Lucian, a seriously pissed off sword-toting vampire hunter whose inhuman powers derive from absorbing the light of the moon.

Following strings of leads, Lucian tackles one of the head vampires, which puts a hole in the blanket of darkness engulfing the planet. Finally, with a shred of sunlight now hitting earth, the game’s second character, Aaron, armed with what seems to be a useless solar gun, realizes his potential and sets off with Lucian to rid the world of the evil vampires.

While players initially control only Lucian or Aaron through the story’s introductions, when the two heroes meet, they can be switched on the fly with a press of the select button. This element becomes crucial to progression in the game as with the light sensor gone from the Boktai cartridges, Lunar Knights uses an in game day and night cycle.

To further stress strategies, the top screen of the DS not only indicates what time of the day it is, but also the current weather conditions. Cloudy conditions will obviously block the sun or moon and traveling indoors will also hinder access to whichever light is currently available. If characters have no access to light, they will have to depend on restoration items players pick up through the course of the game – thankfully, they are plentiful.

While the changes mix Lunar Knights up in a good way, the core mechanics of the game stay the same. Each area has a denizen of baddies to hack and shoot through and as the kills tally up, so does a character’s experience. By leveling up, the game will throw stat points your way to distribute in areas that raise the attack, life and magical levels of that character. All of this culminates in a very satisfying dungeon crawling romp that plays very reminiscent of what Castlevania would play like in an isometric view.

The title is a mixed bag graphically, showing an obvious strength in anime-style portraits and FMV sequences glowing beautifully from its screen. During game play, however, Lunar Knights doesn’t seem up to par with many other titles on the Nintendo DS. While everything pops off the screen in vivid colors, many items in the environments, and, most notably in the characters, lack detail. In essence, Lunar Knights looks very similar in appearance to its Game Boy Advance predecessors, only touched up a bit.

To push the hardware a little more, however, Lunar Knights replaces the need to backtrack the carcass of a vanquished vampire boss through an entire Boktai level and implements 3-D rail shooting segments. A vampire’s body is this time cargo in Lucian’s spaceship, which is now taken to a space satellite that destroys a vampire in a beam of light. The space shooting scenes show much more of the title’s graphical muscle and the shift to three-dimensional graphics puts some much-needed punch to detail.

Most of the sound effects in the title sound like they could have been ripped straight from a GBA version of the series, but Konami really stepped up to provide Lunar Knights with a memorable score. The music definitely sets the mood for each encounter and the soundtrack overall really nips on the heels of the quality set by Konami’s Castlevania titles for the Nintendo DS. Small snippets of voice work are sprinkled here and there to liven up the game’s dialogue and, along with the music, brighten up the title’s average sound effect work.

Thanks to the step up on hardware, Lunar Knights provides much more action and less stealth and thinking than its previous editions. The beefier action is very enjoyable thanks to a fluid control scheme that makes use of the touch screen to cycle between various elemental familiars accumulated through the adventure or activate a extremely powerful (almost too powerful) character transformation. While targeting with Aaron’s solar gun can be finicky at times, hacking away with Lucian’s sword and using the DS microphone to distract enemies couldn’t be any easier.

The biggest factor that distances Lunar Knights from the enjoyment of Boktai is the decision to drop the solar sensor. While the sensor made its bid as the true innovation of the series, it dictated when and where people could play the game, making it not only more of a chore to play but a real turn off to some gamers.

Konami, however, implemented a very suitable and more appealing alternative to the matter and not only does it make the game more playable, but it also brings a wealth of strategy and character management to the table. For those who don’t want to give up playing in the sun, though, those who have a Boktai or Boktai 2 cartridge can utilize a double slot feature between the DS and GBA slots and use the sun sensor to further strengthen characters.

For Lunar Knights, Konami takes a very interesting concept (although the clichéd storyline reads like a Castlevania subplot) and by ditching a gimmick creates one of the better adventure titles released so far this year. The title is full of action and the nature of the game’s two playable characters and customization allows for surprisingly deep game play. Despite its presentation blemishes, Lunar Knights freshens up a unique concept and successfully transitions an underrated series onto a new platform.

Lunar Knights is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes.

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