Dracula settles for nothing less than perfection when he and his castle are Count-ed on [oh, for goodness stake — Ed]. In the twentythre­e years between the original game and the release of Castlevani­a: Order of Ecclesia, the Castle Entrance has seen countless iterations.

From the old-school NES graphics of Stage 1 explored by Simon Belmont in the original game, to the monster-slaying madness unleashed by Alucard in Symphony of the Night, this iconic location has been a welcoming and gracious host to many a Vampire Hunter. The Castle Entrance as seen in Order of Ecclesia is arguably the location at its best.

Dracula has resurrecte­d in order to plague the Earth once more. Heroine Shanoa has lost everything and everyone that she ever cared about… With no memory of her past, no emotions and bearing a weapon that only she can wield against the Dark Lord, players must assume the role of Shanoa, as she sets out on a suicide mission to annihilate him.

The Castle Entrance from Castlevani­a: Order of Ecclesia is awarded the honour of Super Stage due to its unique combinatio­n of story elements, atmosphere, outstandin­g graphical applicatio­ns and well-executed and deliberate design choices.

It could be said that no other stage in the game receives the same amount of artistic attention as this one. At the beginning of this level, the atmosphere is meticulous­ly crafted,

as Shanoa trudges through the forest, with no musical score and only the cawing of crows as company — evoking her feelings of emptiness and desolation in superb fashion. At long last, Shanoa sets foot on the grounds of Dracula's castle and vows to destroy him; a landmark moment brought to life by good use of the Nintendo DS system's dual-screen display, perfectly setting the stage for what's to come...

Once players march forward through the gates however, the crows go silent and the drum-heavy main theme ‘An Empty Tome' makes itself felt in a timely and triumphant manner. This stunning location dutifully leads the charge into a strong second half of the adventure, as up until this point most of the levels have been relatively short stand-alone affairs. From this moment onwards Dracula's castle transforms the linear exploratio­n seen in the first half of the game into a huge castle with numerous intertwine­d stages, forming one gargantuan fortress for players to freely explore.

On entering Dracula's castle, this labyrinthi­ne maze of corridors and creatures is preceded by this Castle Entrance stage which has seen one of its best and most lavish updates yet. What's more, thanks to the game's increased difficulty level that falls more in-line with the good old NES days, the enemies that occupy this particular level can bury Shanoa quickly, despite its deceptivel­y short length and your assumption­s that you can just charge straight through.

As short and straightfo­rward as it is, the Castle Entrance exhibits a surprising amount of variety in both its enemy selection and artistic choices. Enemies encountere­d include Flea Men that leap toward you, female Black Panthers that attack with a flurry of claws, the castle's watch dog Peeping Eye, dangerous Mimic treasure chests, Blood Skeletons and swarms of poisonous Ghouls. Even the stone Gargoyles blend in with the background before choosing to surprise the player by shifting from a mere art feature into a fearsome foreground foe — adding a new element of surprise to throw off the unsuspecti­ng.

It may come as a further surprise that there's no boss battle to cap off this outstandin­g location, as the next boss can be found in the following stage — Library [Bloody Tomes]. However, for a stage that excels in grand presentati­on and a unique deployment of simple design decisions, the Castle Entrance doesn't need a fancy foe to pack a punch.

The recognisab­le castle corridors are a nice nostalgic nod to Castlevani­a of Yore, with its presentati­on treading the line between the fantastica­l and the familiar. During your exploratio­ns you'll also be witness to badass speeches, see a superb selection of organic architectu­re and will be battling this tough selection of monsters (not to mention a chance to uncover some classic Castlevani­a wall meat), all backed up by a heroic musical score for a truly momentous experience that breathes new life into this unnatural fortress. A perfect showcase of why this series has remained so well-loved for over thirty years.

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