I am the definition of a casual Castlevania fan. As such, Soma Cruz is a new face, to me. It seems this protagonist of Dawn of Sorrow (and Aria of Sorrow, before it) stakes his fame on having dominance over monsters' souls. The categorical breakdown is fuzzy, but in short, some grant him special attacks, some improve his stats, and some help him traverse his environment. Collecting them unfortunately adds a heaping helping of grinding to your main course of Metroidvania goodness.
To prevent this from being called Rare Drop: The Game, the designers have placed enemies in easy farming locations and built in the freedom to allow you to focus on the task when you choose to. You can keep working on cleared save files, start a New Game +, or trade souls wirelessly with a friend. You can also create and share custom challenge maps using the souls you’ve acquired. This is where the shared experience ends however, as you are on your own to guide Soma to the finish line.
In getting to that point, Aria players will experience a violent case of deja vu. Outside of a few new twists, this is essentially a remake clothed in the slight trappings of a sequel. From the mostly reused soul functions all the way down to the same money grinding exploit, this game screams rehash.
The only truly new mechanics are the use of magical seals and a weapon upgrade system. To finish off bosses you must trace a sealing pattern on the touch screen. The consequence of failing is having to hit the boss a few more times and trying again; you don’t have to start from scratch. Consequently, it’s a useless, but harmless enough addition. Keeping an eye out for the souls needed to upgrade your weapons of choice, though, will keep you well above the curve in terms of strength, and is incredibly worthwhile.
Ultimately, the characters are comfortable and serviceable enough, and the gameplay is adequately polished that I can recommend it to someone who hasn’t played a Metroidvania game in a good long while, or wants to relive Aria with a fresh coat of paint. If you have no such desires, it is an easy enough pass.
Buyer's Guide: I'd mainly look for it on the DS, but sources say it was released for mobile devices, as well.
3½ Uppercuts to Frankenstein's Monster's Junk out of 5