Shaman King: Master of Spirits GBA Review

Taking the exact engine from the Game Boy Advance entries of the Castlevania series, Shaman King: Master of Spirits brings with it fantastic platform gameplay and then ruins it all with a ridiculous stage progressions system. The great feel of the action, intriguing magic system, and beautiful graphics almost make it for it. They're enough to keep you going in the start, but not enough to keep moving to the end.

To progress, you move along a map, selecting paths to follow. While moving between sections, you'll engage enemies in typical hack 'n slash style. The issue at hand is that stages are blocked with various hazards and can only be entered if you have the right magic.

That could be hidden anywhere in the game, in any stage you've cleared (or not). There's nothing to point players in the right direction to start them off. If you missed a high platform containing the power-up necessary to advance, you'll need to search every area to find it. This wouldn't be such an issue if, in order to move around the map, you didn't have to run through every stage you've already cleared (sometimes more than once).

This absurd backtracking extends the life of Master of Spirits well beyond any point of enjoyment. If this was a straight platformer, or even set up inside a castle like the series the gameplay is ripped from, this would be one of the best games the GBA has to offer. The card system, used to select various powers, is intuitive, if a little clunky to set up and use on the fly when fighting.

Combat is actually improved from Castlevania, adding in combos to give it a small beat-em-up feel. It's still just as intense to fight the bosses, requiring quick defense and knowledge of when to strike. The music is a surprise as well, booming from the Game Boy Advance's speaker to the point it can't handle it. The orchestration is some of the best on the console.

Fans of the anime this one is based off will likely be able to dig deeper here, ignoring the crucial flaws of the stage map. There are plenty of characters to keep the story fresh (even if it's not deep), and the action is close to flawless. There's no question this is addictive, and if you haven't tired of the repetition from repeating stages as you approach the end, you'll find this a solid diversion from Castlevania.

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