Review by Derekthederek
"Huge fan service and huge fun. Very addicting and rewarding experience."
This is Castlevania as it's meant to be. The side-scrolling action is most akin to that of the Symphony of the Night, which most fans consider to be the best of the series. The fluid gameplay, awesome soundtrack, and charming 2D graphics all provide a fresh medium for an addictive game.
I'll talk about my gripes first and my praises second. One opinion of mine, and I think you'll agree, is that the solo mode isn't designed very well. I bought the game off of Xbox Live Marketplace without even playing the demo. I knew that I wanted this game. I started solo mode and enjoyed the game fairly enough in the first chapter. Grabbing loot from chests and enemies, leveling your magic, breaking the walls to find food was great; it was Castlevania. The boss fight was fun, not too challenging, but something that you'd expect from a first boss. You equip loot in the game by finding specific points on the map that look like a book floating above a pedestal. You can equip spells, weapons, armor and items here. You can equip up to two weapons (for most characters) and two accessories and one of everything else (including items, which are executed by holding LT and pressing RT.) With that first good impression, I proceeded to the second chapter only to discover where they really went wrong: They didn't modify the maps to fit a single player experience. I know that most people only plan to play this game with friends, and that's all fine, but didn't Konami consider that Castlevania has always functioned better as a single player experience? I expected the game to hold out perfectly well with just myself, but what I got were things like floor pads that someone has to stand on to stop fire from pouring in an opening in order open the way for another player to walk through and grab loot. Even the boss is almost too challenging to beat solo. I did manage to beat him, so I was given access to Chapter 3 and this is where having at least 1 other person becomes absolutely essential to gameplay. I'm not going to spoil anything by telling you what you have to do, but once I figured out what I had to do to beat the boss and realized that it required one other person, I was a bit let down. So I created a custom online game and found some people in my country to play with since I figured now would be a good time to try the online play. It did not disappoint. You can really tell that the multiplayer is where this game shines. When they showed this game at E3, they really highlighted the multiplayer aspect, but I had no idea that it would be this essential, but I'm actually glad that it is. Working together to collect loot or fight a boss feels great. Having everyone split up as soon as possible is the best idea. There will be some switches that trigger doors on the other side of the map and it's always rewarding to get that rare chest on the other side of the door. Loot is distributed among the party randomly. In other words, if someone grabs a wooden chest, then the party will all acquire one random common item in their inventory. If someone grabs a purple chest, then everyone will acquire one random rare item. Everyone in the party gets something different when someone opens a chest, so it's good to work together for loot. This is just a theory, although I'm not sure, but it seems that the chest colors symbolize rarity much how they do in WoW or Borderlands and many other games. Don't quote me on that, though.
I was turned off a bit when I first found out it was a time-attack game. All of the levels have a time limit in which to complete them or it's game over. The level is complete when you beat the boss and grab the treasure that they drop (which by the way is in a gold chest, ergo further supporting my loot color theory since gold symbolizes items of most rarity). I've heard rumors that the quality of the drop is partially dependent on how fast you complete the stage, but from my experience I believe that it isn't true and it primarily depends on how much LUCK stat you have when it's opened.
Now I've gotten most of the game mechanics out of the way, let's discuss how the game feels. Your character seems to run a bit slow. I've found that constantly jumping, diagonal kicking, then slide-attacking when you hit the ground is the fastest way to move straight forward. There may be a way to increase running speed from equipment or spells, but I haven't seen it yet, so I can't verify that. Other than that, the control is flawless in my opinion. Some games suffer from problems such as jumping in one direction and not being able to attacking in the other, or just poor air control in general, but not this game. Combat feels solid and movement feels free. I know I keep alluding to SoN (I'm trying really hard not to, honest!), but the gameplay feels very similar to how it felt in SoN, only more sluggish. If you've played SoN, then just take the control of that game and slow it down just a bit, and that's what it feels like. Overall, the game's control and feel are well done and easy to get used to.
So for the gameplay gist, the solo mode should have maps modified to fit one person and not require other people; it doesn't make sense. The loot system is good - it works. The multiplayer is super fun and addicting, and the control feels very well developed.
The audio in the game is just so well done, there's not really much to gripe about. The sound effects are classic and the music is exciting and engaging. One of the first things about the music that I noticed is that there are an awful lot of rock tracks in the game. Gone, it seems, are the haunting melodies from the previous games. I haven't played much of Castlevania since SoN, so I'm not sure if these tracks are reused from other Castlevania games or not, but I didn't recognize anything in the soundtrack. However, that doesn't keep the soundtrack from being awesome.
The graphics are emulated 64-bit 2D hand drawn graphics and it works so well. They're just as charming as they were a decade ago and provide a certain nostalgic value that I honestly didn't really expect. Many of the sprites are reused and really seem appropriate for a mash up game such as this. Being able to zoom out of the map and view everything can be helpful in multiplayer matches and just to see what's ahead before you make that decision to jump down a long gap. In short, the graphics just fit the gameplay. It's what you would expect. They're certainly not current gen graphics, but it's also obvious that that's not what the developers intended. This game clearly is geared more toward the "gameplay over graphics" demographic than the "graphics over gameplay" demographic.
Whether you've played Castlevania games before or not, if you enjoy addicting cooperative multiplayer, then this is what you're looking for. If you're looking for something to play by yourself, then stay away at all costs. The 1200 points I think is a bit steep, but from the 50 or so hours it supposedly takes to beat this game, you'll likely get your money's worth.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/09/10
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (US, 08/04/10)
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