Review by Rango
Just months before the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the reboot to the legendary series, Konami announced Harmony of Despair. This amalgamation of characters, stages, and music comes from Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. While it retains many of the elements of these titles, Castlevania HD is instead a dungeon-crawler. You pick a character and run through the castle in 2D fashion, killing enemies, learning new abilities, gaining new weapons, and making your way to the boss.
While you're playing the game, assuming you've played any of the aforementioned titles, you'll quickly recognize the graphics come straight from SotN and the DS titles. The sprites are the same as you remember them, and the stages are a combination of what you've seen before. They're all matched up to pay tribute to a stage from one of these selected games. For instance, you'll start in the Castle Corridor from Aria of Sorrow, then move to the Clock Tower of the stage, finally ending up in the Condemned Tower where you fought Gergoth in Dawn of Sorrow. What this brings to the table, however, is the high resolution that you would expect from a current-gen system. It's bright, the motion is fluid, and the animations look crystal clear.
The graphics didn't get a major overhaul, but probably the biggest change to the game next to the multiplayer interface is the soundtrack. With the exception of the menu themes and several stage songs, the entirety of the soundtrack consists of hard rock and metal remixes of the songs featured in Castlevania's history. You'll notice the electric guitar immediately as the stage starts and up to the boss battle. Songs like "Ruined Castle Corridor," "Invitation of a Crazed Moon, "Ebony Wings," "Festival of Servants", "Symphony of Battle," and even "Dracula's Castle." Some songs, like "Lost Painting" aren't metal, but their arrangement pays nice tribute to the original song.
While you listen to this great music and revel in nostalgia, bear in mind that this is not the same as the PS1 or DS titles. It's an online multiplayer co-op dungeon crawler in 2D. Castlevania gameplay, level structure with multiple routes, a boss, and hopefully teamwork. To survive, players are recommended to stick together and attack enemies together. When the player eventually gets much better weapons, armor, and abilities, then he or she can play Rambo and run through the stage dancing with Valmanways. Until then, though, players can buy Potions, heal each other, grab the Water of Life to revive their fallen comrades, and open up treasure chests to get new gear. Stick together and avoid spike traps, ride pendulums, warp through portraits, and activate switches that lead to new areas.
Probably the best thing about HD is the urge to come back to chapters again and again. You're compelled to come back and get rare items you didn't pick up on one playthrough. You saw your friend get Globus or Sonic Boots? Surely you'll want the same to make your character stronger. Round up a team of six, communicate, and work together to defeat bosses again and again until you get the item you want. Though this game reeks of replay though, perhaps the saddest truth is that this game does not have offline multiplayer. There is no split-screen, so you cannot play with your friends at home. The only way to play is with friends online, which actually feels like a slap in the face to many who have grown up playing co-op games with their friends. However, it's not enough to detract from the enjoyment of the actual game because the online co-op is quite strong and lag is rarely an issue.
Konami has always had a strong hold on co-op gaming. Since the days of Contra, they've made their road through games like TMNT Turtles in Time, The Simpsons, and X-Men. Harmony of Despair isn't their first foray into Castlevania online multiplayer, but it is by far the most successful attempt thus far. Castlevania HD is especially recommended to all Castlevania fans, but given the proximity to the release of Lords of Shadow, this is dedicated to fans of the series who want to play on familiar territory. But most of all, this is made for anyone with Xbox 360 and enjoys fighting, teamwork, and a melodic, catchy soundtrack.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 01/26/11
Game Release: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (US, 08/04/10)
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