It seems that this is the summer of fun with the plethora of kickass Xbox Live games coming out, and while I haven’t yet covered too many of them, I’m certainly going to do my best to squeeze some of them. With that, Konami’s “Castlevania: Harmony of Despair” puts you and 5 of your friends into a hard-core 2d action-packed retro throwback adventure and you’re going to love every minute of it. I think what surprises me the most is the overwhelmingly negative and mixed reception from the rest of the reviewing community. Maybe I just don’t play games with a stick up my ass and actually enjoy them for what they are. Anyway, released this past Wednesday August 4th for 1200 Microsoft Points, here’s “Castlevania: Harmony of Despair”.
While playing through this title, I actually didn’t get a sense for any story, as there is no text or speech. Much like the original 2d “Castlevania”, I had to look else ware to get a sense for what was really going on. Basically, 5 characters from previous “Castlevanias” (though no Belmonts), have come together to read through a cursed grimoire that has manifested the ghoulish citadel inside its pages. Each chapter represents a level from a previous “Castlevania” game with a boss symbolizing that level. The overall goal is very simple, destroy Castlevania and defeat its lord.
Playing through the games 6 levels took me roughly 8 hours and to do it, I had to get some buddies over Xbox Live because in true “Castlevania” fashion, these levels are hard as shit. The game can be completed in a single player mode but it’s going to take A LOT of time and practice to learn the proper routes through the complicated maze-like levels and more importantly, to gear up your characters so that they can tackle the games many tricky foes and powerful bosses. I probably played through the first two levels 10 times each before I finally gave up and got some help from friends online.
Each level has a single boss that has its own gimmicks that you’ll likely die to several times until you figure out just how to beat them. You have 30 minutes to complete each level and it may take you several play-throughs until you determine the best path to get to the boss. The level design is brilliant, as you have to go all over the place to take care of business. After navigating through a twisting winding labyrinth you may reach a door that must be opened by a lever on the opposite side of the level. Obviously because of this it is beneficial to have some friends navigating different areas. After some practice and lots of gear, you can run through the entire game in less than an hour if you have a bunch of skilled players with you, so luckily, its quite fun to replay the levels.
Like the original “Castlevania”, you’ve got a massive 2d side-scrolling adventure ahead of you but what’s neat is that each of the game’s 5 characters have their own unique play-styles, be it melee, caster or ranged; offering lots of replayability and when played together, complement each other very well. Being that each character has different game-play mechanics, likely you aren’t going to enjoy each of them, but I’ve got to imagine that one of the play-styles will tickle your fancy. With each character, you map special moves, attacks and spells to your buttons. You gain additional moves and spells via scrolls and orbs hidden throughout the levels, some of which can be pretty tricky to figure out how to obtain. There is also a shop between the levels where you can purchase some decent gear and potions that you absolutely are going to need on your adventure.
In multiplayer games, when someone gets treasure or power-ups, everyone gets them, so there is no need to worry about someone stealing your loot or playing as your same character. Heal potions are very important and when consumed, the effect is shared with anyone in your immediate vicinity, but death does still occur. If you die you’re turned into a skeleton that can still attack but can’t do much else. Other players may use a special potion to revive you but if everyone becomes a skeleton it’s game over. Some of the levels start multiple players at different locations, which keeps things interesting, as you don’t always have the backup that you’re going to want. Finally, being that things are much easier with several friends, when playing through as a single player, you’re allowed to save replays of your run-throughs so you can show off your achievements to your friends.
All in all, the game-play is extremely challenging until you acquire a nice set of gear and learn the intricacies of each level. Nonetheless, its very fun to play and is entertaining enough to keep you wanting to continue to play the levels over and over until you master them.
The retro graphics were a good touch in a modern title. It’s fun to get some new adventures with the classic graphics of our past. All of the characters and enemies are highly detailed and look really cool. I haven’t played any of the retro “Castlevania” games for many years so it was great to get a look at and remind me of what the games of my childhood looked like. One thing I found particularly neat was the zoom feature. By clicking the right thumb stick you will cycle through one of several zoom states that can show you the entire level, a partial level, or a zoom in on just your character. This was very useful in determining the proper paths to take and to find out where your teammates were located.
There is no voice acting in the game beyond a few one-liners from a few of the bosses, so there isn’t much to comment on as far as that goes, but the soundtrack of the game is intense and action packed; it really gets you pumped up to kick some ass.
What a great way to spend a Saturday. I played this great downloadable off and on from 9 in the morning until 12 at night by myself and with lots of different online parties. The varied game-play mechanics of the 5 different characters keeps things interesting when trying the games 6 levels with each of them and gearing each of them up. The adventure is extremely challenging and just as much fun to play; and the clever level designs will have you coming back for more as you try to master them. This title has received a lot of negative reviews across the board and I really don’t see why. It seems that too many reviewers are just too critical these days and don’t seem to actually enjoy playing the new games, or rather, just enjoy complaining. For 1200 Microsoft points, this game is damn fun and offers a ton of replayability. Whether you think it’s a dumbed down version of “Castlevania” or not, “Harmony of Despair” is worth your money and immensely entertaining. What is your favorite “Castlevania” game? Leave your questions and comments below!
Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live)
Price: 1200 MS Points
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**This title was provided to me free of charge from the publisher to review for you.