For the most part, the Castlevania franchise has never fallen victim to losing its notable identity. Every game in its lineage, (even the 3D ones) is aware of what made the series such a delight in the first place: killing creatures. Specifically vampires with nasty fangs. Van Helsing be damned, it doesn’t get better then a Castlevania game when it comes to drenching wooden stakes into Dracula’s heart.
The best memories involve side-scrolling through a haunted mansion, unlocking new weapons to fend off the terrors lurking in the night. So it’s good to know that even in this day and age of shining graphical achievements in gaming, old-school 2D adventures like Castlevania: Harmony of Despair are still in demand for the fans who treasure them.
This is a multiplayer experience (not a first time for the series) that can feature up to six bloodthirsty vampire slayers fighting at once. Veterans of Castlevania may freak out at the crowded amount of people on screen at once, though their worries should subside once they give the game a go. This is still a classic Castlevania title with all the qualities you would find in older versions.
Starting off with the playable characters, it’s apparent all the favorites are here with some additions to be downloaded as extra content along with bonus levels. As expected, they each have different abilities, weapons and specific traits that make them all worthwhile to experiment with. The only negative aspect of this design doesn’t revolve around how the characters control individually, it’s how the game introduces the differences without a proper explanation. One person can’t access new weapons or spells, while another has the power to upgrade their abilities by collecting souls. It’s overly complicated early on, but the more time you spend with each character results in discovery of a special power or skill that you never knew existed before.
Actually getting used to Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is the toughest part to accept. There are only six levels included in the game before DLC is added, but each one is a massive ordeal to complete. Zooming out the map shows the size and scope of the labyrinth-like environment. Bosses still await you at the end, with some attacking you mid-level, and a timer keeps the action at a constant pace of acceleration. It’s still Castlevania, just a bit more fundamental compared to the other games.
Multiplayer is surprisingly pulled off in a way where it’s both fun and satisfying slaying monsters with five other buddies on screen. This is most noticeable the moment you begin playing solo and realize how boring and routine the action is without others joining the fray. Yes there’s a lot going on at once when six players are in a match though, because each character behaves differently, it’s never too difficult to discern who’s doing what. Killing vampires this time around is better-suited with teamwork in mind.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is a decent-looking game, which harkens back to the series’ two dimensional roots. Its art style is relatively detailed, creative and foreboding. However, the game’s overall visual fidelity could have been spruced up just a bit. Perhaps by adding some more definition to its sprites, or something along those lines.
While not revolutionary or even an overhaul of its predecessors, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair does do things mildly distinctive in the form of multiplayer. The action and combat remain the same, aside from a few character adjustments, but working together with a group allows for greater exploration. Either requiring the help of a teammate to gain access to an undiscovered area or timing attacks together against a formidable boss, the gameplay works smoothly with others. For a series that has relied on the same bag of tricks for years, its good to see something new come out of it, even if the end goal is still trying to kill Dracula.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Classic Castlevania gameplay with familiar faces and a seamless combat system will have fans falling in love with the series all over again, despite its shortcomings.