Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (Only available on Xbox Live Arcade)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1-6
Genre: Action
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: August 4th, 2010
Xbox Live: Online co-op
Price: 1,200 Microsoft Points

Parent Talk: This is Castlevania, meaning there’s a ton of animated blood and 2D killing.  Back during the NES era, it was perfectly acceptable for kids to play games like this.  Then again, NES titles didn’t really depict blood.  In fact, North American Castlevania games were often edited to remove the red spray of blood.  So forget what I just said.  Harmony of Despair is a 2D action game, and its graphics are ripped directly from Symphony of the Night on the original PlayStation.  If you deem that too much for your young one(s), so be it.

HoD is also an Xbox Live Arcade game, meaning it naturally supports up to 1080p resolution and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound.

COE was on a roll with our Summer of Xbox coverage, but sadly all good things come to an end.  We didn’t deliver a review of the latest Castlevania due to our lack of means to play the online portions prior to release.  I made an executive decision to delay the review until that became possible.  Needless to say, it was a smart move for us.  The online co-op makes this Caslevania unique.  The price is steep for only a six level game, but the choice to agree to it is yours.

The Great:

Harmony of Despair’s best feature is its online co-op.  It’s a blast for six franchise veterans to band together for the combat and puzzle action.  This is the first Castlevania designed to be a multiplayer experience, and it looks like Konami has figured out the basics.

The Good:

+ Variety, the spice of life.  I love it when all six co-op participants can play as Alucard.  The roster includes six popular Castlevania characters, with the same number of color schemes for each.  This allows for the mixing and matching of abilities for any given level, but unfortunately also one of the game’s two major problems.

The Bad:

– What the heck do I do here?  Given there are six characters equipped with vastly different powers, you’d think the game would explain the differences.  Better yet, how about what you have to do?  Nope, you must figure it all out.  If you haven’t played a Castlevania game before, trouble looms.  You won’t know who can use magic, transform into beasts, etc.  The “how to play” main menu selection barely scratches the surface of what’s possible.  That’s a very big problem.  Many gamers won’t know what they’re doing.

The Ugly:

Try, try again.  In order to discover how to reach a dungeon boss and defeat it, you must replay levels countless times.  This also holds true because of the limited weapons available.  You need to search every nook and cranny of a level in order to find the best gear.  It’s otherwise impossible to take out the dungeon master.  Instead of a level-up system like featured in most recent Castlevanias, you’re stuck replaying levels over and over just to prepare for the fight.  Repeating a stage six times gets old fast.  Playing alone only exacerbates the issue.  Can you fathom replaying a level fourteen times to pull off one boss fight?  B.O.R.I.N.G!

The Lowdown:

I love Castlevania, and that’s why this review hurts.  I can’t give this download two big thumbs up.  I was sure HoD would be a sure-fire winner.  If you play online and have no problem figuring out the game’s inner workings, then there’s serious fun to be had here.  On the other hand, you might be better off with Limbo or Deathspank if replaying levels sounds unappealing, or you want a better solo game.  Downloading Harmony of Despair depends on your love for the series.

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