|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Konami||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: August 4, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-6||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Castlevania is one franchise that has stood the test of time. Whether you are playing on the SNES or the Nintendo DS, if you tell someone you are playing Castlevania, images of running and jumping through massive castles and an ultimate battle with Dracula immediately spring to mind. Like all its predecessors, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair keeps this same basic format. However, this time, you can play with friends online!
When you start the game, you are given the choice to either play solo or multiplayer. If you love the single-player experience, it is possible to play through all of the game's maps by yourself. In fact, I would recommend at least one or two playthroughs on your own before jumping into the game's multiplayer modes, as the maps are quite complex, and you don't want to slow your team down when playing online.
Before you start your first level, you are able to pick one of several different Castlevania characters to play as. Although the original Belmonts are strangely absent, you can play as Alucard, Soma Cruz, Jonathan Morris, Charlotte Aulin, or Shanoa. Each character retains their special powers from previous games, which makes it easy for players to find a fit for their individual playing style. For instance, while Alucard thrives off close combat, Shanoa uses ranged attacks almost exclusively. Of course, all characters can be outfitted with new weaponry and plenty of secondary/tertiary attacks, so even if you pick a character that doesn't necessarily fit your game style, you can customize them accordingly.
The character customization system in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is also surprisingly deep. Different items can be used for both offense and defense, and you can use equipment you find in treasure boxes to enhance your character's stats, RPG-style. When I started the first level, I felt underpowered, and it wasn't until my third or fourth try (after equipping my character to the nines with new weapons and armor) that I was able to make some headway in the initial level.
However, like most Castlevania players, I am not one to shy away from a challenge, and Harmony of Despair provides ample difficulty for even the most seasoned players. Of course, this difficulty level is mitigated by the fact that most of the levels in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair are designed to be played with others. Although each level can technically be played solo, shortcuts and bonus rooms exist that require two or more players to operate switches and clear pathways for other players. Bosses are also much easier with more than one player, and the "Revive" system for fallen allies is essential for success with long fights.
The levels are initially presented in a zoomed-out view where you can see all of the rooms, dungeons, and traps contained within the level. Of course, while the level is zoomed out, your character looks like a flea, so you can't really play. However, this zoomed-out view can help those who want to plan a specific route to maximize treasure or minimize contact with enemies, for example. Once you have gotten the lay of the land, you can then tap on the left thumbstick to zoom into your character's general area. This view is still a little wide, but helps you get a closer look at surrounding rooms. However, the standard Castlevania view can be achieved with a third click of the left thumbstick, and only lets you see your character and immediate surroundings.
The view system is especially useful in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair because it allows you to quickly assess both your position and the position of others who are playing with you. Although you'll have to switch between views quickly to achieve the maximum effect of this feature, it proves to be useful and enhances the gameplay. The game also uses a "windowed" view to allow you to see where other characters are in relation to you. This makes searching for other players in the zoomed-out view much quicker and more efficient.