These different camera angles also help gamers keep track of the other players in their room. Since the team must to work together, it's incredibly handy to be able to pinpoint a specific player at a moment's notice. This is especially true if a teammate gets killed. Instead of becoming a bored spectator, killed players are able to wander the map as a skeleton. Though skeletons can throw bones at enemies, they aren't much use until somebody finds and resurrects their body.
The multiplayer is the game's biggest pro and con. On one hand, having six players makes this game feel significantly different from the rest of the recent Castlevania adventures. I also like the dungeon crawler influence; it's an inspired gameplay decision. On the other hand, I'm not sure playing Castlevania with a bunch of other people is as much fun in practice as it is in theory. The levels are cool, but I prefer the exploration angle found in most games in the franchise. Plus, it's not always the easiest thing to get six players to work together against a common enemy.
It's also frustrating that the game doesn't scale the difficulty depending on how many players are present. Much like Lost Planet 2 and Monster Hunter Tri, Harmony of Despair expects gamers to have a bunch of friends with them. Playing the game solo is a special kind of frustration I don't wish on anybody. Don't get me wrong: It's still doable, but there are plenty of bosses and treasure chests specifically designed with six players in mind.
In a controversial decision, Konami has ditched the RPG-style experience system. Instead of leveling up, players earn more money and find rare items. Gamers' armor and weapons are the keys to this game, which I found a little disappointing. There were times I would come up with little to no worthwhile loot; adding numbers in the experience column would have given me at least some satisfaction.
While the overall structure in Harmony of Despair may be different, the look and gameplay remains largely untouched. Konami stayed true to the game's sprite-based style, giving us the highest res versions of characters and enemies we've come to love. One could argue this game doesn't look much different from the recent Nintendo DS installments, but that would be to completely miss the point. This entire game is built around embracing the look and style of the recent Castlevania games; it would have been foolish for them to re-imagine these famous characters and backgrounds. The entire game is about fan service, and anybody who loves this franchise will instantly recognize most of the elements in this XBLA release.
On top of the game's six levels, the best of the best can test their mettle on the Hard difficulty. If you think the single-player game is challenging on normal, wait until you have a fraction of the time and harder enemies. There's also a Survival Mode, an online battle to see who is the last man or woman standing. Between replaying levels and trying to earn all of the best equipment for their favorite character, players will definitely get their money's worth with Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.
Konami takes an interesting idea and makes it work. While it might disappoint some gamers looking for a more traditional Castlevania outing, those open to a new experience will have a lot of fun. Players looking for a quick and simple multiplayer dungeon crawler that combines the best elements of Castlevania into one $15 package; have I found the game for them. Those looking for a great single-player adventure game should look elsewhere.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is a multiplayer game first and a single-player game second. This is a daring twist on a tried and true franchise, one that may split a lot of gamers. The good news is that this experiment mostly works, even if it comes at the expense of a proper single-player mode.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!