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Vampire: Master of Darkness Reviewed by Adam Wallace on . Rating: 71%
Vampire: Master of Darkness
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  • B
Castlevania and its 8-bit sequels were huge hits on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega definitely noticed that success. Unfortunately, Nintendo's monopolistic business practices at the time ensured that the Sega Master System would never get any Castlevania action of its own. Out of necessity, Sega themselves created Vampire: Master of Darkness to fill the "horror-themed platformer" hole in that system's library. While it doesn't quite match up to the exploits of the Belmont clan, it does provide an enjoyable enough undead romp of its own.

You play Dr. Ferdinand Social (seriously, that name sucks), and you're on a quest to destroy Dracula. Even though the premise is a straight rip-off of the original Castlevania, there are a few unique elements. For one, as the game takes place in the late 19th Century, the good Doctor's weapons fit that time period including rapiers, pistols, bombs, etc. The bosses are also more befitting that period, starting with Jack the Ripper. Normally Castlevania games ignore time periods, as seen when Aria of Sorrow saw its protagonist continuing to use swords despite it taking place in 2035; so Vampire's acknowledgment of its era is a nice little touch.

Vampire: Master of Darkness (Master System)Click For the Full Picture Archive

The gameplay and UI is almost an exact clone of the original Castlevania. There are a few differences, and they're not all for the better. Rather than having a whip that gains damage upgrades, the Doctor relies on different weapons with varying damage and range like Arthur in the Ghosts & Goblins games. His initial dagger is terrible, about as effective as a butter knife. Different weapons like rapiers and battle axes can be found in the floating skulls, but hitting the wrong skull can revert you back to the starting dagger. That tends to happen right before the boss fights, making them needlessly annoying. As for the projectiles, there is a nice variety like a pistol and a boomerang. However, they're just not as much fun to use as Castlevania's arsenal of subweapons. Most of the time I forgot I had them.

The aesthetics and level design are strong. Even though the levels don't quite have the personality of Castlevania's locales, they are colorful, well-detailed, and easy to navigate. Character and monster animations are solid, and I didn't see any glitching even when the screen got packed. The music works for an action game but lacks the eeriness one would expect from a game focused on fighting Dracula.

Even though I have a general disdain for games that blatantly rip-off other games, I can't hate on Vampire: Master of Darkness too much. Part of that is because Sega couldn't get the real McCoy on the Master System, but mostly it's because Vampire is a pretty good game in itself. If you're tired of playing Castlevania for the zillionth time, give this one a stab.
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