Review – Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is a fun 2D platformer that combines the classic series’ difficulty with the option to play with a group of friends. The idea is unique, and is quite fun when it works.Castlevania has always been known as a series that provides an extremely challenging adventure through a gigantic, monster-infested castle. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair offers the same experience, but this time, gamers have the opportunity to fight and jump and conquer with friends online. In fact, co-op is the crux of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, and it’s actually quite fun, despite the obvious worries that it wouldn’t be given that the series has always been a single-player experience.

Harmony of Despair allows you to choose one of six vampire slayers to play as. Each slayer has different talents dependent upon the Castlevania game they appeared in. For instane, Alucard can change forms and use spells while Charlotte can pick up new spells through absorbing those used by enemies. This allows for a different experience for each player dependent on who they are using in the game, and offers replayability.

Beyond that, dying isn’t the end of the road in a co-op game. Players who die become skeletons who can still fight alongside their teammates, hurling bones at the numerous enemies populating each part of the castle in the game. Eventually, they can be returned to their body by a teammate, meaning that even death doesn’t have to stop you. Which is good, because, like all the games in the series, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is very difficult.

Beyond being able to survive even death, players can gain an upper hand on their enemies by spending their hard earned cash on upgrades to their weapons, armor, and spells, essentially leveling themselves up. If you’re having trouble getting past a particular part of the castle, keep grinding away, earning money (which doesn’t disappear, even with death) and then spend it to strengthen your character.

The game is also a fast-paced adventure. Want to just play through one level – it will only take you 30 minutes, maximum. Harmony of Despair’s levels have a time limit of 30 minutes. Either you beat them or you lose. It’s that simple.

The only aspects hampering Harmony of Despair are a very small layout and a complete lack of instructions. There is no way for beginners to learn how to play the game – it just doesn’t exist. Heck, even the manuals simply explain what a “spell” is but not how to cast one. And that’s just an example of how difficult it is to figure things out.

The other mentioned aspect that hurts the experience is the size of the map on the screen. It’s great to see the entire castle, but on a smaller TV, your character and the things he’s doing are so small that it practically requires a microscope to see what’s happening. It’s not the end of the world, but it does make for a shocking change from the gigantic close-ups us gamers are accustomed to seeing these days on our screens.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title, and for the price of 1200 MS points, it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re a fan of fun, challenging co-op experiences. Just expect a tough learning curve.