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Castlevania: Harmony of Despair review

A patchwork collection of the past six games rolled into six unforgiving dungeons

The glaringly obvious fault of Despair is its single-player experience. Going alone, as previously mentioned, is a slog in the worst kind of way. With no friends to help beat back the monsters, discover alternate paths or collect additional loot, it quickly descends into mind-numbing madness. Oh it’s playable, but it’s about as fun as running through Monster Hunter all by yourself. There’s also the fact that each time you die you have to go through the whole level all over again (no saving progress, no pausing the game), which is expected from a grindy game, but much easier to deal with in groups.

Above: This boss is a huge, huge asshole, demanding multiple fights

Despair also imposes an artificial 30-minute time limit for each trip into a map. Not sure what the purpose of this, as we never once ran up against the clock, but because of this time limit you can’t pause or even look at the Xbox guide menu without the game continuing to run. It’s even more annoying when you’re trying to equip new items mid-mission (only at designated stations, not any time you like by the way), you’re five menus deep and suddenly hear your character being assaulted by enemies that walked right up to you. Doesn’t help that the menus themselves are a confusing mess – “Main Menu” actually takes you the character equip screen, not the game’s Main Menu. Um, clarification next time would be nice.

Above: The mid-view zooms out just enough to see the surrounding rooms

Finally, hitting the Back button brings up a series of pre-set voice prompts, which you can select and yell out to your group. But in the age of headsets and Xbox Live Party, why do we need “Oops!” and “Thank You” commands? This isn’t a 1997 LAN party, it’s 2010 with voice chat. Why is this even a feature?

Some of these complaints are trivial – the voice prompts, for example, don’t actually hurt anything, they’re just weird. But the focus on online multiplayer to the point of outright gutting the solo experience (or even split-screen play) makes this tough to recommend for anyone who doesn’t have two to three Castlevania-starved friends on Xbox Live. On the flip side, if you loved the DS entries, and have some pals who share your passion for Koji Igarashi’s take on the series, there’s still a whole lot of fun to be had.

Would we have preferred a new 2D, HD Castlevania that employed stunning new sprites instead of recycled heroes, villains and environments from the past 13 years? Hell yes. Does that make this game inherently bad for not being what we hoped? Definitely not. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

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PlatformXbox 360, PS3
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