Friday, August 13, 2010

Castlevania HD is a Pain in the Neck

View my thoughts on Konami's newest Castlevania title over at Gaming Life. I'm one of the staff writers there, so for more of my wonderous gaming wisdom, stop by Gaming Life once in a while.

Or, if clicking a link is too hard for you, here's the full text:

I’m doing my best to enjoy Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Konami’s new Xbox arcade title starring Alucard and a host of other CV Legends, but it looks like Dracula and his minions might win this battle.

Harmony of Despair eschews the “Metroidvania” style of recent Castlevania titles in favor of gameplay that more closely resembles the original level-based NES offerings. Experience points have also bit the dust, so it’s up to the player’s action skills alone to keep them afloat. However, the conventions of games like Symphony of the Night aren’t entirely left behind: The player can upgrade his or her equipment by finding new weapons and armor strewn about the playing field, and consumables, like the series’ trademark cuts of meat, can be carried and used when needed. From one to six players can join in the action via Xbox Live, which proves to be the title’s main draw.

Sadly, there’s really nothing “HD” about this game despite its title. I’m using a 1080p TV and though the game looks good, it’s not exactly eye-popping. The same tired graphics we’ve been seeing since 1997’s PS1 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night litter the screen, augmented with enemies nabbed from other Castlevania titles. I’m an old school gamer and a sucker for sprite-based visuals, but there’s nothing retro about graphics we’ve all encountered on our DS consoles as late as 2008’s Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.

The visual settings are libel to leave you scratching your head as well. The “native” setting allows the player to see the entire level on their TV screen all at once, but it offers a heinously tiny view of your character that’s only playable on the most gargantuan of monitors, like the one in Time Square. Plan on setting the game to at least x2 if you hope to have any fun.

When it comes down to it, were it not for the frantic six-player action, there would be nearly no reason to play C: HD. It’s easier to forgive the game’s flaws when you’re busting demon skulls with five other players, but keep this in mind: Six guys having fun with a flawed game still leaves you with a flawed game once the controllers have been put aside.

Even as a moderate Castlevania freak, it’s difficult for me to recommend purchasing Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. All but the most hardcore Castlevania fans and 2D action junkies will get much mileage out of this one. But don’t do this game a disservice and skip it entirely: Download the demo on Xbox Live and see for yourself if this game is worth sinking your teeth into.

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