Castlevania: Harmony of Despair was developed and published by Konami for XBLA on August 4, 2010. Retails for 1200 Microsoft Points.

Everyone remembers their first time playing one of the numerous Castlevania games. Mine happened to be Super Castlevania IV on the Super Nintendo, and I didn’t see another until Symphony of the Night. And then not again until the Gameboy Advance with Aria of Sorrow. The beauty of the Castlevania series is that all the games are similar yet very distinct at the same time. That’s where Harmony of Despair comes into the picture, it is the offspring of all the SOTN-era Castlevania’s.

You (and up to 5 friends) team up as either:

  1. Alucard from Symphony of the Night
  2. Soma Cruz from Aria/Dawn of Sorrow
  3. Jonathan Morris/Charlotte Aulin from Portrait of Ruin
  4. Shenoa from Order of Ecclessia

Each character is distinctly different from the others, with ranging weaponry, speed, jumping, weaknesses and equippable items. Some characters can reach parts of levels that others can’t, such as with Shenoa’s magnetic fling ability.

Now, to get down to the bare bones of it, this game is essentially Boss Rush+. Is that a bad thing? Depends on your view. You and 5 friends choose from the characters above, have 30 minutes to navigate the level, collect treasures and ultimately defeat the boss. Currently there are only 6 chapters, the final being Dracula, fittingly. The fun comes in memorizing the levels, finding the best layout, preparing for treks with friends, and learning the best strategies against a boss. Once chapter 6 is completed you can play through it again but with even greater difficulty but much better rewards.

Here’s what we liked:

Old school vibe: The game will destroy you if you play solo, yet will also destroy you if you play with a full group of 6. Especially if it is your first time playing the game, and have no idea what is going on. It’s this type of gameplay that has been lost with today’s games with their pause screens, infinite continues, and checkpoints. So, to some it is a glimpse into their past, while to others it is a sickness that they are not accustomed to.

Strong multiplayer focus: As stated earlier in the review, this game is NOT do-able with only one player. You will die, you will fail. And this promotes a strong co-op experience. In nearly every game I’ve played online, the majority of the players had mics, were very helpful, developed tactics together, and had a good time. If you play XBL often you’ll know how rare this is when most players are mic-less, and those who do have it are often trolls.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Lack of levels: The game only comes with 6 chapters, and each chapter can be completed within 10 minutes with practice. And yes, as I stated earlier, the focus is memorizing levels and making strategies, but Konami knew how fast paced the game is and could easily have included more than 6 levels with the game. With a plethora of locations and bosses to choose from it is disappointing that they are reserving them for future DLC which should have been included in the first place.

Copy+Paste Graphics: The first thing you will notice when you play the game is how the game looks… exactly like the PSX/NDS. And this is because the enemies, characters, treasure drops, locations, and… just about everything else was cut directly from the games. The only thing changed was a few effects, such as fire and what not. And yes it adds to the vibe of the game, but would it have been too difficult for them to include a redesigned version—à la the Monkey Island remakes? At least for the levels themselves…

Now I enjoyed the game quite a bit, and if you are a Castlevania fan you will also. I suggest trying the demo out, but don’t become too frustrated with it since it is singleplayer only. A quick tip before signing off: click the right stick in to zoom in while playing the game.

Score: Try