Castlevania Harmony of Despair is the cooperative Super Smash Brothers of handheld Castlevania platforming games. That specific selection of games evolved from the early GameBoy edition, the one with no aerial control, slow whip animations, and fantastically obnoxious enemy placement. As the times changed, so did the means of winning. Movement and player statistics became factors, and a wider variety of weapons were made available. Stages were broken down into a grid of divided micro-areas. Harmony of Despair mixes the new and old, along with several new aspects to make an interesting but puzzling multiplayer oriented game.
Linear as Castlevania games tend to be, you complete one stage at a time. There are a stark few, even with DLC included, numbering 11. What makes this justifiable is the way the stages are set up. Instead of micro-areas, you are presented with one colossal sandbox. It still has a sense of direction, however, as it is a puzzle all in itself. You flip switches to open doors, jump on pendulums, hop across platforms, flood rooms to make other areas accessible, and avoid damaging spiky traps. Some gimmicks can only be operated with more than one person playing, making Castlevania Harmony of Despair the first multiplayer-focused platforming game from the Castlevania series.
There are actually many characters to choose from this time around. I’ll list them off (and their gimmicks) for you now:
- Soma Cruz: Wields many weapons. May capture the souls of enemies for personal use. Red souls; offensive spells. Blue souls; personal action. Yellow souls; stat boosts.
- Alucard: Wields many weapons. Uses dark magics, and has a mist form that serves as a dodge.
- Jonathan Morris: Wields a whip and several sub-weapons. Has a limited pool of martial art abilities.
- Charlotte Aulin: Wields a magic tome and uses a plethora of spells. May bind spells by absorbing them from enemies.
- Shanoa: Absorbs and utilizes weapon and spell Glyphs. May use Magnes to move quickly around magnetic spheres scattered about stages.
- Julius Belmont: Wields a whip and the typical Belmont sub-weapons. May swing his whip in eight directions and use it to swing from magnets.
- Yoko Belnades: Wields a staff (overhead swing). Uses three versatile spells. Deals crazy damage.
- Richter Belmont: Wields a whip and the typical Belmont sub-weapons. Fast attack speed.
- Maria Renard: Wields doves and her standard animal abilities. May use Hymn for multi-hits, and Xuan Wu as her personal action to half damage.
- Simon Belmont: Wields a whip and the typical Belmont sub-weapons. Fast attack speed and high damage. Very simplistic.
- Getsu Fuma: Wields a pulse blade and several unique sub-weapons. Fast, versatile, and powerful. Excellent range.
What a lineup, huh? Look at all of those legends in action. Each of them has a unique Dual Crush that can be performed when near another player. The Dual Crush performed depends on the combination of characters, but regardless of what you get, you can expect high damage.
I mentioned earlier that Castlevania Harmony of Despair partially reverts to the ways of the older Castlevania platformers. By that I meant the characters move slower, attacks require more commitment, and jumps require timing because of the naturally slow movement speed. This makes combat difficult and more reliant on prediction, which is actually quite refreshing.
That’s all I’ve got to say about Harmony of Despair. I think it’s a good game, but difficult, and absolutely requires more than one person to play. I can’t say I enjoy the changes made to the physics and mechanics, or the fact that the total cost of the DLC exceeds that of the game itself, but I think the positives just overshadow the negatives. Though it isn’t quite a full game, it just barely earns the right to be priced as one.
Jim Sterling of Destructoid has a lot to say about why Castlevania Harmony of Despair sucks, and despite my being an almost hardcore Castlevania fan, I can’t see anything I disagree with. It’s true, Harmony of Despair is a mashup of old Castlevania themes, sprites, characters, and music with no instruction and no plot. It’s difficulty is defined not only by high-damage bosses, but by the length of time it takes to complete a stage. And, you know, because solo-players are just plain screwed. Expect to play each level several times, and don’t even THINK of trying to collect each and every item. The grind isn’t worth it. Here’s the review link: http://www.destructoid.com/review-castlevania-harmony-of-despair-180442.phtml