I recently reviewed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and one of the complaints some people had was that the game was more God of War than Castlevania. Another Castlevania game I only recently got the chance to play was Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - and this title is very much a throwback to the older Castlevania games, but with a unique twist. It has some RPG elements in the equipment you can find/buy that increases your stats. The most noticeable change however was the inclusion of multiplayer - in fact, the game feels like it was built with multiplayer in mind. It was a risky new direction to take, but did it pay off?
Graphics - 7:
There is an old-school feel to the graphics, and it works well. Animations are nothing spectacular, but the pixelated appearance does a great job of setting the scene. The castles are all quite large, and there are some decent interactions with the backgrounds. The ability to snap to three different view sizes is a huge plus since each level is very labyrinthine.
Sound & music - 6:
The music does not really 'fit' with how I picture Castlevania in my mind, and the sound effects are very simple and recycled quite a bit. The sound effects get the job done and the weird guitar music used in the background is not necessarily bad, but for me Castlevania games were largely about atmosphere, and that is not really handled well by the music here.
Gameplay - 7:
This is the basic gameplay fans of Castlevania are no doubt most familiar with. Run, jump, attack. It's combat and platforming and the level layouts are actually pretty creative for the most part. Your character does not gain experience, but you gain gold as you play and you can grind to get better and better gear, which raises your stats. There are also several characters you can choose from that helps to add some variety to the proceedings as well.
Unfortunately, the game is built with multiplayer in mind - and I have tried at least two or three dozen times now to find matches online and have not succeeded even once. The lack of local co-op hurts too, because my son and I would love to play together but can't. Some of these levels are just really, really hard on your own, which is no doubt by design, but frustrating as I can't seem to find much of a community out there for it.
Intangibles - 7:
The game only comes with 6 maps, but there have been several more released since then, which is nice. You can't progress through the original six until you beat your current one, though you can thankfully jump ahead to the downloaded ones. I used that to help gear myself up better since later maps are 'higher level' and generally have better drops. It was a good workaround for me since I lacked anyone to actually play the game with. The way you improve upon your characters and the fact that the different characters all actually feel different is a big help.
Overall - 6.75:
I might have enjoyed the game a bit more if I had picked it up when it first came out and there were more people still playing it, but as it stands what was meant to be a social experience has shaped up to be a largely solo one. To that end, some sort of scaling difficulty would have been nice so I did not feel like I was in over my head. I understand the decision not to have local co-op based on the very independent nature of your travels through the castles, but my son and I both agreed we would have preferred split screen to only single-player as well. It was a good idea with some addictive formulas that just aren't quite clicking for me, as much as I wish they were.