Giant Bomb Review

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Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

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Harmony of Despair's multiplayer design isn't fleshed out well enough to make you forget about the grind.


 It might sound crazy, but you can actually play from this pulled-out viewpoint.
There's a single-player option in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, but if you're the sort of person that only likes to play games by yourself, don't buy Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. Actually, with its kooky, grind-heavy design, I don't know that I'd recommend that anyone buy Konami's latest downloadable Castlevania game, but the game's definitely built to be played as a group.

Unlike traditional Castlevania games, there's no meaningful story element to Castlevania HD, and you aren't really exploring a large, singular castle. Instead, the game is broken up into six different chapters, each with its own map and boss. Also, each chapter comes with a time limit. So you're not expected to linger around in any one part of the game. In fact, you should probably get moving, even if you're playing alone, because nothing stops the clock. You can't pause the game at all. It's one of those kinds of games.

When you first start hacking away at a chapter, you'll probably be a little underpowered. That's because a lot of the game revolves around finding better gear or, depending on which of the five protagonists you decide to use, repeatedly using your attacks to increase their power. Those power increases aren't explicitly stated, and the game only lets you swap gear when you're at specific points on the map, making the whole system a bit more obfuscated than it probably should be. Maybe a more standard leveling system that gives you XP for kills would have been easier to follow.

The game allows up to six players to play, and there are some paths on each map that can only be taken if the players are working together, like switches or platforms that turn off flames or otherwise open doors that help everyone get to the boss fight faster. But since a big part of the game is hunting down more interesting equipment--and it feels like better equipment shows up in multiplayer games--you're better off scouring the four corners of each map before triggering the boss fight to see if you can find anything worthwhile. I'd say around 95% of the stuff I find is essentially vendor trash, though the stores don't sell good enough items to make your gold worth saving. It's like the game is driven by loot lust, but almost all of the loot is totally uninteresting.

 It's a six-player game with five selectable characters.
At least the game has a specific look to it. Though it abbreviates to "Castlevania HD," it's hard to call Harmony of Despair a "high-definition" game. The characters look like they right out of the various Nintendo DS Castlevania games, and the game has a deliberately blocky look to it. That's not a bad thing, as it gives all of the visuals a very specific style, but it's hard not to feel like this game was thrown together to make a quick buck with existing assets. As a result, the only amazing thing about the game is its music.

But you're probably not looking to spend $15 on a soundtrack that you can only hear on your 360. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair has some neat ideas, but a lot of it's hidden behind a bevy of poorly explained menus and user-unfriendly mechanics. The expectation that you'll grind your way through the six chapters over and over again, only to do it all over again in hard mode is kind of ridiculous, and there just isn't enough of a reward there to make all of that grinding feel like anything other than, well, a grind. Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
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Edited by Lake

The Quick Look made it look crappy.  I would say a Two out of Five is well deserved.

Posted by OroJackson

yea this is a disappointment

Posted by JackSukeru

Prediction accurate, now to actually read the review.

Posted by MildMolasses

I don't really care about the reviews. This game was a no go for me as soon as I discovered it was not a typical castlevania game. I assumed they were going to cash in on the success of Shadow Complex by featuring it's inspiration in the summer of arcade. Boy was I wrong
Posted by Genjai
@MildMolasses said:
" I don't really care about the reviews. This game was a no go for me as soon as I discovered it was not a typical castlevania game. I assumed they were going to cash in on the success of Shadow Complex by featuring it's inspiration in the summer of arcade. Boy was I wrong "
Yeah, I think this would happen, too. But with 6 "stages" it just doesn't seem to be interesting at all.- at least, not in a multiplayer format.
Posted by Sticky_Pennies

My thoughts exactly. This is a huge disappointment. No local coop, no story, 6 missions of up to a half hour each. Doesn't justify $15 at all. It also just doesn't look good. The second screenshot in the review reveals that the background is blatantly being looped.

Posted by kevinski

I haven't even played online yet, and I'm really enjoying myself. Granted, I'm a complete Castlevania fiend. :P

Edited by Darkstar614

I had my doubts about this when I started hearing about what it was, and this confirms it. You can tell by all the re-used assets that they threw this together quickly to make some quick cash. It is not worth the $15 price point for sure. Maybe down the road if it for some reason is ever $5 I might check it out. But for now this is a rip off, and I'm glad I waited for a review before purchasing it.
 
Also I like how Jonathan Morris(From Portrait of Ruin) is the only character that looks like a man, and also is the only whip-using character. Thereby making him the most likable character in this game.

Posted by Peacemaker

This years Summer of Arcade is kind of a letdown so far.  Limbo was awesome at least.  Lets hope Tomb Raider does better next week.

Posted by Somadude

Man, this was the ONE summer of arcade game I was looking forward to. Glad I bought SoTN this weekend.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Yeah, I was expecting an actual new Castlevania game. Will I go through this summer of arcade without buying anything? Maybe. It all depends on how good Monday Night Combat turns out.

Posted by thereaper2950

Great!!! Now Im pissed!!!!!

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

I feel sad but I played it and I like it.

Posted by LiQuid3600

Lots of people, both whom have and have no played this game (more of the latter it seems) are really trash talking this game but I, and a lot of people on my friends list have been having a ton of fun with this game over the last two days.  It's not perfect by any stretch, but it is addictive as hell.  I've been splitting my time between all five of the game's characters trying to find who works best for me and the balance between them is really amazing.  Each character plays completely differently in their own fun ways.  Some of the "leveling up" is tedious (see collecting souls as Soma, absorbing magic as Charlotte), but the increase in power when done is really rewarding. 
 
 With a group of communicative players, this is some of the most fun I've had from an XBLA game in a very long time.

Posted by JDevL

I'm enjoying the game so far and I haven't tried multiplayer yet. Not great by any means, but $15 for a Castlevania experiment is fine by me.

Posted by Dad_Is_A_Zombie

Unnecessary multiplayer fucks up another great game! I was so afraid of this when I heard about it and so it has come to pass. SOTN was brilliant and I was hoping for a new HD sequel of that. Extremely disappointing, but kudos to Jeff for saving me some money.

Posted by XivSpew

why oh why couldn't this have been like the DS games?  I've been waiting for that imaginary game for years, and now i'll have to wait an eternity...

Posted by Soren

This is a fair review, you're better off waiting for the next portable installment in the franchise then spending your points here.

Posted by Landon

Yeah, I thought as much. I had a bad feeling ever sense I saw how they designed the levels. No massive map? No sale.

Posted by Red

I believe this marks the third game from Japan foolishly trying to be Monster Hunter. 

Posted by divisionbyzorro

I hate to say this, but it seems Jeff just "doesn't get it." 
 
This is the lovechild of Castlevania and Diablo. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then buy it right now!

Posted by akskiller

Its actually fun and addictive with friends. I give it a 4 just for that.

Posted by aacx97

My main issue is that the characters run so slowly

Posted by Shady

Yeah, uh, I don't buy that Hydro Thunder gets a pass but this doesn't.

Posted by zityz

Im having a ton of fun with it. It's not perfect, but I think a 2 is a tade too harsh. 
 
Also, don't trash talk the game guys unless youve tried the demo at least.    
Posted by KevinHubard

This game sucks.

Posted by MagusMaleficus

Count me in the Totally Disappointed group. I was psyched for this until I saw the Quick Look. Playing the demo completely killed any desire I had to sink my teeth into this one. Oh well.

Posted by divisionbyzorro
@Shady said:
" Yeah, uh, I don't buy that Hydro Thunder gets a pass but this doesn't. "
This. A thousand times this.
Posted by BaconGames
@MildMolasses said:
" I don't really care about the reviews. This game was a no go for me as soon as I discovered it was not a typical castlevania game. I assumed they were going to cash in on the success of Shadow Complex by featuring it's inspiration in the summer of arcade. Boy was I wrong "
Definitely agree.  A shoddily constructed made for multiplayer game that requires a group of friends to communicate in order to have fun just don't cut it.
 
I don't see the problem with enjoying a game that gets a bad review, because that means you've literally justified your purchase and a review for the purpose of telling you about a product before a buy is useless.  However this is definitely not a smash hit or all around good game like Limbo and Hydro Thunder were respectively.
Posted by JJOR64

I really wanted this game to be good like most fans.       :(

Posted by CharleyTony

I did buy it anyway because I wanted to play it, even though it might be the lamest Castlevania game in recent years. After reading Jeff's review, my first impression is that if Castlevania HD had a real story (like the DS games) and that the multiplayer was added to a complete single player game, people would still say it is tacked on and sub-par. 
 The real question I am starting to ask myself is this: If Konami wanted to make a XBLA game that reused so much stuff from the GBA and DS games, why didn't just port those games like they were ? They could have sold them for 15$ a piece and they had 3 or 4 of them lying around. Then, they could have built the next portable DS game(s) knowing that they could eventually port them to WiiWare, PSN and XBLA.
Posted by fedorajay

The game is alright. I'll be picking it up once the price goes down. Fifteen bucks is too much for me.

Posted by Twinblade

This game is a lot of fun imo. i don't regret buying it at all.

Posted by Meltbrain
@OroJackson said:
" yea this is a disappointment "
Yup. :(
Edited by Junior_AIN

I did see that coming, seemed fun at first, but showed its shallowness after some gameplay videos.

Posted by PK_Koopa

Thought reviews were being a bit harsh, but when I tried the demo I had to agree with em. I'd rather Konami just give us a full single player Castlevania, or a short multiplayer castlevania game that plays like the DS ones (no time limit, lets you explore etc)

Posted by AlteredEcho07

I couldn't agree with this review more. I was actually thinking about downloading this but man, what a disappointment summer of arcade is turning out to be. With the exception of Limbo, of course. I can't wait for Comic Jumper.
Posted by Video_Game_King

Reads like an itemized list of complaints, leading me to believe that this is a very simple game. I'm not insulting the review, since just by looking at the last picture, it's kinda clear how much effort they put into the game: enough to rip character sprites awkwardly out of context in an unsatisfying way.

Online
Posted by Foil1212

Is this the first summer of arcade game in its 3 years to not be good, or at least decent?

Posted by AgentZero

I've only tried the demo and the little bit I played was ok I'm a huge Castlevania fan so I probably will still get it

Edited by fedorajay
@Foil1212 said:

" Is this the first summer of arcade game in its 3 years to not be good, or at least decent? "

I think that Turtles in Time remake was in last years Summer of Arcade, and there is no way this Castlevania game is worse than that. After playing the SNES version, I hated that game so much. 
 
EDIT: I was correct, That awful Turtles in Time remake was the first game from last year's Summer of Arcade.
Posted by iAmJohn
@divisionbyzorro said:
" @Shady said:
" Yeah, uh, I don't buy that Hydro Thunder gets a pass but this doesn't. "
This. A thousand times this. "
Except that Hydro Thunder is awesome?
Posted by Tomeh

Wow 2/5, looks like j=Jeff didn't like it at all. One question though, did he play it with anyone before reviewing? This is VERY MUCH a multiplayer game. I've played it for 14+ hours straight with a bunch of my friends, so good, it's Castlevania.

Posted by Warskull
@divisionbyzorro said:
" I hate to say this, but it seems Jeff just "doesn't get it."   This is the lovechild of Castlevania and Diablo. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then buy it right now! "
To be fair, I would say most people don't get it.  Especially with the complaints that "multiplayer ruined it."  It isn't meant to be Symphony of the Night, it is more MMO raiding meets Castlevania gameplay.
Edited by Brackynews

This game is not even attempting to be a MetroidVania title.   New concept page: Half-a-Vania
Maybe I was actually hoping for something to follow in Shadow Complex's shadow.  Nope.  I won't write off IGA just yet, he has too much cred, but god damn if this series can't seem to finish any new idea they start nowadays.  I will probably buy it later on.  

@divisionbyzorro said:

" @Shady said:

" Yeah, uh, I don't buy that Hydro Thunder gets a pass but this doesn't. "

This. A thousand times this. "
Jeff does like Bimini Run and Wipeout. He is not a stalwart fan of Castlevania.  I believe on a Bombcast he said that his first experience of SotN was on 360, which he did max out all 200 points. So he certainly played it enough, just not wearing the rose coloured glasses I would.  But both this and Hydro seem too limited in the wrong ways.
Posted by Vigorousjammer

hmmm... 2 stars makes me want to spend these points on Hydro Thunder instead...
maybe i'll wait for Tomb Rai-- uh, I mean... Lara Croft

Posted by mashangle

So it's a grind heavy game...with a time limit restriction.  Doesn't that naturally combat itself?

Posted by theescapeplan

I was looking forward to this game, but after the Quick Look I lost all interest.  

Edited by thehuntsmen5434

ugh I already bought this game based on the Review at 1up.  Christ that was a huge mistake, I forgot that I don't agree with anything Jeremy Perish ever says. I couldn't even find anyone online who was playing.  To be honest it feels like a Flash game.  I want my 12 bucks back :(

Posted by StarFoxA

Really? I'm surprised. The game is a blast with friends.

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