The 2010 Summer of Arcade continues with a return to Castlevania. Get out your whip and wake up Alucard - it’s time to take back the castle one more time!

The 2010 Summer of Arcade’s third title brings us back to battle Dracula and his goons in Castlevania. ***Side Note: Make sure you check out our reviews on the first two Summer or Arcade releases - Limbo and Hydro Thunder Hurricane*** If you’ve read any of my past reviews, its no secret that I’m a huge fan of what are now designated as “classic games”. The Castlevania series in particular holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first games I got for my NES when I turned 5. I spent many days and months toiling over that incredibly difficult game until I was finally able to beat Dracula’s two forms. Subsequent releases in the series have been fantastic (other than the 3D attempts), and I was overjoyed to hear that a new 2D game was coming this summer.

Back to Basics
'Castlevania: Harmony of Despair' isn’t like any other game in the franchise. There’s no story, or cutscenes, or hilariously cheesy dialog (pick up 'Symphony of Night' right now if you haven’t played it). You’re just thrown into a castle with a couple of rusty weapons and some low level powers. Fans of the series will be successful fairly quickly, but the uninitiated are going to have to go through some trial and error to get the game mechanics down. You can of course read the Help section to get better acquainted with what you can expect from the game and read the game’s “story”, but I don’t expect many are going to look at it. There are 5 different characters to choose from: Soma, Alucard, Jonathan Morris, Shanoa, and Charlotte. Each character plays a little differently and it would have been nice to have a quick tutorial level to give players an idea of what each character can do so they can align themselves with the one who best fits their play style.

I hope you have Friends
There are 6 levels to play through in total and each level has a 30 minute time limit. Don’t think that means you will be completing this game in 3 hours though. You’ll need to play each level multiple times to acquire better gear and upgrade your various abilities until you’re powerful enough to take down each levels final boss. There is no experience bar in this game and you’re character won’t level up through grinding. However, 3 of the 5 characters can level up their abilities through persistent use, but the bottom line is. you won’t be getting stronger with every kill. Equipment and items are the keys to staying alive. You can get new gear by opening chests and it occasionally drops off of monsters. The final boss of each level drops a chest of goodies as well. Equipment that is no good for you can be sold in order to buy something more useful. The gear you get can’t be equipped right away from an inventory screen however. You have to wait until the levels over, or head to a designated area to review and change your gear around. You can also equip various health potions and curse curing concoctions to help you out. Without good gear, you are going to have a really hard time with this game, especially playing alone.

One of my main gripes is that this game is clearly geared towards multiplayer. There are many traps and passages that can only be used with the help of a friend. If you die at any point, you have to start the level over again, even if you’ve cleared everything except for the boss. Once you get better gear, it starts to become possible to beat the game single-handedly, but it takes a long grind to get good gear, or at least make enough money to buy it. I really suggest taking this on via co-op mode. If you are dead set against multiplayer I recommend playing as Shanoa, as she is one of the most powerful characters and she has an ability that helps her get to places no other character can. I really wish they had made the game more accessible from a single player stand point, but to be honest, playing with others is way more fun.

Clicking on MULTIPLAYER in the main menu allows you to choose between Co-op and Survival Mode. Survival mode pits up to six players together in what quickly devolves into “who can mash buttons the fastest to kill each other” mode. Its fun for a bit, but it soon wears thin. Co-op is where this game really shines. Up to six people can select between 5 characters (maybe they could have added one more?), and play through the exact same 6 levels you play in single player to kill the exact same boss. Only this time, it’s much more entertaining. All of a sudden areas of the map become accessible that you couldn’t reach before and some of the toughest monsters go down easy with a little team work. When you open a chest, everybody gets something, even if they’re on the other side of the map. You can even revive fallen teammates via the Water of Life, which can be found in the blue chests scattered throughout the level. There are also lots of boss killing mechanics that make downing the boss easy but that require multiple people, such as the massive bone hammer in Level 3. The bottom line is that if you’re into Castlevania at all, you’re going to have a ton of fun teaming up and taking down each of the 6 bosses.

That looks familiar!
All of the art assets in this game have been taken from previous Castlevania games and “up-rezzed” to work in an HD format. If you’ve played some of the recent Castlevania games you’ll recognize all of the character, boss, and enemy sprites. Even the rooms and backgrounds seem to have been pulled from previous games. Calling the graphics HD is a bit of a stretch as they just appear to have been stretched and scaled. It would have been nice to see the game redrawn. This game also has one of the worst “loading” animations I’ve ever seen. Its features pages from a book continuously turning at a really quick rate. You’ll want to close your eyes or look away anytime this happens - trust me - it’s really annoying. Simply putting the word “loading” on the screen would have sufficed.

One positive note about the presentation is that you can push in the right stick to zoom the map between three different zoom levels. You even zoom out to see the entire map, which allows you to see every monster, chest, room, and even see where the boss is in real-time. It’s a really helpful way to get your bearings and see where your teammates are. You can even play that way if you want to. One thing I’m really glad they imported from old games is the music. The score in this game is pretty much perfect and any Castlevania fan will immediately recognize the 80’s neo-metal/classical riffs from past games.

If you’re a Castlevania maniac like me you’re going to have an absolute blast playing this game, but my love for the series isn’t enough to look past its many shortcomings. As a concept I think it works really well, it just wasn’t executed in a way that will make the game accessible to newcomers to the series. If you’re worried about not having any friends to play with, this game features online play, and as long as there are die-hards like me around, hopefully this game will have a strong community. It’s nice to be able to take down Dracula with Alucard again, and I can only hope they’ll take the feedback they get from this game and make something that truly exemplifies what a Castlevania game should be like.

Final Score: 7.0

Reviewed by Mike Baggley | 08.09.10

  • Playing as Alucard again!
  • Great cast of characters
  • Co-op is a blast
  • Great weapons and abilities
  • Challenging boss battles (for the most part)
  • Classic Castlevania tunes to listen to while you kill monsters over and over again
  • Lack of Tutorials or any explanation of game mechanics whatsoever (unless you check the Help & Options menu)
  • No experience leveling
  • Difficult to play solo - Only 6 levels
  • Calling the graphics HD is a bit of a stretch

Summer of Arcade: Hydro Thunder Hurricane (8.0) | Lara Croft: Guardian of Light (8.9) | Limbo (9.6)


Harmony of Despair




US Release
August '10


Player 1
Co-Op 1-6
Multiplayer Vs.
In-Game Dolby
D/L Content
1200 MS Points