Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Konami
Release Date: August 4, 2010
I am a huge fan of the Castlevania series, and when I heard about a new Xbox Live game for the series I naturally got excited. Unfortunately, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is not one of the better entries in the legendary saga. Instead of being a full-fledged adventure game with an actual storyline, Harmony of Despair (HoD) is merely a dungeon crawler based on lots and lots of repetition. Basically, you choose from one of six characters (mostly from the newer handheld games) and play through one of five levels with the goal being to find rare items, build up your character’s strength and defeat the boss, all within 30 minutes per level. In order to get the most enjoyment out of your experience, you will have to play the game cooperatively.
Yes, that’s right. Castlevania: HoD offers multiplayer action, and it is actually the only truly enjoyable way to play the game. Playing with up to five other users, all of whom are running around, looting chests and slaying monsters, can be an absolute blast (as long as you have a good group). However, the game’s matchmaking system is downright terrible. It is painstakingly difficult to actually find a match most of the time. Usually when attempt to find a “quick match” the game would search for 10-15 seconds, display an error “no match found”, and then kick me back to the main menu. I would click on “quick match” again, starting the same repetitive music, and then receive the error message. This would go on several times before finally connecting to a game. Using the “custom match” feature isn’t much better. It takes longer to pull up the list of open games, and half the time I cannot connect to the one I select, even if there is only 1/6 of the slots filled. The whole matchmaking process can be excruiciating at times. However, as mentioned before, when you do find a strong group of players this game becomes quite engaging.
The problems with the online system would be a bit less of a problem if the game offered offline multiplayer, which unfortunately it does not. This is a seemingly inexcusable omission from a game that is meant to be played cooperatively.
One other noticeable problem that is persistent regardless of single/multiplayer is the oddly sluggish controls. Most of the recent Castlevania games have unmistakenly smooth controls, yet in HoD the characters are handled awkwardly and move…so….slow. This is a bit of a nuisance, especially since some of the levels periodically have long stretches without much action.
Overall, Castlevania: HoD feels more like an expansion pack or an add-on rather than a completely developed Castlevania game. The single player experience is simply average and not the focal point of the game. The multiplayer experience has far too many flaws, although it can be a lot of fun when you are able to connect and play with a strong group. I am holding out hope that Konami will release an update that fixes the matchmaking problems, but until then, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair will remain a disappointing entry in the series.