Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

I'm pretty sure that if I could get a peek at Castlevania: Harmony of Despair director Koji Igarashi's Netflix queue, I'd find that his most recent rental would be the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day.

Much like Bill Murray's Phil awakes every morning in Punxsutawney, PA to find that it's (spoiler alert) Groundhog Day, the characters in Igarashi's latest game -- a cast from 'Vanias past -- find themselves repeating the same trek through the same six castles over and over and over again in an attempt to find or buy better items and beat the bosses faster. Sometimes, they won't even be able to find the boss before the timer runs out. Virtually nothing is explained, it reuses background tiles and sprites from years-old games and is, frankly, not fun at all if you intend to play it alone. Save your $15. Buy this, this or this instead. (But not this.)

Played with friends, however, Harmony of Despair is actually ... kinda fun.%Gallery-95867%

HoD is still undeniably flawed in many respects. The characters control like they're running and jumping through invisible sand. The menus where you're supposed to equip new stuff are like a joke that you're not in on. The fact that you can only equip new stuff at certain points in each castle makes no sense. Some characters can buy new weapons; others can't. It feels like it was made in a month.

But if you can get enough friends together (up to six) -- who, mind you, must really like you to have dropped $15 on a game they'd never want to play alone -- the experience is unique and, yes, kinda fun. Players with better weapons can protect the others. The pack can split up to clear out minions for easier boss battles. Companions who are killed are resurrected as controllable skeletons -- and, if you've got a Water of Life, you can revive them. If not, well, hope at least one of you survives or it's game over. No save points, checkpoints, respawn points. Nada. Zilch. Just back to the beginning ... as in the menus.

There are some interesting, even good ideas in here. It would probably make a good multiplayer component for a better side-scrolling action game. But I honestly can't see the experience HoD offers remaining engaging for more than a few hours -- even for the most passionate Castlevania devotee.

I don't think I need Punxsutawney's groundhog to predict that the next two Summer of Arcade releases will (and should) be better than this.

This review is based on the final version of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair provided by Konami.