Tuesday, July 6, 2010

E3 2010: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Hands-On

The call for more Castlevania 2D games has been answered a number of times, so expecting another version to appear at E3 is practically a no-brainer. But what if no story were attached to it? What if all you were tasked to do was to slaughter all of Dracula's minions just for the sake of it? Enter the arcade-y stylings of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair takes the tried-and-true 2D platformer and boiled it down to a saucy reduction of pure flavor; gone are the story elements that generally weave through all the boss battles, the lengthy backtracking through the ENTIRE castle to accomplish goals, and even the use of the map as a tool. What's left are small, short bursts of vampire-whipping levels with a starting point and a boss battle goal, all on a level designed straight on the map. What's even more amusing is the three different zoom modes you can set on the level. So, you can zoom up to a normal playing perspective, a partial zoom-out to see all nearby rooms surrounding you, or a full-blown, where-the-hell-am-I zoom out where you see practically EVERYTHING.

The demo of the game had 5 selectable characters, most of which are actually from the DS games. Apart from Alucard from Symphony of the Night, there is Soma Cruz, Shanoa, and the dual of Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin from Dawn of Sorrow, Order of Ecclesia, and Portrait of Ruin, respectively. Each character also comes with their own set of special abilities they can perform with magic, all triggered Smash Bros. style by pressing a direction and the B button.

There are even unique game mechanics that characters carry with them from their previous titles. For example, Shanoa's ability in Order of Ecclesia was her surrounding sphere that allowed her to lock onto gems in levels, and you would used the stylus to drag her in one direction from the gem in a slingshot-like fashion to release and launch her to hard-to-reach areas. In the levels themselves, certain rooms will contain these gems that only Shanoa will be able to utilize. Depending on what character you choose, your level traversing options may vary.

The level structures all follow a set format: a starting point, a big boss location, and a time limit. What's awesome is that everything's happening all at once before you; enemies in every room are moving around in their own pace, platforms and pendulums are swinging around waiting to be used, and the boss can suddenly wake up and dish out an attack that crosses through the entire map aimed squarely at you. This time it's you against the entire map, and if you're not careful, the map will win.

In addition to the single-player mode, there will be a co-op mode (which will bring about harder bosses to take down) and survival mode. Games can also host up to 6 players simultaneously, and will be online. Expect Castlevania: Harmony of Despair to be released on Xbox Live Arcade on August 4th.
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