A multiplayer Castlevania? Series designer Koji Igarashi's latest off-the-wall idea for the 23-year-old vampire slaying franchise might just be crazy enough to work. After playing Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, I'm on board.
Way more on board with Iga's new Xbox Live Arcade game—a multiplayer action-adventure and exploration game for up to six players, starring Castlevania characters from games like Symphony of the Night and Portrait of Ruin—than his fighting game spin-off Castlevania Judgment. Right now, there are five familiar characters to choose from, but expect unlockables as you progress through the game.
Harmony of Despair, in the version that we played at E3, dropped us into a ten minute race against the clock to find and kill Gergoth, the two-legged beast from Dawn of Sorrow. I never did make it to Gergoth, his massive energy blast killing me—the thing can burn through the entire length of the castle, but I wasn't playing carefully enough to avoid it.
Along the way, I found treasure chests scattered throughout the map. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair has persistent character progression, so the items you collect throughout your various playthroughs of the XBLA game you'll keep for future sessions. Players can swap out their equipment at certain spots on the map, hopefully an option outside of regular gameplay as well.
There's no experience point system, however, we were told.
While playing through the E3 demo, I got a look at that screen zooming feature. By clicking the left analog stick on the Xbox 360 controller, the game will zoom in and out in three ways. The player can view a single room, view a series of adjoining rooms or view the entire map.
That final level of zoom is the least playable, as Igarashi claims the game is displaying 10 million dots onscreen at once, your character and enemies portrayed as tiny specks on the screen.
The full castle view, however, will help you plan your route to each level's boss and locate your cooperative teammates. There appear to be plenty of hidden areas and passages throughout the six unique castles of Harmony of Despair, ensuring plenty of replayability.
Even at high-definition resolutions, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair with its recycled sprites and animations, looks good, especially when zoomed out slightly. There appears to be a few new details in the game's environments and the game's resolution tricked me into thinking that the action was slowed down from previous entries, but Igarashi said the movement speed of its characters was exactly the same.
There appears to be a good deal of depth to Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, of which we only scratched the surface at E3. The game is due sometime this summer, according to the game over screen, so keep an eye out for further details.