Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Well, They Got One Word in the Title Right Anyway
I never counted Castlevania as one of my all-time favorite franchises. Sure, I played the original and Simon's Quest and dabbled in a few of the later-generation games, but I never really got into the whole Belmont clan's adventures. Yet I was hoping that Harmony of Despair would bring back that old-school feeling and give me a chance to relive some of those memories, but, sadly, this nostalgic dream quickly turned into a nightmare thanks to a hideous camera, inept item system and annoying timed level design.
I won't get into as much detail here as usual, other than to say that if you have great memories of the franchise, you may as well keep those and not bother with Despair - unless the gameplay changes significantly online. In local player, the camera is zoomed in to each of your character, but as soon as one decides to go off in another direction, the camera pans out to the effect that soon it's impossible to see what anyone is doing. That means exploring the level means everyone has to say together. Woe if you die - you can still go on as a skeleton (and can be brought back to life if you have the right item) but if you die again, you respawn back at the location you died, meaning the camera immediately zooms out and screws everyone over.
Speaking of dieing, each level is timed - and each time you die, it knocks some off that clock. Especially annoying when fighting each level's final boss - a few wrong moves and suddenly your nice 15 minute cushion is rapidly reduced to nothing. The levels, enemies, bosses and characters are all throwbacks (I'm told most are from the handheld generation of games - none of which I ever played) and the graphically aren't too bad (when you're zoomed in enough to see) but given the camera, the levels feel way too busy - backgrounds blend in too easy, making it hard to judge where platforms are supposed to be.
There isn't much point to building up gold to buy things with (other than recovery potions) because by the third level you can pretty much afford the best equipment in the game. Yes, you can find some better equipment in chests (and occasionally enemy drops) but the random nature of these drops meaning you'll have to play though multiple times just hoping to get something better. Each character has their own weapons and abilities - we only played through three and you unlock these abilities by either absorbing them (in the case of magic) or hoping to find new abilities through treasure chests or defeating certain enemies. Once again, the usefulness of some of these abilities is questionable (though the Ricochet Rock is the bomb).
The levels themselves are pretty huge - so missing a crucial jump can mean a lot of backtracking. However, the biggest annoyance is that for a game this ill-conceived, you actually have to shell out more for all the levels and characters. Yes, this game has DLC, though from how poor the core game is, I can't imagine why anyone would bother with the rest unless they are true sadists. Maybe the other stages are super fun - but considering the final two bosses had us pulling our hair out, I don't see what they could offer to make up for that experience.
Those looking for a trip down memory lane can find much better out there. If you're an absolute Castlevania freak, this might be worth it (and, if online play doesn't use the same crappy camera, it might be worth it too) - but otherwise save your time and money for something more fun.