Circle of the Moon (henceforth referred to as CotM) at the
GBA launch last year, it was universally praised as one of the best
2D platformers ever. It was also universally bashed for being almost
too dark to play and somewhat lacking graphically. Over a year later
a new GBA Castlevania adventure has been released, and it
sticks to the same formula as its predecessor while being much
easier on the eyes. The result is perhaps the GBA's best platform
game to date.
Like CotM, this
adventure takes place in Dracula's abnormally large castle. I think
the guy's compensating for something personally, but then again he
does live with thousands of other monsters. All that matters
to the player is that it'll take 10 or 12 solid hours of gameplay to
beat (not to mention getting 100% completed…). Set 50 years after
the original Castlevania on NES, gamers now take on the role
of Juste Belmont (Simon's grandson). His pal Maxim informs him that
their gal pal Lydie has been kidnapped and taken to Dracula's pad,
and thus the two set out to rescue her and slay the nefarious
Dracula yet again.
This is a Castlevania
title through and through, and as such it adheres to the gameplay
elements featured throughout the series. Juste wields a whip, can
use sub weapons, and whips candles to gain hearts and other power
ups. The gameplay in HoD is improved over CotM though, as several
important additions have been made this time around. For starters,
the ability to flick the whip found in Super Castlevania IV
has made a very welcome return, and once a certain power up is found
it can also be spun round and round. Sub weapons are still used by
pressing up and B (the weapon button) at the same time. If a spell
book is bound to the sub weapon, then instead of using the weapon
itself one of several very useful spells will be utilized depending
on which sub weapon is currently equipped. The shoulder buttons are
now used for dashing and retreating forward and backward, and once
mastered their usage make fighting certain enemies a much more
enjoyable (and easy) experience. The end result of all of this is
that the game controls much better, and puts more abilities in the
player's hands, then CotM did.
Once again the
series takes on several RPGish traits, including displaying Hit
Points and featuring a magic meter. Elements new to this game (as
opposed to CotM, not necessarily the series in general) include a
shopkeeper that shows up at various points in the castle and a
variety of objects to collect. Gems can be sold back to the
shopkeeper, while furniture can be used to furnish a hidden room.
The latter is really a silly and useless addition, but I wouldn't
mind seeing even more RPG elements added in the next handheld Castlevania
adventure. My favorite Castlevania ever is Castlevania II:
Simon's Quest for a reason.
complaint about CotM centered on the graphics, and obviously Konami
has listened to those complaints with HoD. Most importantly, things
have been brightened considerably to make viewing the game much
easier. While it still retains the dark and moody atmosphere a
Castlevania title should, now it's easier to tell enemies from the
background and to just see everything in general. Additionally
you'll find vastly improved sprite animation, larger enemies,
transparency effects, pseudo-3D effects, and just a general sense of
polish not found in CotM. I can't say that it's the best looking 2D
Castlevania ever (unfortunately I've never played Symphony of the
Night), but it's certainly a strong candidate.
For a game to
look this good on the GBA though there has to be a trade off, and
that comes in the form of inferior music. While it certainly sounds
good, the music quality is nowhere near the level of CotM's haunting
music score. It still gets the job done though, and sounds pretty
good through headphones. Sound effects are about the same, with all
the thwacks, boss sounds, and character grunts one would expect.
graphics with super-sized bosses, tons of animation, and neat
- Aimed at a
slightly older audience then most GBA titles.
Castlevania platforming goodness.
- New Quick
Save option makes it easier to drop the game at a moment's
notice - always important in handheld titles.
- The music
score is below Castlevania standards, but still above most other
"innovative" aspects have mostly been done in other
Castlevania titles already. Innovative for the platform, but not
the series in general.
Given the quality
SNES ports that have appeared on the system it's hard to say that
this is the best handheld platform game ever, but it's certainly the
best original one. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is a
fine addition to the series, and further cements the GBA as perhaps
the best choice for platform gamers.