Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Hands-On

This downloadable Castlevania will feature cooperative and head-to-head multiplayer.

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Does the idea of a multiplayer Castlevania: Symphony of the Night-style game sound appealing to you? If so, you should probably get excited about Castlevania: Harmony of Despair--a downloadable 2D Castlevania game that features a strong multiplayer element. But the major different between Harmony of Despair and its immediate predecessors is that there's no exploring element in the traditional sense as you can see the entire castle. In fact, that's kind of the whole point. At any time during a game, you can click on the right analog stick to see the entire layout of the castle in front of you, complete with enemy positions and traps that might be located in specific rooms.

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If you click the stick again, you get a slightly closer view of the action, and if you click it one more time, you get the default Castlevania view. The main objective is to make it to the boss tucked away in a part of the castle that's not easy to get to, and in our demo, we had to do so within a relatively short time limit. If you find and defeat the boss, you get a new castle with new rooms and a new visual theme.

At the beginning of the demo, you can decide if you want to play single-player or multiplayer (more on that in a bit), but Castlevania fans will be pleased to know that you can also select from one of several Castlevania games of yore, ranging from Alucard and Soma Cruz to Jonathan Morris and Shanoa. All of these characters have their own unique abilities and skills, so naturally Alucard (the character we select) can turn into fog, whereas Shanoa seems to have extensive magic skills. What's also interesting is that equipment still plays an important role as it did in previous Castlevania games.

As you venture through the castle, you find treasure chests that are often filled with armor, weapons, or items, but you can't just pause the game and equip or use them whenever you want. Instead, you have to find special rooms in the castle that serve as safe houses where you can check out your gear and upgrade your character accordingly. Still, the layout of the castle is similar to those in the handheld Castlevania games, and many of the visual details are borrowed from those games, as well as Symphony of the Night, so some enemies and areas should look instantly familiar.

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As for the game's multiplayer modes, we're told that up to six players can play cooperatively, helping each other to get through the castle. There's also a Survival mode where players can compete to see who the best vampire hunter is by scoring the most number of points in a given time. It sounds interesting to say the least, and we're curious to see just how cooperative play functions. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is due out later this summer on Xbox Live.

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