CASTLEVANIA : HARMONY OF DISSONANCE / Konami / GBA
AAARGH WHAT IS THIS NASTY MUSIC?! Sorry if that seems superficial, but we're talking Castlevania here, and a game in the direct lineage of Symphony of the Night no less. The one thing you don't really expect to be fuxed in a game with such credentials is the soundtrack, you know? But from the outset you've got this cringe-worthy audio, I mean it's like Game And Watch quality. It's not really the compositions, which are actually pretty good - they're just underneath horribly low-quality sound samples.
Apparently the audio was sacrificed for the sake of graphics, for example so that main character Juste Belmont could look like he's wearing a Santa suit with giant mittens, and I would have happily given up all his cheap-looking "shadow trails" if it meant even slightly better audio quality. Juste aside, though, the graphics are actually pretty good. The backgrounds are particularly nice. However, they are also disjointed. You move between areas that have no logical connection whatsoever, it's just like an ongoing slideshow of backgrounds that the designers thought would look really cool. Like on one set of screens there's an erupting volcano in the background (in the middle of Dracula's castle, yes), which leads into a diamond cave, which then sends you into some dungeon built of huge skeleton bones. Lovely, but they're also randomly jammed together without any regard for logic or flow.
I know pop opinion is against me on this one but I think this game is just as bad as Circle of the Moon, if not worse. The play control is fairly good, definitely much smoother than that of Circle, although having two buttons devoted just to dashing seems like too much - admittedly rapidly dashing forward is fun, but that could have been assigned to a double forward tap, or eliminated altogether in favor of using one of those shoulder buttons to cast spells so you don't have to keep ducking into the menu and turning spell types off and on every time you just want to use a regular weapon. I think what really kills this game is the map design. They were so busy making everything look pretty they seemingly forgot to lay out fun levels. There's just too much wasted space and too many long, boring stretches. The game also often makes you travel epic distances at the beginning before it gives you a save point - wearing down your health and causing you to get killed by tough random enemies out of nowhere quite a bit, and thus redo huge swaths of the game over and over again. I actually finished this game back in 2003 somehow (probably with save states), on my recent replay I quit after going through literally like four different new areas and opening at least 15% more of the map and then getting killed by some poorly placed giant spider skeleton who ran me over going backwards while I was trying to find a save point so I could friggin' quit for the night. Any game that makes me redo the same shit tons of times is going to lose my interest quickly and this one is no exception. You might as well just ignore this one in favor of Aria, which was the only fully well rounded and well executed Castlevania on the GBA.
Dr. Sbaitso reviews the game