While many of us remember Sega for bringing out their own original properties, it’s also undeniable that several of their works were incredibly derivative in nature. This seems even more true on the Master System and Game Gear, where, if they weren’t releasing sub-standard ports of their arcade hits, they were openly mimicking other popular 8-bit games. Golden Axe Warrior comes immediately to mind, as does their attempt to turn Alex Kidd into their own Mario-style mascot. Axe Battler takes a stab at Zelda II, with decidedly mixed results. But no one, it seems, remembers Master of Darkness.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: You play as a hero armed with an upgradeable weapon, several sub-weapons, destroy floating objects to reveal powerups, climb staircases, and even break walls to find life-restoring items. You take on all manner of undead and ghostly beasties (including a few with maddening movement patterns), eventually culminating in a battle against Dracula himself.
If you guessed this was Castlevania, no one would fault you, because that’s the exact template Master of Darkness uses. You pick up colored gems that stand in for money bags, potions instead of meat, and there’s even a clock tower level in which you ride a pendulum across a pit, Castlevania III-style. The game hearkens back to a time when Sega was desperately trying to bottle the same lightning Nintendo had, despite its 1992 release.
The game is still good, with some small differences. Your main weapon actually changes, with a knife, axe, hammer, and sword to wield, all with different ranges and strengths. You have much more control over Dr. Ferdinand Social, with the ability to change direction while jumping, crawl forward, and even jump off of (but not onto) staircases, inspired more by Super Castlevania IV than the original trilogy. The controls are tight, so it’s actually more fun to play than other games that aped Konami’s seminal classic.
At the same time, however, there is really no palpable sense of fear in the game, because it’s very easy. If you come in expecting Castlevania-level difficulty, you’re going to be disappointed (or relieved). Other than a tricky maze sequence in the last level where you’re more likely to die from running out of time, it’s just not that tough. Enemies don’t hit very hard, and potions are more generously placed than Castlevania’s meat. It’s easy to blast through in an afternoon, and you probably won’t pick it up again for quite a while.
The game was also ported to the Game Gear. There, the game fares less well. Just as many console-to-handheld ports maintain too-large sprites, so too does this game. Some concessions to the format were made, but it still feels cramped. If given an option, play the Master System version. But it’s still playable, and apparently coming to the 3DS eShop. If you’re craving a little Castlevania on the go, it’s certainly a much better option than Castlevania: The Adventure, regardless of name cachet.
Article by Lee Hathcock
GameSpite Journal 12: Master of Darkness
10 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Master of Darknesa”
HIlarious Metallica reference.
And there it is again: a rather cheap shot at the first Gameboy Castlevania: “Master of Darkness” is a fine game, arguably better than “The Adventure” (and it should be, coming out three years later on a technically superior system), but is it really THAT much better?
I know people tend to dismiss the latter as horrible, criticizing its slow pacing, high difficulty and un-Castlevania-ness. And yes, slowness is an issue, Konamis programmers obviously weren’t quite comfortable with the new hardware yet. But once you get used to the rythm of things, you might discover expertly designed stages with some fresh ideas (at least for its time), decent visuals and a superb soundtrack. It is quite a tough game, but rarely unfair – it just takes some time to master. Case in point: My brother once beat it singlehandedly, while his other arm was broken. As for those ropes and lack of sub-weapons: change is not always bad – sometimes it is just different.
And the widely beloved “Belmot’s Revenge” proves, that the mechanics and design choices of the first Handheld outing only needed a bit of polish to truly shine.
Still, it is nice to see “Master Of Darkness” getting some deserved recognition. Thanks for the article!
No threat level from the enemies? Sounds like SCV4.
Guess I was a little off on platform, unless the screenshots were from the GG version.
You know what I’d love to see from SMS/GG on the VC? Aleste 1/2.
Great game that in typical SMS fashion was rendered nearly unplayable with that horrible D-Pad, I never enjoyed it properly until I figured out that my Genesis controller worked on the Master System as well!
But… but… I like taking cheap shots!
In all seriousness, I find Master of Darkness to be a superior choice, while most would assume with the name “Castlevania” attached that _it_ would be the superior game. While Belmont’s Revenge has the same core, the polish you mention really makes the game a _lot_ more fun.
Plus, I think Adventure suffers from being (almost) the worst Castlevania game. Yes, that’s a little like talking about the worst Zelda game, but the point still stands. :P
Got to admit, MoD surprised me a lot, though. Fun game overall, although it really needed a kick in the pants as far as difficulty.
Back in the day a friend of mine got the Game Gear version of this for his birthday. As you say, it was just OK. It taught me what the Thames River is.
Also, it’s supposed to be Ax Battler, not Axe Battler. Thanks, Sega.
@Sarge: By “worst” you probably mean “Haunted Castle”. I would also rank “CTA” above “Simon’s Quest” (too abstruse) ,”Legends” and both PS2 games (mostly poor, uninteresting design).
That’s why I said almost, yes, and Vampire Killer is indeed the one I was thinking of.
Man, I wish I could delete comments. Haunted Castle. The terrible arcade one. I think I was subliminally thinking of the MSX one, which was also pretty bad.
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