The Sega Master System lived way beyond what was considered normal. Even in 1993, 4 years after the Sega Mega Drive debuted in Japan the Sega Master System was still getting solid releases. There are two main reasons for this. First is that the Sega Master System still had a big fanbase that never upgraded to the Mega Drive in Europe(France especially) and Brazil for god knows what reason. Second reason is that the Sega Game Gear was at its peak at the time and the Game Gear is basically a portable Master System so it was easy and cheap to make many games for both systems. Master of Darkness was one of those games, a 1890’s horror story that takes place in London and borrows heavily from the Castlevania franchise which i am a big fan of so i had to try it out.
So yeah, let’s just get that out of the way, this game copies the gameplay from the NES Castlevania games extensively. You move, jump, hit and use your sub-weapon with up+hit just like in Castlevania. This is not a bad thing, i hardly mind or care if a game is considered a “copy” as long as it is done well. Master of Darkness manages to create its own identity despite all that with its unique setting.
The story unfolds in 1890 London when Jack the Ripper is still on the loose. You, Dr.Social become suspicious about these murder happenings and get involved in something much deeper and scarier than the murders comitted by Jack the Ripper (who happens to be the first boss of the game). Shockingly enough, the one pulling the strings is Dracula himself (yep, i told you this game was a lot like Castlevania).
The story setting is not the only difference between Master of Darkness and Castlevania. Master of Darkness offers more main weapons than just a whip. You start out with a small knife, but quickly you find a hammer(or a cane?), a rapier or an axe that all have different hit animations, range and damage. Your sub weapons include a pistol, a bomb that you shoot in an arc, and a shield looking thing that goes through all enemies in a line.
The game’s Enemies are diverse and the level design is superb. That along with extremely tight controls makes up for a great gameplay experience. The jumping in Master of Darkness is a lot more like in Super Castlevania rather than the NES titles, meaning that you have much more control over the character in mid-air. The knockback is also a lot more forgiving so in all Master of Darkness is a lot less frustrating than the NES Castlevania titles. I have always believed that the limited controls in Castlevania had a reason behind them(read further in the Castlevanie review) so i never really thought of the controls as a negative aspect of Castlevania, but the smooth, more forgiving controls of Master of Darkness just somehow feel so nice and pretty amazing.
The only that that annoyed me is that it is really difficult to go up and down stairs, now you do this the same way as you would in Castlevania but you have to be super precise so you might end up wasting up to a few seconds every time you want to climb a fucking stair. Then suddenly i got it, i remembered this part of the AVGN Castlevania video and it was clear as day. You want to be able to use your sub-weapons without accidentally climbing the damn stairs.
Master of Darkness adds another great perk too, you can jump while on the stairs much like in Rondo of Blood. Thank the heavens! Just take a look and see what i mean if you don’t know what i am talking about:
Master of Darkness is A LOT easier than the Castlevania games and it is not just reflected in the smoother controls. To be honest the bosses are all piss easy, and the stages are also not much of a challenge. You will still die a few times, i died a few times and had to take one continue (which are unlimited), so it was just a minor setback.
Since that was in my first run, i can say with confidence that Master of Darkness lacks higher difficulty levels since the default one is the only difficulty setting offered. If you want a challenge you should limit yourself to just one continue and try to get a high score(since the score drops to zero when you continue) but i still strongly feel that the game needs a higher difficulty since limiting yourself like that is just an emergency solution. I love myself a good challenge if the gameplay is good enough but sadly the challenge is not there and that hurts the lasting appeal of the game. The game is 5 stages long, each stage split up into 3 pretty long sections so it is pretty long for its genre, but you will probably clear it in one run if you have enough time and patience. There is no password system here so you will have to clear the game in one sitting.
The game looks great, and it should because it is not released in 1986 like Castlevania or in 1989 like Castlevania 3. The music never reaches the heights of Castlevania but it is pretty decent. On its own merits it sounds pretty good and just looks very good for a Master System game and that is what we should do with this game, review it on its own merits. The animations are smooth, sprites look good and the backgrounds look good. Tie that in with the solid, fluid gameplay and you get a game with great game feel.
Take a look at this longplay to see what i mean
Standing alone, Master of Darkness is a great game.
In short, Master of Darkness takes the good from Castlevania and expands on it. By the looks of it the creators of Master of Darkness decided to make a Castlevania game but decided to remove the two most complained about issues in Castlevania which are the limited controls and the extremely high difficulty. Apart from the game ending up to be too easy, they did a great job.
Lasting appeal 7,5
Is it fun? 9
Overall 8,5 a very good game!
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