Today I had a chance to check out a new level for Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. This new stage, named Lord of Unseen Strings, follows up the first level, which we saw at E3 last month.
If you haven't heard, the thing with HoD is the ability to pan out and see the entire map in miniature. You'll actually be able to get your classic Castlevania on with the map panned out, squinting to see yourself in tiny working form, making through the many rooms of your map. Of course, you can zoom back in to room level, but it's pretty cool to see where you've come from and where you're going all at once. This feature will make even more sense when you finally have the chance to see how the six-player multiplayer action works. Mind you, we haven't seen how that works yet either.
In this new level we had 30 minutes to work our way through the massive map to find the boss, a Puppet Master. Compare this to the 10-minute demo from E3. Being a Castlevania game, the level starts out with basic platforming, but then works up to puzzles where you're trying to figure out what a certain lever does. Or worse, with trap doors and multiple openings. What's cool is that you can push in the analog stick to change views to actually see if a door in another room opens when you switch a lever. It becomes quite crazy when there are so many rooms that finding what happened when you hit a switch becomes a sort of Where's Waldo situation. I joked that a magnifying glass should be a preorder bonus.
They didn't think that was funny.
In this level I saw several teases that point to everything from replay value to multiplayer possibilities. In one room a treasure chest hid behind a wall of flames. A floor switch would shut off the flames, requiring at least one other player to grant access. Several other platforming pieces pointed to areas that would only be accessible by the other playable characters. For example, Alucard lacks in the grappling hook department, so certain platforms were inaccessible to him. This design choice encourages you to go back with other characters to explore.
The Puppet Master hid in the center of the map, and it took about 18 of the 30 minutes to reach him. I was told that a well-versed player could do it in 10, but those that aren't as great at Castlevania type games could take anywhere from 25 to the full 30 minutes to make it to the boss. Once we did encounter the boss, he fought us off while making his way to other rooms, making him that much harder to defeat. From here it was the Game Over screen, but at least it didn't come from running out of time.
I'll get you next time, Puppet. Next time.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair will be released on August 4th.