An influential and beloved game series like Castlevania is going to have is share of copycat versions, a Mello Yello to its Mountain Dew, right? I recently came across the game Vampire: Master of Darkness, released in 1993 on the Sega Game Gear and Master System(PAL only), and by just looking at the screenshots of the game it was quite apparent the game was created as a response by Sega to compete with the Nintendo-exclusive(at the time) Castlevania, being one of the most successful and recognized of Konami’s game franchises in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. I happened to look through the Virtual Console games on my 3DS and had completely forgotten there were a few Game Gear games available. So, is the game worth playing or is it simply a Castlevania clone? I was pleasantly surprised to find out the game is actually pretty good…
In Vampire: Master of Darkness, the story begins with Dr. Ferdinand Social, a Ouija board playing psychologist(I bet that’d look interesting on a resume…) who receives a message telling him to head to the Thames River to confront Jack The Ripper. Thus begins Dr. Social’s adventure across the streets of Victorian-era London before battling Jack The Ripper who has been tasked by Count Massen to bring him fresh blood to perform a ceremony to resurrect an ancient evil(Spoilers – it’s Dracula!). Dr. Social makes his way across the foggy streets of London, a Vincent Price-less House of Wax, generic Cemetery, and finally Castle Dracula in the mountains of Transylvania. The level design isn’t bad by any means, as one may view the levels(and game in general) with a greater degree of scrutiny due to the high regard typically held for the game it so closely emulates.
The look and feel of Vampire: Master of Darkness is nearly IDENTICAL to that of Castlevania. you pick up primary attack weapons like daggers, axes, rapiers(easily the best weapon due to its reach), and a silver-handled walking cane (because England of course!). You also have a few secondary weapons such as a pistol, bombs, or a boomerang with which there is clearly show NO similarity to the daggers, holy water, or crosses thrown by members of the Belmont lineage. The game also uses the exact same staircases to ascend higher floors in each level, along with the giant pendulums for you to jump onto as you traverse through a clock tower, which may same eerily familiar. The level design isn’t bad by any means, as one may view the levels(and game in general) with a greater degree of scrutiny due to the high regard typically held for the game it so closely emulates. The final level, which takes place in Dracula’s Castle actually take a cue from the Mario games you simply need to navigate your way through a maze-like arrangement of floors before finally reaching the final boss; I wandered around this level getting quite frustrated before finally realizing two random stone blocks were able to be destroyed, providing access the floor below granting access to the boss battle. I honestly should have been looking for this, as each level has several areas where small sections of the wall can be destroyed revealing additional health…of course.
The boss fights themselves were pretty enjoyable, seamlessly fitting into any Castlevania game(almost) and like older Castlevania games, several of the bosses you can defeat by ducking in the corner and unleashing all of your secondary ammo and hopefully deal more damage than receive…that’s how we all play, right? The final encounter against Dracula also seemed downright easy once I realized he had just about the exact same attack pattern as the first Castlevania where he will appear randomly around the screen and you will need to jump and attack to target his head while evading the oncoming projectiles.
The critiques I have of Vampire: Master of Darkness are primarily of the enemies, which all too often lunge at your from offscreen to get in a cheap hit at you enter the next room or ascend a staircase. Another annoyance is the fact that enemies will home in directly on you to where you are unable to attack them as they’re too close for your weapons to register the hit-box, this is something incredibly frustrating AND common in older platforming/action games like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. And speaking of annoying enemies, there’s an abundance of dogs to charge at you which are incredibly difficult to hit due their smaller size and speed at which they attack, and of course there’s bats…I really, really hate bats! I did appreciate however, the fact that in Vampire: Master of Darkness, there isn’t any knockback damage from enemies, which always seem to cause as many deaths as anything in older games. Enemy ambushes that seem to always exploit a far-sighted blind spot are my biggest complaint about the game.
As for the positives aspects of the game, the level design and bosses are pretty good with surprisingly good visuals and control. The ability to crouch and walk under walls and other obstacles is also nice to have in reaching a few hidden areas within the levels, the game is a bit more forgiving in terms of difficulty than the old-school Castlevania games as well. The game only consists of five levels which means the entire game will take two hours or less to complete. This may seem unreasonably short, but this was first released on the Sega Game Gear, a handheld console that would devour a six AA batteries every three hours or so. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with Vampire: Master of Darkness. I had never heard of the game until very recently and honestly wasn’t expecting much more than just a Castlevania rip-off. While the game does certainly
copy borrow many similarities to the Konami’s beloved series and doesn’t even attempt to establish much of an identity of its own, other than providing a Victorian England setting, I still believe it provides an enjoyable enough experience to warrant a try. The old adage of “Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery” seems quite applicable in regards to this game.
Have you ever played Vampire: Master of Darkness? Have you every played a game that looked merely like a copycat version only to end up enjoying? Let me know in the comments. I apologize for getting a little behind on my Halloween Blogtober posts, but I plan to get a bit more accomplished this weekend and still have quite a few games to go over in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for reading!