Master of Darkness

Sega Master System

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

When you think of the Sega Master System, Castlevania usually doesn't come to mind. Konami never released any games at all for the SMS, let alone any installments in their (arguably) most famous game series. There have been a few Castlevania-esque games for the SMS, though - the game Kenseiden comes to mind. The gameplay structure behind Kenseiden resembles Castlevania, but the setting and special abilities are nothing like the games in the Castlevania series.

However, in 1992 Sega unveiled Master Of Darkness, a game that was almost identical to Castlevania in many respects. Hell, the last boss is Dracula, for crying out loud! Does this make Master Of Darkness a bad game? No, far from it. In fact - all parallels to Castlevania aside - this is one of the best SMS games I've ever played. I was first introduced to the game through its sole U.S. incarnation - it was re-titled Vampire: Master Of Darkness and had been released on the Game Gear. I thought it was a great game then - in fact, I considered it to be my favorite Game Gear game - but after selling my Game Gear and all of my games in 1993 to get Splatterhouse 3, I figured I'd never see it again, as I never planned to get another Game Gear. Later on, I found out that it had been released for the Sega Master System in Europe and Brazil, so I combed eBay until I found a copy, then bid on it and won. I was very happy to have my favorite Game Gear game in my possession again.

Unlike other games that ripped off Castlevania and failed (8 Eyes? *shudder*), Master Of Darkness succeeded. The guys at SIMS that created the game for Sega also went a bit of a different route, story-wise - MoD takes place in England, near the end of the nineteenth century... coincidentally, this is also around the same time that the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker takes place. A young psychologist, Dr. Ferdinand Social (the world's Dumbest-Name-For-A-Video-Game-Character award competition has a new contender), received mysterious messages on his Ouija board "on the night of the full moon", talking about vampires and Dracula. It also tells him to "Go To Thames", which of course he does. If he didn't, we wouldn't have a game. The story is advanced through cutscenes at the end of every level, similar to the ones used in the NES Ninja Gaiden games, although not quite as good.

In a first for video games, Jack The Ripper puts in an appearance. He's the first boss of the game, and is fairly easy to defeat. That's beside the point, though - to my knowledge, there have been no games starring, featuring, or even about Jack The Ripper. Since the Ripper murders took place in England in the late 1800s, though, it makes sense to go ahead and fit him in somewhere. I'm not sure about making him a minion of Dracula, but some chips have to fall somewhere.

Also, another unusual locale makes up the second level - a wax museum. Some of you may not be familiar with the concept of a wax museum, but basically it's a place that has lifelike reproductions of (usually) famous people in wax that you can look at. The most famous of these is probably Madame Tussaud's in London. In MoD, level two is entitled "The House Of Wax Dolls", and - surprise, surprise - some of the wax figures come to life and attack Dr. Social. These wax figures continue to stalk Dr. Social throughout the game.

The weaponry fits the period perfectly. Dr. Social starts off with a dagger as his main weapon, which can be upgraded to either a sword, a cane or an axe. Unlike Castlevania though, where you keep your highest powered whip until you die in most games, you can get the dagger again - sometimes at the most inopportune times. The sub weapons that you can get include a pistol, bombs, boomerangs and a throwing spike - all of which have limited ammo that can be replenished by picking up another icon of the same type.

MoD's graphics are very well done. They have a more subdued look than a lot of SMS games, and the look of nineteenth century London is fairly accurately reproduced, right down to the creepy gas lamps that line the streets. Besides the Thames and the House of Wax Dolls, though, the levels are pretty standard stuff (graveyard, laboratory, cathedral, et al) that you'd find in your average Castlevania title - although they are exceptionally good looking. Drac's minions are fairly well detailed as well. My favorites would have to be the skeletons that you encounter in the later levels. Dr. Social looks fairly good too, and his animation, while a little stiff, is adequate. The music and sound effects, while good (and better than a lot of other SMS games), aren't anything special. It's too bad SIMS didn't have the kind of musical geniuses that Konami did, because the excellent music is sorely missed. There are a few standout compositions, but they just don't measure up to the music Konami created.

Here's where the biggest resemblance to Castlevania comes in - the control. One button is used for jumps, one button is used for attacks, and pressing up and attack uses your sub weapon. There are also plenty of stairways to climb - much like in Castlevania. The resemblance is uncanny - you can tell that SIMS had Castlevania in mind when creating this part of the game. But hey, if you're gonna steal, why not steal from the best? You even fight two forms of Dracula at the end.

Overall, Master Of Darkness is a fun action/adventure that, while drawing comparisons to Castlevania due to its control scheme and subject matter, has enough originality to help it stand apart from your average Castlevania clone. It's certainly worth a look if you're a Castlevania fan, or if you just want a really good game for your SMS (or Game Gear, for that matter).

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:28 PM