Master of Darkness

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Master of Darkness game cover art

ConsoleSega Master System, Sega Game Gear
DeveloperSIMS
PublisherSega
GenrePlatformer, action
Release Year1992
Purchase (Sega Master System/Sega Game Gear)Click here to purchase from eBay.

Master of Darkness, also known as Vampire: Master of Darkness, is a standalone title for the somewhat short-lived Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear. Considering it’s actually a decent game for the forgotten systems, I feel that I should briefly discuss it for October 2016.

 

The Identity Crisis

Master of Darkness Sega gameplay

In this game, you are Dr. Ferdinand Social, a psychologist living in Victorian-era London who has an affinity for the occult. While life is generally peaceful at London, nighttime is dangerous. Through warnings from his Ouija board, Dr. Social learns that a terrible event will happen. This event becomes fully realized as someone kidnapped one of his colleagues, Julia Arkham. Through guidance from Jonathan Harker, another colleague, and the Ouija board, Dr. Social sets out on a journey to rescue Ms. Arkham and put an end to the London night killings.

Master of Darkness Sega gameplay

The gameplay…

Castlevania NES gameplay

…is Castlevania.

And I’m not just saying that as a joke. Master of Darkness is shamelessly a carbon copy of Castlevania when it comes to the gameplay. It’s a 2D sidescroller where you have to fight ghouls, ghosts, and whatever creature comes in your way. You can have a primary weapon with a long reach and you can acquire many different sub-weapons. You destroy floating masks to get items (replacing wall candles). You have to scale many block-like stairways. You can break walls to reveal hidden objects. You end up fighting Count Dracula at Transylvania, somehow. It’s… It’s…

Master of Darkness Sega gameplay

IT’S CASTLEVANIA! THIS GAME IS PRETTY MUCH A CASTLEVANIA CLONE!

Still, this is not necessarily a bad thing. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Master of Darkness is honestly a solid imitation of Castlevania’s gameplay. Of course, there are some minor differences that sets it apart.

 

A Journey to the Gothic-Victorian Era

In most classic Castlevania titles, you are restricted to using the Vampire Killer whip. In Master of Darkness, you start off with a weak dagger. But by destroying these floating masks scattered across the levels, you can get either one of three other weapons: a saber, a stake or an axe.

Master of Darkness Sega gameplay

The dagger is an awful primary weapon since it has the lowest reach and the lowest power of any of the weapons, so you would want to ditch it as soon as possible. The stake (which is a staff-like weapon) is easily the best primary weapon since it has a good reach and good damage output. While the axe is the strongest of the four weapons, it has the same short reach as the dagger, so use at your own risk.

Sub-weapons include the pistol, the bomb, the boomerang, and the projectile (throwing spikes). All of these sub-weapons are ranged, but the bomb and the projectile are easily the best ones to use. The bomb is lobbed like the axe sub-weapon in Castlevania, but it ends with a brief explosion that kills any enemy caught in the blast. It’s very useful for killing enemies above you. The projectile is thrown in a straight like the throwing dagger sub-weapon in Castlevania, but it kills most enemies with one hit.

I’m honestly surprised by how weak the pistol is in this game, so I would just settle for those sub-weapons I mentioned above. But be careful. The masks you destroy in the levels may have you change to a different primary weapon or sub-weapon, even the crappy dagger weapon, so you should look at the items before picking them up.

Master of Darkness Sega gameplay

The graphics are pretty good for their time. Compared to the NES Castlevania games, Master of Darkness did try adding in subtle animations in the backgrounds to make the game feel more animated. The art style clearly screams Victorian, so visually it does enough to set itself apart from Castlevania.

At the same time though, Master of Darkness is unable to escape this identity crisis. As you go through the game, you’ll notice that the chiptunes are sub-par and that the enemy designs are uninspired.

Though Castlevania uses the typical spooky skeletons and ghouls in its enemy variety, they have different methods of attacking. There were also some more unorthodox enemy designs like the bone dragons (erratic movement and hard-to-avoid fireballs), bone towers (fire-shooting dragon heads), fishmen, the infamous medusa heads, and the fleamen (fast-moving hunchbacked creatures). These are iconic enemies in the series. There’s some creativity here that gives these games a lot of life and character.

Master of Darkness, unfortunately, doesn’t really have this kind of enemy variety. Many of the enemies have to come up right to your face to do any damage to you, so attack patterns are generally predictable and similar.  Combined with a large health bar, powerful weapons, and fluid controls, this is a pretty easy game.

As far as I know, the Master System and the Game Gear versions of this game are nearly identical. So whether you want to play this game on the big screen or on the go is entirely up to you.

But overall, Master of Darkness is a competent Castlevania clone and a pretty decent game on the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear.

Master of Darkness

Price Varies
Master of Darkness
7.3

GAMEPLAY

8/10

GRAPHICS

8/10

SOUNDTRACK

6/10

Pros

  • The gameplay highly resembles that of Castlevania's, so anyone who loves action platformers will feel right at home.
  • The graphics capture the Victorian visuals quite nicely in that glorious 8-bit art style.

Cons

  • Enemies are boring and uninspired.
  • The chiptunes sound generic and lack charm.
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