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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 4, 1993 GENRE: Platformer
// review by FlagrantWeeaboo

Don't cross a psychologist with a sabre.

Set in Victorian London in the late 1800s, Master of Darkness (also known as Vampire: Master of Darkness, just for clarity's sake) tells the story of psychologist and official badass-license-holder Doctor Ferdinand Social. Wearing a suave suit and with slicked-back hair, he decides to do something about the gruesome murders that take place every night of the full moon. Calling on the powers of the Ouija Board (available at all remaining Toys'R'Us outlets!) he learns that the next murder will take place upon the Thames River and that the events would be beyond human imagination. Armed with just a useless pocket knife, Social heads off to the Thames to stop whatever nasty Hammer Horror or Universal Monster that's lurking at river-side.

This is a platformer with an emphasis on fighting enemies and climbing stairs. Ferdinand Social can carry one main weapon (a sword, axe, knife, cane) and a sub-weapon (pistol, bombs, bladed boomerangs). Enemies are themed after a range of horror monsters, including rabid dogs, ghosts, wax dolls, and bats. These enemies are creations of the Master of Darkness himself - Dracula! After traipsing through one of the game's many areas (such as the Thames River, House of Wax or Castle Dracula) you'll encounter one of Dracula's head goons. After defeating them, Dracula will taunt you and inform you where you must go next in order to proceed.

The gameplay is rigid and precise, with weighted jumps and stilted attacks. It plays like a combination of the classic Capcom and Konami horror platformers of the late 1980s. A large portion of the game is spent trying to avoid poorly telegraphed enemy attacks and navigating staircases with stiff controls. It is a thoroughly distilled platformer that increases its challenge over the course of the game but without feeling too cheap in its difficulty. Master of Darkness swoops in like Bela Lugosi and perches upon his rightful place in the Game Gear software library, filling in for classic horror game franchises that managed to miss this system.

You could say Dracula is "dead and loving it".

The presentation of the game is gorgeous for Game Gear. Sprites are well defined, the backgrounds have nice subtle details and parts of the backdrop contain animation frames too. The soundtrack doesn't grate unlike most Game Gear titles, and aptly suits the horror theme of the game. Lots of ill-fitting notes cause discord much alike many a horror movie musical score. Composers Takashi Horiguchi and Yoko Wada managed to wrangle a great deal of quality out of the Game Gear's mediocre sound hardware. The soundtrack manages to straddle the line between horror movie score and video game-y and it's some of the nicest sounding music to come out of a Game Gear game. The VGM Archive has a suitably high-quality upload of the soundtrack which you can listen to by clicking here.

Many folks dismiss this title as a poor clone of other more successful franchises, but playing it for even a short amount of time makes it abundantly clear the game is every bit as good as that which it seeks to imitate. The Game Gear would eventually see a game based on the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of Dracula a few years later, but Master of Darkness remains my favourite of the Game Gear's meager selection of horror offerings.

The only way to make an already amazing game better would be if it were released on Master System. This ultimately did happen, but only in PAL territories such as Europe, Australia, and Brazil. The added screen real estate is a vast improvement, but the 50hz-only nature of PAL makes the game even slower to play. I'd end up recommending the Game Gear version just for its consistent framerate and smoother controls.

Take that, other Internet video game reviewers. I got through the whole review without once mentioning Castlevan—

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