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Master of Darkness (Sega Master System) artwork

Master of Darkness (Sega Master System) review

"In a Nutshell, Castlevania on the Sega Master System"

Prepare to be Social in London
Ever fancy on being a dapper man during the Victorian Era in London? Well, your dreams are about to be true! You play as Dr. Ferdinand Social, a psychologist who has a curious fascination with following directions from an Oujia board. Join him on his journey to uncover the mystery behind a series of murders by the light of the full moon. Master of Darkness is a Sega Master System (SMS) action-platforming game that is an unabashed rip-off of the Castlevania series on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). While the core gameplay does mirror Castlevania there are enough minor differences (like the easier difficulty, different setting of the time period, and the ability to change your main weapon) that make this game feel distinct rather than some soulless clone.

Master of Darkness (Sega Master System) image

In a Nutshell, Castlevania on the Sega Master System
There is no way to talk about Master of Darkness without comparing its gameplay to that of Castlevania. You will have to navigate some perilous jumps and trudge up staircases all while battling nasty monsters on your way to confront Dracula. You also have to destroy "Item Masks" which give you various items including weapons. While you do have a secondary weapon system similar to Castlevania, a slight difference is that you also have the ability to change your main weapon by finding a new one in the "Item Masks." Your main weapons have varying ranges and strengths with the axe being the strongest, but having the shortest range and the saber having the longest reach, but relatively weak damage. Another fortunate difference from Castlevania is that the series' legendary difficulty did not make its way over. While Master of Darkness is no breeze to beat, it is a lot more accessible to gamers and causes a lot less frustration coming in with an average overall difficulty level. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that the game is set during the 1800's in London. You are a well-dressed, well-groomed man. You can shoot some thugs along the Thames river with your pistol. You can stab at Jack the Ripper with your gentlemanly sabre. You can creep through the House of Wax Dolls dodging haunted furniture and wax statues. You can expect a lot of what you do and where you go to reflect the setting of the game, which works out pretty nicely. However, you will certainly see some staple environments like the obligatory castle and graveyard levels.

Since we are talking about the visuals, it should be mentioned that Master of Darkness looks great. Not only is the game well-realized visually, but the fact that it has a more mature look both fits the game well and makes it stand out against the more colorful and cartoony platformers that are prevalent on the Master System. Additionally, the music really fits the mood of the game and sounds pretty decent to boot. On top of the look and sound of the game, the storyline ends up feeling pretty well fleshed out too. You not only get a bit of the backstory in the manual and the introduction to the game, but as you advance through the game, you are are told how the story is progressing and you get to know your steps in-between the levels. This really gives you a sense a purpose as Dr. Social adventures towards his end conflict with Dracula. This game has a lot of things going for it, and not a whole lot to go against it. Outside of the fact that it is basically a Castlevania reskin, there are only really minor issues, such as the controls when climbing or descending staircases. You need to push diagonally on the d-pad rather than the traditional up or down, which ends up making for a bit of awkward shimmying. Another minor annoyance is the fact that you can actually downgrade your weapon if you aren't careful. Nobody wants the beginning weapon, the dagger, but if you muddle your way into one, it's going to replace the better weapon you were holding. But, these aren't really big deals and the game holds up as being solid on the whole.

Master of Darkness (Sega Master System) image

I played through Master of Darkness a while back and thought that it was a pretty solid game, but didn't have a ton of fun with it. Replaying it for this review though, I ended up having a lot more fun. The Sega Master System has a lot of really great platformers, but most of those are more light-hearted and cartoony. I liked the more mature, gloomy tone of the game in contrast to those other titles. It also helps that I am not as familiar with the 8-bit Castlevania games, so the core gameplay elements were a bit more fresh to me than it may be for some other retro gamers. I liked how you actually got some story progression as you advanced through the game, which isn't that common for 8-bit platformers...even if it is a bit ridiculous for a psychologist to listen to an Oujia board and then adventure out to battle against Dracula. Even though Master of Darkness is a solid overall experience, it definitely lacks originality and that intangible extra "oomph" that pushes it from being a good game to being a great game. With that said, anybody that enjoys both Master System games and the Castlevania series should definitely pick this up. On top of that, I'd say that most fans of retro platformers will also find this game worth a play.

Master of Darkness is a 7 / 10, for being a great Castlevania clone with solid action-platforming but, by being a clone, lacks in originality.


Never3ndr's avatar
Community review by Never3ndr (April 30, 2014)

Retro-Gaming Enthusiast!

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