Retro Review: Master of Darkness

MoD coverCastlevania is a game that is mentioned a lot in the retro gaming press. It’s a classic title that has stood the test of time and continues to excite gamers. Spare a thought then for fans of Sega’s Master System console as Konami never released their game – in any capacity – on Sega’s little 8-bit machine. However, hope shone through in the form of Master of Darkness.

I Am An Individual

Master of Darkness (or In The Wake of  the Vampire in Japan and Vampire: Master of Darkness in the US) is quite similar to Castlevania in many ways. We see the game’s hero take on hordes of evil creatures which culminates in an epic battle with Dracula himself. Even the graphics and the stair-filled environments are quite reminiscent of Castlevania, but Master of Darkness (MoD herein) is far more than a simple rip-off.

Developed by SIMS for Sega’s 8-bit console (as well as the Game Gear) MoD is a wonderful Victorian era horror adventure. The game sees players taking control of Dr. Ferdinand Social, a psychologist with an interest in the occult, who has been warned of a growing evil by guardian spirits who talk to him via an Ouija board. Of course Social sets out to give this evil what-for and what unravels is a wonderfully dark and moody action platformer through the streets of London and beyond.

Social is not unarmed in his quest to destroy the evil of Dracula and his minions, however. Starting the game armed with a small knife Social can pick up many weapons to help him on his quest; sabres, wooden stakes and axes. Each of these does varying degrees of damage to enemies and all have various pluses and minuses; the axe is quite powerful but has a very short reach where as the sabre has a long reach but does less damage, for example. As well as these Social can equip one of several secondary weapons such as a pistol, bombs, boomerangs (really?) and giant stakes. These become handy in boss fights where staying out of reach of your enemy is often a good thing. Again, these weapons each have their pros and cons, as well as a limited amount of ‘ammo,’ so knowing when to use them if of great importance.

Game Play Footage:



Social Adventures:

The Victorian London setting of MoD lends to some wonderful locations and interesting characters. The first level sees Social traversing the dark streets along the Thames river where thugs, zombies, werewolves and those most annoying of video game enemies, vampire bats, thirst for your blood. This dark and foreboding location is wonderfully realised with a lovely amount of detail present in the graphics. Tall buildings stretch upward to a dark sky in the background while the actions of Social are presented in almost understated graphics of brick constructions complete with intricate iron handrails, flickering gas lamps and the running water of the Thames. Other levels, such as the Wax Museum of level two, are equally impressive but unfortunately towards the end of the game levels take on a much more streamlined appearance in their presentation and are not nearly as interesting visually. However this is balanced out somewhat by the characters of the villains and Social himself. All of the character sprites are detailed and quite nice looking, if at times the animation can seem a little jerky. Enemies are varied with each new level throwing in some new threat to contend with. The boss characters, such as the leaping Jack the Ripper of the first level, are all fluid in their animation and look wonderful.

The gameplay of MoD is very straight forward. One button for attack, one for jump, with up-plus-attack to use your secondary weapons (Castlevania again).  Social controls well and, although he could move a little faster, navigating the various environments is enjoyable. There are plenty of secretes hidden around the worlds of MoD, from weapons to health and extra lives, waiting to be discovered in no-so-obvious places. Most enemies won’t put up too much of a challenge but the boss battles introduce a nice element of strategy as you need to pay careful attention to their attack patterns and discern which of your weapons work best against them. The game's music should also be pointed out as it's some of the best you'll hear on the Master System and fits the tone of the game wonderfully.

For all its similarities to Castlevania, MoD is not a simple rip-off game. There is enough original material here in the story, character and locations to say this is inspired by, or even an homage to, Konami’s famous franchise. At its core Master of Darkness is an enjoyable horror-based action platformer that all fans of 8-bit monster slaying should seek out and play.

Link: Master of Darkness in RetroCollect’s on-line database.

Last Updated ( 26 February 2011 )  

Joe Douglas

A lover of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and dusty old video games, Joe is a Sega man through and through. Combining his love of collecting and blue hedgehogs, Joe runs the site SonicCollectors on which he attempts to build a database of Sonic merch. He is tolerated by one cat, two dogs and his girlfriend.

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(Link to this comment) chocklo 2011-02-26 10:23
Great review! Have to say that I'm a fan of Master of Darkness. It doesn't get much attention and I only stumbled across it after it was acquired as part of a bundle some years back. The controls, graphics, atmospherics are excellent and indeed, this title holds it's own against Castlevania (...and dare I say, I think I enjoyed it more).
(Link to this comment) TwoHeadedBoy 2011-02-27 11:48
Every bit as good as Castlevania, and a fair bit creepier too. Castlevania didn't have waxworks that came to life, or Jack the Ripper/Spring-Heeled Jack, or scary floating faces.

Nice review also.
(Link to this comment) Playgeneration 2011-02-27 17:32
If you like this game, then check out Dracula for the Master System too. Very much a similar sort of game, and good fun as well.
(Link to this comment) deadzoo 2011-03-01 10:38
Been a big fan of Master Of Darkness since I picked up a copy a few years ago.
Its a pretty competent Castlevania style game.
I've seen it on E-bay as "Master of Barkness" though , due to some people misreading Gothic script!
(Link to this comment) chocklo 2011-03-01 13:50
Quoting deadzoo:
I've seen it on E-bay as "Master of Barkness" though , due to some people misreading Gothic script!

Tickles me when that happens. It still amuses me when I see listings fairly frequently for the Atari Lynx version of Toki as 'Toke' and 'Joke' due to a bit of foliage around the title.

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