If I were to tell you about an 8-bit action-platformer game which puts you against the forces of Dracula, you could be forgiven for thinking that I was referring to one of the Castlevania titles. It is a good guess but just because Castlevania is the best known vampire killer series from the 8-bit generation does not mean it is the only one. Tonight I am going to tell you about another game that was clearly inspired by Konami’s legendary franchise but this one was exclusively available on Sega systems. It’s called Master of Darkness and best of all, you do not need to track down a retro console to play it today. It is available on your 3DS for only $5 USD.
The reason this game even exists is probably due to Nintendo’s ruthless business practices during the NES era. Third party developers were required to keep their NES games exclusive to the system for at least two years and since Nintendo had such massive market share back then, competing systems like the Sega Master System simply did not get some of the best games of that generation. If Sega wanted to offer something like Castlevania to their players, they were going to have to publish something like it themselves. And that is exactly what Sega did Master of Darkness. The game would later be rereleased for Sega’s handheld, the Game Gear. That version’s title was tweaked to Vampire Master of Darkness. I am not totally clear on why this change was needed. I assume Sega wanted players to be sure that this game was about a vampire.
In terms of visuals, Master of Darkness could easily be mistaken for a Castlevania title. It has the same blocky visuals throughout its level design and the UI is extremely similar with the player’s health, life count, special weapons and stage level in roughly the same positions as you would find them in Konami’s games. You will fight off monstrous enemies such as zombies and maniacs. Even Jack the Ripper makes an appearance as a stage boss.
Giving your character a whip might have been seen as a ripoff, however. You instead use canes and rappers for melee attacks and you can pick up special items like pistols or boomerangs for ranged attacks. True to its inspiration, it is also an exceedingly difficult game to beat.
Master of Darkness is a fun game in its own right and it is fun to see an alternative take on the Castlevania formula. If there is anything to criticize it would be that the game did not get enough polish. Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome experience. But the level design is not quite as good as it is in Castlevania. The music is not quite as good either. The only aspect that is arguably superior in Master of Darkness would be the graphics thanks to Sega’s more powerful hardware.
As I mentioned earlier, the Game Gear version of the game is available on the 3DS eShop for just $5. Just look inside of the Virtual Console section to find it. The only problem is that you can get any of the three Castlevania games for the NES on Virtual Console as well for the same price. If you have already played those and want to try something new, Master of Darkness is worthy of your consideration.