Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
Complete four levels.
Master of Darkness is an original platform game based around the exploits of many infamous horror characters.
Scour the platform landscape of Olde London Towne seeking and destroying its evil undead denizens.
The setting is nineteenth century London, a time of Hackney carriages and pea-souper fogs. It is also a time when the most terrifying menaces of history walk the Earth - Jack the Ripper, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera to name but three. Thankfully the Phantom of yore wasn't Michael Crawford - otherwise he would have been far more terrifying. Still, even without Frank Spencer looning around the streets things are tough enough for the inhabitants of London.
Every morning a new corpse is discovered, mutilated in increasingly bizarre and sickening ways, with particularly bloody examples emerging after every full moon. All this is particularly hard on renowned psychic investigator Ferdinand Social who has so far come no closer to solving the crimes than the police. Then one night whilst ouijing with his ouija board, Ferdinand receives a chilling message - THAMES KILLER STRIKES TONIGHT.
Now it is Ferdinand's task to seek out Jack the Ripper before he strikes again, but what Jack hints at reveals something far more sinister - the existence of a deadly cabal which could mean the end of civilisation as we know it!
Like every good evil mastermind, the self-styled and mysterious Master Of Darkness has left an inordinate amount of bonuses in his wake, all of them concealed in those opera mask things you see at the theatre. The power-ups range from weapons and ammo, through to points spheres, with each colour denoting a different denomination from a hundred to a thousand points. Extra energy is also available to heal your injured detective, plus extra lives to improve your chances against the vile hordes.
In between levels, and before the game even starts, the story behind the action unfolds. Clues to the identity and goals of the Master Of Darkness are revealed (one particularly good clue being the picture of the Phantom of the Opera owning up to being behind everything - A red herring perhaps?). The storyline is detailed in animated sequences with text narration. This adds a lot of atmosphere to the game and compels the player to beat the next level for a further instalment of the tale.
Ferdinand may be a bit of a whizz with his ouija, but he really hasn't got much of a clue when it comes to rumbling with zombies. At the very start of the game, Social is given only a small knife which has a short range and does very little damage. However, this doesn't stop him picking up bonus weapons, hidden in the masks spread throughout each level. There are two types of weapon available - normal and projectile. Normal weapons are held in the hand whilst.projectile weapons have the advantage of long-range fire (ammunition is limited though). Only one weapon of each type may be held at once. The weapons available are detailed here.
Master Of Darkness fans who'd like to see the game shrunk down to miniature and portable size so as they can play it on the move have cause to be happy. For indeed, Master Of Darkness is soon being converted to the small screen of the Game Gear, courtesy of the same programming team responsible for the original. So for it looks like an exact replica of the Master System version, and hopefully it'll play as well too.
Master System-owning Castlevania fans should be cock-a-hoop over Master Of Darkness, for other than the cosmetic changes this is pretty much the same as the classic Konami games! Still, it's no bad thing as there's nothing of this ilk around on the MS anyway, and ifs made all the more forgivable by the high quality of the finished product. The presentation of Master Of Darkness is superb, with the gorgeous intros and intermissions and the fantastic graphics. There are loads of little touches all over the place such as torn posters fluttering in the breeze, the ouija board spelling out continue messages and some recognisable landmarks in the parallax backgrounds! The sound is excellent too, with the tunes being particularly impressive. The gameplay itself is brill. The controls are responsive and the action comes thick and fast. When you're not busy fending off ghouls and zombies there's a tricky platform arrangement to negotiate, along with scores of secret rooms to discover! Master Of Darkness is easily one of the best Master System games released in a long time, so leg it down to your local software emporium now and grab themselves a copy.
With the similarities to the Castlevania series aside, Master of Darkness is an outstanding piece of software! The cart is crammed full of brilliant intermission screens and attention to detail that is so often omitted in most releases. The game plays so smoothly too with the learning curve pitched just right to allow for a few clumsy mistakes at the beginning of the game, with virtually no room for forgiveness later on. Master of Darkness drives a huge stake through the hearts of all the parasitical platform games on the Master System that offer nothing new to explore and become boring very quickly. Each end-of-level guardian is lifted from classic horror stories and provides Dr Social (Dr Social?!) with a chilling dialogue before launching their unique, diabolic attacks on him. With the exception of Jack the Ripper, such attacks are very clever and imaginative though not much of a challenge. The majority of the enemy sprites are large and detailed, a pain in the neck and a pleasure to excorcise. Accompanied by some ghostly music and ghoulishly great sound effects, the whole presentation is almost perfect. Basically Master of Darkness is good, sinister fun and an excellent showcase for the Master System whose sell-by date, judging from this, is a long way off yet!