The two-faced mansion from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night endures in players' memories because it's the perfect venue for adventure. You never stop pushing into new realms, yet there always remains another locked door or an unreachable ledge - something more to discover. And, most famously, at the moment you think the journey is over, you learn it's not even close. Symphony of the Night is a romantic's idealisation of life: a cycle of mystery and discovery with no end in sight.
That must be a frustrating irony for Koji Igarashi. As the producer of most Castlevania games since Symphony of the Night - including the latest, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - the series has offered him scant opportunity for discovery. He's overseen a litany of spiritual sequels to Symphony of the Night on the Game Boy Advance and DS, all of them engrossing and fun, but familiar. It's clear that Igarashi wants to break free from the formula, but whenever he tries to explore a different vision of Castlevania, it's either forgettable (Castlevania: Lament of Innocence) or a debacle (Castlevania Judgment). Harmony of Despair is more of the latter.
Igarashi tries to split the difference between old and new in this year's third Summer of Arcade title on Xbox Live Arcade. The conventional ghoul-slaughtering action is set in sprawling but tightly compartmentalised 2D mansions, with a style and character design lifted (often in straight pixel-by-pixel copies) from earlier titles in the Symphony of the Night lineage. The modern wrinkle is that multiple players, up to six at a time, can band together online to fight through a stage together.