While the Master System never saw a proper Castlevania game, it did get a competent alternative in Master of Darkness. Also known as Vampire, Master of Darkness is a horror-themed action adventure title with plenty of similarities to Castlevania, but quite enjoyable in its own right.
The protagonist in Master of Darkness is Dr. Social, a psychologist who seems intent on curing evil (and introversion?) with a knife rather than pills and conversation. Knives aren’t the only weapon in the game however. Primary weapons that Social will find in masks (MoD’s equivalent of candles) include an axe, rapier, and a hammer; each varying in strength and range. Like Castlevania, Social can also equip a limited-use subweapon. These include bombs, boomerangs, stakes, and even a handgun with a small number of bullets.
The game’s foes include many genre tropes such as bats, Victorian-era garbed undead apparitions, hunchbacks, etc. The combat is clunky, but functional and similar to its inspiration. Same goes for the platforming, although MoD lacks Castlevania’s cruelly genius jumping challenges in favor of something less frustrating for the player. In fact, all aspects of Master of Darkness are less difficult than traditional Castlevania titles. The bosses require less pattern memorization, the stages are shorter, and life refilling liquids are found at a much more frequent rate than the Castlevania wall-meat. What MoD lacks in challenge however, it makes up for in atmosphere.
The game’s story (presented in end-of-level cutscenes) is brooding, macabre, and somewhat unsettling for its time. The in-game creepiness comes from little things like statues (or mannequins?) attacking after you walk by them and furniture coming to life and hurtling towards Dr. Social (ala Splatterhouse). While Castlevania’s rocking soundtrack has always seemed to be intended to empower the player, the music in MoD is eerie, repetitive, ambient, and often shrill, which causes discomfort rather than excitement.
Master of Darkness wears its Castlevania influence unabashedly, but backs up its apparent lack of creativity with a polished game that maintains a pretty consistent mood. It’s a shame that this was the only adventure of Dr. Social Sega ever developed. If the series would have been given a chance to grow, perhaps Social could have become a real rival to the Belmonts.