Archive for June, 2008

Castlevania Retrospective Part 2

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2008 by themongomania

Last time I covered the first entries into the Castlevania series: Vampire Killer on the japanese MSX2 and Castlevania on the NES. Most of this post will be dedicated to the game that most of you know as the sequel on the NES called Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. However, I must briefly touch on a game that some of you might not know even exists. There was an arcade version of Castlevania that came out in 1988, the same year Simon’s Quest hit the NES. That game is called Haunted Castle.

Haunted Castle the 3rd retelling of the same story we have seen thus far. It is just another version of the original Castlevania story we already know. Simon Belmont is going to Dracula’s castle to kill him. My problem with this game is that it is just bad; I’m serious, it’s terrible.

The first thing you notice when you start playing Haunted Castle is that the controls are some of the clunkiest controls you have ever had the misfortune of playing with. Also, Simon is now a steroid induced bodybuilder and looks more like the Incredible Hulk than Simon Belmont.

The level design is what you would think of a sidescrolling arcade game from 1988, no multiple paths, very linear, but this game is unforgiving. If you manage to make it to level 6, be prepared to never look back. If you second guess yourself and want to go back to collect something or take down an enemy, you will regret it. This time Dracula has sent every creature imaginable to stop you from making it to his lair and if you stop moving and take your eye off the prize, YOU WILL DIE!

The game is something that I hope Konami wants to forget about and apparently has. This game has never been included in any kind of compilation of any kind, and I hope that it stays that way.

Alright, let’s get back to the main game I wanted to talk about. Simon’s Quest came out for the NES in 1988. It was dramatically different from the 1st NES Castlevania. Instead of simply going from point A to point B, they added a town system, merchants, puzzle solving, and a day/night system that took gamers by surprise.

I’m not exactly sure what was going on in 1988, but it was the year of unusual sequels to popular franchises. Super Mario Bros 2 and Zelda 2: Adventures of Link also came out the same year, which if you’ve played either you know how different they are from the 1st game in both series. (Yes, I know that Mario 2 is really a Japanese game with Mario chars slapped on and given to America and that the real Mario 2 is the Lost Levels.)

The story of Simon’s Quest is that after Simon defeated Dracula in the original Castlevania he now has Dracula’s curse. The only way to destroy the curse is to gather all of Dracula’s body parts and burn them in his Castle. My only problem with this plot is that why if Simon defeated Dracula in his castle are his body parts no longer there?

At the start of the game, Simon starts out in a town and this is where things get different. Simon’s Quest now has an open environment and can go anywhere. Simon also has an inventory where you can change sub weapons and use different items to solve puzzles. Some puzzles aren’t very intuitive, such as where you have to kneel down facing a cliff. Not only do you need to kneel facing a cliff for a few seconds, but you need to also have the blue crystal equipped. When I was a kid, I couldn’t figure this out by myself at all.

I have no bad things to say about the controls, in fact I feel that they are identical to the controls in the NES version of the 1st game. One thing I wish the game improved on is clues given by townspeople. My problem is that they really don’t help you with your quest.

Something that is weird about the game is as you fight your way through castles to collect parts of Dracula’s body, is that not every castle has a boss fight. In a few instances you just collect the body part and go back to your adventure. I’m not exactly sure why they went with this, but it bothers me that you don’t always have to defeat a boss to collect an item. It just doesn’t feel right getting an item needed to beat the game without earning it.

In the game you will quickly notice the day/night system that is implemented. Once day turns to night the enemies become harder and take more hits. Most of the time, if possible, I tend to stay in the town and fight off enemies in a safe place. The game actually has an internal timer and counts the number of times day turns to night. The ending you get is based off this information, reminiscent of Metroid.

The game really isn’t that hard, especially in comparison to the 1st title. The game utilized a password system which made completing it easier than its predecessor. The game, while having a large fanbase, is still seen as the black sheep of the series. Some love it, some hate it (AVGN), but it is undeniable that this game influenced the series as a whole. It was not until what is considered the pinnacle of the series, Symphony of the Night, that a free roaming environment was reinstated.

Ok now for the reviews:

Haunted Castle –

Controls: 2.5/10

Level Design: 2/10

Overall Difficulty: 9/10 All I have to say is that this game is unforgiving.

Overall Enjoyment: 1/10 I completely dislike this game and try to forget is is part of the Castlevania series. If you haven’t played this game, do yourself a favor and stay away. If you must play it because you must play every Castlevania game that ever existed, well good luck.

Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest –

Controls: 7.5/10

Level Design: 5/10

Overall Difficulty: 3/10 Most of the difficulty comes from figuring out what you need to do next.

Overall Enjoyment: 6/10 The game is a change of pace. I feel that Konami was trying to try something different and make their version of Metroid or Rygar. I feel that they were mostly successful. I think that the game is pretty fun, but not my favorite Castlevania.

My next entry into the ongoing Castlevania Retrospective will be the series 1st venture into the handheld market. Castlevania Adventure on the Gameboy.

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Groove Adventure Rave

Posted in anime with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2008 by themongomania

rave

Groove Adventure Rave is a manga by Mashima Hiro. It’s anime counterpart shares the same name. The manga’s run lasted from 1998 to 2005 and ran for 35 volumes. The anime on the other hand stopped its run at 51 eps, way before the actual conclusion of the story.

Let’s get to the story itself –

Groove Adventure Rave (or as the manga and anime are both called in the US, Rave Master) is the story about a boy named Haru Glory who becomes the Rave Master. The Rave Master must collect all the pieces of Rave in order to unlock Star Memory to save the world. Pretty standard plot line, I know, seems like it wouldn’t be special at all right? That’s where most people would be wrong.

If you can look past the generic basic story structure of a boy on a quest to become stronger and save his friends and save the world, you will enjoy a fun quirky adventure story that leaves you always wanting more.

haruelie

What upsets me most about the anime is that the story concludes on vol 12 of the manga. So the anime is missing vols 13-35. I still have not finished the story of Rave because the distributer in America is Tokyopop and the last vol they have released is vol 28. For years I have wanted to know how this story finishes and I will still have to wait over a year to find out.

One thing you will notice when you watch/read Rave is that the character designs are very over the top. There are some crazy looking people in the Rave universe. Mashima Hiro at one point was a assisstant to One Piece mangaka Eiichiro Oda. I can only assume that some of Oda’s design choices rubbed off.

villians

The anime dvd’s originally came out as a dub only release from Tokyopop but was shortly canceled. Poor sales were the reason. What is unfortunate is that not a lot of people have watched Rave because it has not seen an official region 1 release. The only way to watch the anime is to watch the outdated fansubs which have poor video quality and a subpar translation to what fansubs have become years since its release.

The manga sales are another story. Rave Master is a big hit for Tokyopop, especially for teens. I find this to be unfortunate because many times, especially in Barnes and Nobles, I will not see Rave manga with all the other manga. For whatever reason, they have chosen to put Rave manga with books for teens. I understand that a bookstore wants to sell their product in the most profitable way, but I strongly feel that Rave has a strong stigma for being a children’s manga because of this.

heroes

If you enjoy any type of adventure or action story I suggest giving Rave a shot. If you have read/watched One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, or many other popular shounen manga/anime and enjoyed it, I see no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy Groove Adventure Rave. Even though I will only be able to finish the story in manga form, the anime is still worth watching. It is a shame and upsets me that it will never be done, but I will take what I can get.

Although I don’t agree with Tokyopop and other bookstores marketing of Rave to mostly children, I am happy that they chose to bring the manga here and can’t wait until it is one day complete and on my shelf.

cast

Castlevania Retrospective Part 1

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by themongomania

castlevania title screen

A few summers ago me and a friend hatched an idea to play every single Castlevania game that was available to play in order of release date. We would then rate each one to find out what we thought would be the best Castlevania game ever released. So I will be sharing with you the fruits of all our labor. I will discuss every Castlevania game ever released in this retrospective.

For those of you new to the series, Castlevania games always pit you as a hero who is trying to vanquish Dracula. The series’s protagonist is usually a member of the Belmont clan which hunts vampires and their weapon of choice is a whip named the Vampire Killer.

In almost all the games of the series, you explore Dracula’s castle, gaining different sub weapons that you can use against your enemies. Some examples of these sub weapons are a knife that you can throw straight at your enemies, a stopwatch that will stop time, and a cross that acts like a boomerang that attacks and comes back to you.

The first game we played is a game that many people might not even know exists; Vampire Killer for MSX2. The MSX2 is a Japanese home computer system that never saw the light of day in America, but caught on in Japan.

Vampire Killer shares many similarities with another game, a game that is probably many old school gamers’ first experience with the Castlevania series – Castlevania on NES. The main protagonist in both versions is Simon Belmont.

One big difference that you notice while playing this game is that the screen doesn’t scroll the same way that it does on the NES. Instead when you get to the end of a screen, it shifts almost like a Mega Man game to the next screen.

The MSX version has better graphics than its NES counterpart, but the level designs and controls are far worse. While the controls on the original Castlevania on NES are not as polished as Super Mario Bros and other platformers on the System, Vampire Killer’s are just bad. The collision detection for the whip is abysmal, you can literally try to whip the same candle to get a powerup 5 times in a row and not have it register.

In the both versions once you ran and jumped, that was it, there was no going back. Once you were in the air you couldn’t readjust Simon’s position which led to many Medusa attacks and unnecessary pitfalls.

Something that bothers me just about the MSX2 version is it’s level design. On the NES the level structure was go to point A to point B and not die. It was a simple and effective system that worked. On the MSX2 version, you had to check everywhere for secret passages to even move on with the game. I have to say, there was a lot of backtracking and it got quite confusing sometimes.

To progress through the game you had to whip the walls in order to get secret keys that were needed to open doors to make your way through the level. This sounds like it wouldn’t be too bad, because games like Metroid made you backtrack and do the same thing, but in Metroid it was fun, Vampire Killer just made it tedious.

Both Vampire Killer and Castlevania on NES are challenging games even today. There are no save points, so you have to hope that you beat these games in one shot. I have memories of playing the NES version when I was a kid and getting so frustrated at the game. Not throw your controller across the room frustrating, but it tested your patience.

The NES version of this game is available everywhere, its on NES, Virtual Console, and on GBA. If you haven’t played the first Castlevania game in some form and you enjoy playing old school platformers, then it is a game that you have to try. The satisfaction of destroying Dracula is something worth experiencing.

cv boxart

This scaling system is very subjective but I factor in control, level design, difficultly, and overall enjoyment. The final score is taking these into account as well as my general feeling is about the game when I sit down and play it.

On Vampire Killer I rank it as

Controls: 2.5/10
Level Design: 3/10
Overall Difficulty: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 3/10
Final Score: 4/10 – If you have the opportunity to play this game and you are a real hardcore Castlevania fan, then go for it. Will I ever play it again? Probably not.

Castlevania (NES)

Controls: 7.5/10
Level Design: 5/10
Overall Difficulty: 4/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Final Score: 9/10 – Maybe it is just the nostalgia of playing this game again, but it is always an enjoyable day when I put this in. If you have never played a Castlevania game and love 2D side scrolling platformers, this is a great place to start. It is primitive and does not implement all the gameplay features that people now think of standard Castlevania games, but that doesn’t take away from it’s enjoyment one bit.

Next time I will go into the black sheep of the Castlevania collection – Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest for the NES.

Super Mario Bros

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by themongomania

My first experience with the NES was on Christmas Day in 1988. I was 5 years old and itching to play Super Mario Bros. What I didn’t know was that Super Mario Bros would basically change my life. (Well, not really)

I remember opening up my presents and finally getting to this big rectangular box. I ripped through the paper and I knew that I was in for a great day. I had just received an NES with Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet, along with the zapper and power pad.

3 games in 1, what a deal

Even though there were 3 games available, I just wanted to play 1. I waited patiently as my dad hooked it up to the tv and turned our oldschool wood paneled tv to channel 3. Once the power was turned on I was hooked. With me and my brother glued to the screen we played our first game of Super Mario Bros.

I must admit that first goomba destroyed me.

1st goomba ownage

Possibly the 2nd one too, but I kept at it and slowly I kept winning the stages until I met Bowser. At that time he went by King Koopa, and he scared the crap out of me. I ran and jumped over him to send him into the lava pit below only to find out what is not a spoiler to anyone on this planet, our princess was in another castle.

Die Bowser!

Once I started to get the hang of the controls it was one of the most fun experiences I ever had and it marked the first time in my life that I was playing a video game. I have been hooked to them since, but that moment will always be with me.

I can go on and on about how great the gameplay is, how revolutionary the stage layout was, all the games secrets, powerups, and everything else that has been discussed a thousand times, but nothing else really needs to be said about it.

Super Mario Bros is a landmark game in my life. It opened up the whole gaming world to me. I have been playing video games for over 20 years now, and every time I start up a new game of Super Mario Bros, I still get that warm feeling I did that Christmas morning.

The Beginning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by themongomania

Right now, this blog is just empty space, but I hope that is not always the case. The future of this blog will be my random thoughts about 2 things that I care about a lot; video games and anime. I will be looking back on old games and new and sharing my viewpoints about what I feel is making these games great, or sometimes not so great…

I will not be trying to imitate AVGN or anything like that. Rather, this is just me, writing about my viewpoints on certain games and what they mean to me.

My first review, while cliché, is the beginning for me. It will be about my first experience with the NES and Super Mario Bros. I know that SMB has been done to death, but my everyone has their own story about their first time playing this game.

I hope you stay and enjoy the ride that will be a trip into Mongo’s Mania