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Castlevania Retrospective Part 4

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2008 by themongomania

With the NES on its way out, Konami put one more great effort to give NES fans a game that is still highly regarded to this day. In 1990, a year before the SNES would come to US shores, we got Konami’s final NES effort, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. This game returned the series to its roots with sidescrolling action reminiscent of the original Castlevania.

The story itself is supposed to take place way before Castlevania 1. In fact, the game’s protagonist, Trevor Belmont, is supposed to be Simon Belmont’s ancestor. Yet again this game pits the whip ready Belmont against their clan’s eternal opposition: Dracula.

Something very different from the structure of the first NES game and this ones is the stage layout. The game abandoned the linear paths of the first game and let the gamer make choices about which levels they wanted to go to at certain points. This greatly increases the replay value of the game because you will want to see the other levels that you missed. This multiple level design will be revisited in a later entry; Rondo of Blood.

Along with choosing your paths, depending on what route you take you will be aided by 1 of 3 different characters. They are Alucard, Grant, and Sypha. Instead of using Trevor the entire game, you can freely switch the character you chose in and out at any time. Each one of these characters has their pros and cons.

If you choose Alucard (yes, the Alucard from other Castlevania games) you will be playing as Dracula’s son. He has the same 3 way fireball that his father has, as well as the ability to turn into a bat. This is very useful because it allows you to completely avoid otherwise annoying battles with certain enemies. Using his bat form, however, uses hearts, so you have to keep an eye on how you use this ability. The biggest con about Alucard is that his jumping is truly awful. It’s almost like he isn’t even trying. If you choose him, get ready to switch to Trevor for all your platforming needs.

The next character you can use is Grant. Grant is interesting because playing as him is completely unorthodox in comparison to the other heroes you will play as in the series. Grant can climb walls and even climb onto the ceiling. He is also the first Castlevania hero that is able to change his jump in midair. The main problem with Grant is that for gaining all this maneuverability, you are losing an offensive and defensive force. His offense/defense is completely underpowered in comparison to any other character you can use in this game.

Finally, we have Slypha. Slypha is the first magical character in the series. Her magic attacks are among the strongest the game has to offer and will decimate bosses easier than any of your other attack options. Again, like Grant, everything else but her magic is sacrificed in order for her magic attacks to do this much damage. She lacks offense, defense, and agility- she is however, very fun to play as because of how much damage her magic attacks use.

Trevor is your default hero and controls very much like every other Belmont on the NES. If you’ve played one NES Castlevania, you know how he’s gonna feel. He has free reign of subweapons like previous Belmonts and his whip deals out the most melee damage out of the four.

When you choose a character to have alongside Trevor, that might not be the end of the road. During the game you will have opportunities to switch characters, but if you do that you can’t be the original character you recruited until you start a new game again.

Finally, with enough luck, skill, and hope you will reach Dracula himself. You will fight him in 3 phases. The first phase is a nod to the 1st Castlevania’s boss fight with him. He will throw 3 fireballs at you and you have to jump over them while avoiding pillars of fire trying to destroy you.

After that, the battle takes a strange turn where you are fighting a floating ball of heads. (Yes, I just said that) The heads will float around trying to drop what looks like blood all over you. It’s a pretty easy to defeat this part

Then it’s on to the last phase of the battle. Dracula somewhat looks like a vulture and throws lasers at you while you desperately try to climb onto a floating platform to attack him and defeat him once and for all!

Once the battle is over, sit back, and watch the credits roll. Dracula is dead – For Now!

Now for the review:

Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse –

Controls: 7.5/10 – Same old NES controls, just like you’d expect them to be.

Level Design: 9/10 – This game’s levels are just great. Add in great music, multiple paths, multiple characters, you’ll be playing this game over and over just to do different levels with different characters. Lots of replay to be had here.

Overall Difficulty: 8.5/10 – This game is hard. It just is. If this is your first Castlevania outing then prepare for some frustration. The learning curve on this game might be a bit steep, but there is a password system. You can try again and again, unlike Castlevania 1. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier.

Overall Enjoyment: 9.5/10 – This is my favorite NES Castlevania. It just has it all. Great levels, fun characters to play as, and gives you a strong sense of accomplishment because of the difficultly. Some NES games don’t stand the test of time, but Castlevania 3 is every bit as charming, challenging, and fun as it was 18 years ago.

In our next installment, we’ll be jumping into the 16-bit era of the Super Nintendo and one of the first games out for the system, Super Castlevania 4. I hope you look forward to it.


Castlevania Retrospective Part 3

Posted in video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2008 by themongomania

Today I’m reluctantly looking back at Castlevania: The Adventure for the original gameboy. I do not have many good things to say about this game. This was the series’ first entry into the portable market in the fall of 1989. It is also notable because it is the first game in the series to not star Simon Belmont as the protagonist. Instead, for this adventure we get Christopher Belmont, whip ready in hand to do what the Belmonts do best.

The first thing you’re going to notice playing this game is that Christopher moves so sluggish that it’s not even funny. You will scratch your head wondering why this did not happen in other nes to gameboy transitions. When Mario jumped into the world of portable gaming he never got this treatment, he still moved at a good clip. The speed problem was eventually corrected though, it only took till the year 2000 in Konami’s GB Collection Vol 1 released in Europe. Christopher is colorized and moving at the speed he originally should have been moving.

After you get over the speed of the game and really start getting into it, all you will find is more problems unfortunately. The level designs leave a lot to be desired. The main problem with the levels is that there is no variety. You will see the same type of levels throughout the entire game, which isn’t very long. Your adventure sees you through 4 levels each with their own boss, the last boss of course being the man of the hour, Dracula himself.

Sub Weapons have gone on the wayside in this game, instead the game lets you shoot a fireball out of your whip if you get 2 whip upgrades. However, if you get hit then your whip gets degraded and you no longer have the fireball until you get the whip upgrade again. Something else added to this version was a timer that told you how much longer you had in each level. Most of the time you beat each level with more than enough time, so it’s never something you should worry about.

Something different that works out pretty well in all of the original gameboy Castlevania’s is the use of ropes. Instead of stairs as you were previously used to in all the other Castlevania games, the gameboy decided to throw all that out and make you climb ropes. The feel of the game is changed by this little thing, because you will have to switch ropes and watch out for enemies while climbing the ropes to reach your destination. It reminds me a bit of Super Mario Bros 2’s vines.

If you are good at this game, you can beat it in about an hour. I do not regret playing it, but it will be an incredible long time before I play this again.

Alright, now it’s review time:

Castlevania: The Adventure –

Controls: 1/10 – this game’s controls make Haunted Castle’s look like a godsend.
Level Design: 2/10 – Did I mention that the level design is repetitive?
Overall Difficulty: 3.5/10 – Not very difficult at all really, just slow moving
Overall Enjoyment: 1.5/10 – Sad to say, but this is not Castlevania’s brightest star.

Final Thoughts:

Every series that goes on as long as the Castlevania series has gone on for hits a few snags here and there. It is a game that might have been rushed to market given that it came out late fall, trying to meet the Christmas season buying rush. I hope that isn’t true, but you never know. I will say that the next entry in the retrospective is a game that is held in higher regard. It is arguably the greatest achievement the series achieved on the NES, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse.

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.

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.