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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.