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What a Terrible Night for a curse!
Hi. I’m Conway and I feel that I should warn you that the following review is very scary and so if you have children in the room you may want to put them to bed. Actually I’ve just been notified by the state of California (which is odd cause I’m Canadian) that it is in fact too scary and will instead be replaced by an episode of Perfect Strangers.
( Just kidding ;) )
Welcome to For What it’s Worth where bargain titles are examined to see if they really are worth your bottom dollar. Tonight we take a look back at a couple of spooky NES classics that are now available on the Wii Virtual Console and as part of the Konami Collector's Series. This is part one of my look back at the original Castlevania Trilogy.
Story: The year is 1691, the location is Transylvania. Demon slayer Simon Belmont is on a mission to free the land from the evil vampire, Count Dracula. To fulfil his obligations, he must storm Dracula’s castle to put this ancient evil to rest. Not much story here but you have to remember that during the NES days, video game storylines were in their infancy so the lack of plot is forgivable in my book.
Graphics & Design: Sporting some pretty sweet 8-bit graphics for the time it was originally released, Castlevania features a wide array of eerie Gothic backdrops and iconic monsters from film and literature like bats, mummies, zombies, hunchbacks, skeletons, knights, ghosts, even Frankenstein and the Grim Reaper answer to Dracula. The game also sports enemy characters from mythological sources like mermen and Medusa herself.
I will say that with this being a late 80’s NES title, the monsters don’t exactly look the most intimidating by today’s standards but imagine being a kid back and letting your imagination run wild, as you fend off these ghouls in this dark and spooky castle. If you look at it from that perspective, it can be scary but in an awesome way because you feel that rush of adrenaline, when you are fending off wave after wave of monsters and not knowing what’s waiting for you behind every door. Oh Nostalgia. How I love you so.
(When a zombie is up in your grill you must whip it!)
Sound: Castlevania set the standard not only in terms of gameplay but also musically for the rest of the series. From the opening to Vampire Killer to Wicked Child, all the way to the final battle with Dracula, Castlevania’s soundtrack perfectly matches the games creepy, horror inspired atmosphere. Castlevania is one of the earliest examples of how even with its limited range, 8-bit music is more than capable of setting a story’s tone.
Gameplay: Castlevania like just about all classic NES games from the 80’s is a sidescroller. The goal is to basically reach the end of the level and defeat the boss without dying. Sounds simple enough right? Well, that’s not exactly true. At first Simon is simply whipping his way through simple zombies and mermen but as the game goes on it will get much harder with Medusa heads that fly all over the screen, hunchbacks that bounce all over the place and enemies strong enough to take out a fourth of your life bar.
And of course you have the infamous gameplay flaw that would plague most of the other entries in the series and that is the sheer fact that Simon jumps back every time he’s hit! This causes an unfair spike in difficulty because you are bound to play though scenarios where you are going to be knocked off of high places, knocked into water (which is fatal for some reason) and bounce into enemy fire. Oh and the last two bosses aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.
But luckily for our hero, the level designers decided to fill each level with an abundance of candles for Simon to whip for power ups such as throwing axes, holy water and various other weapons to aid him on his quest. However, you will need to gather a good amount of hearts, which act as ammunition. Hearts can be gathered by whipping candles and killing enemies. There are also certain spots in the walls that you can whip through to collect Pork Chops to restore your health.
I could complain about how slow Simon is or how short his jumps are but I’m not going to. Why? Because unlike the whole getting knocked back thing, it actually adds a fair challenge to the game and even gives you a good adrenaline rush when you are fending off the enemy hordes.
Extra Features: None
Replay Value: There is plenty of replay value to be had here, considering the game’s difficulty. Sure it’s tough as nails and the challenge can be a bit unfair at times but it is a blast to play. That and it does get some extra points for the nostalgia factor.
Overall Value: Download Price- 500 Wii Points
What it’s Worth- $10
Story: Seven years after he defeated Dracula in the first game, Simon finds himself suffering from injuries sustained from their classic battle. A mysterious woman tells him that these injuries were caused by a curse placed on him by Dracula and that these injuries can kill him if he doesn’t resurrect Dracula and defeat him one last time. So, Simon must find all of the pieces of Dracula’s remains, which have been spread across Transylvainia and use them to revive Dracula, so he can kill him again and relieve himself of the curse.
Graphics & Design: The graphic design here is very similar to the first game. The classic horror genre specific monsters like zombies, skeletons, werewolves and mermen still exist in Belmont’s world but we also get a few enemies that are little more stock and generic like spiders and enemies like the flying eyeballs that are just weird. I know I was complaining there a little bit but they all look cool by NES standards.
However, there is a key difference in the level designs this time and those who are familiar with the series will likely know what I’m talking about. Castlevania 2 has pretty much dumped the castle aspect from it’s name this time around (more on that later) and puts most of the focus on outdoor levels and exploring different villages. The villages and villagers look pretty good and they match the plot’s time period but with the exception of the addition and subtraction of a few motes and staircases, the villages all look the same and the villager sprites are re-used over and over again.
The outdoor levels look pretty cool, as the woods and cemeteries all look creepy in there own right. Especially during the night-time transitions (again more on that later). But the few castle or mansion levels are rather bland compared to other games in the franchise. Containing fewer enemies, lame traps that you can’t even see coming, bland designs and the possibility of no boss fight or an incredibly lame looking boss with underwhelming difficulty. That is if you can actually find them! Sigh. More on that later.
(Boy. I tell ya. They only come out at night.)
(Or in this case the daytime.)
Although I will say that I find Simon’s character design to be interesting in this installment. This time he seems to be wearing armor a little more suitable for his time period, rather than looking like WWF wrestler The Berserker.
(You won't be making it to Wrestlemania Dracula! Beacause at The Royal Rumble, you DIE!)
Sound: The music here is fantastic and sets the tone for the game’s atmosphere just like the original. Hell, I would probably say that it is the best part of the game. I would say that the music in the first Castlevania is slightly better but this one is not without its share of classic tunes.
Gameplay: Just like in the pervious outing, Simon will be whipping his way through a variety of monsters, his movements and jumps still feel a tad stiff and he still jumps back after getting hit. That is where the gameplay similarities pretty much end. This time around, Konami decided to add a free-roaming element to the series, much The Legend of Zelda series did with Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. So, instead of the linear level progression of scaling through Dracula’s castle (hence the name Castlevania), You have the freedom to travel to any area you please, although you’ll need to meet certain objectives before moving on to certain areas.
How do you know what these objectives are or where you should go in order to achieve them? Well this is where the game really starts to suck. You have to ask the people of each village. This is common in adventures like Zelda 2 or Final Fantasy but unlike those other games where the conversations actually lead to some type of progress, whether it finding out where to go or what to do with a particular item, the villagers in Simon’s Quest are a bunch of pricks! Just about everything they say to you is a flat out lie. You can find useful hints hidden within the walls of each mansion level but make sure not press anything before reading it or you could loose it forever.
So for the most part you are left without any clue on how to use anything or where you’re supposed to go. So your only real option is to wander around aimlessly and wear out every possibility until you get lucky. Any game that requires you to use a strategy guide or walkthrough just to make the slightest bit of progress is just flat out pointless. I mean if you absolutely have to cheat to not only complete the game but to actually have the slightest clue as to what you are doing, then why should you even bother playing?
If you are going to cheat, why not do it in vintage, retro style with Nintendo Power?
(I told you it would be scary but you didn't listen. You just had to keep reading.)
If you happen to make progress, don’t worry about having to shut off the game because Simon’s Quest has introduced a password system to the series. Which is a good idea. Unfortunately it sucks here because the passwords contain as many as 16 characters. Yeah… Good Luck remembering all that.
And remember in Castlevania how you could conveniently find the extra weapons throughout each level? Well, in Simon’s Quest it doesn’t work that way. You have to use the hearts gathered from killing enemies to buy them and various other items at shops that are in the different villages.
One last thing I should say about the hearts is that if you collect enough of them, Simon will level up in RPG-like fashion and gain a few extra points on his life bar. This is actually a neat idea but it takes a while to level up, so I wouldn’t recommend wasting too much time killing enemies for strictly this purpose. Although, now that I think about with items being so frigging expensive, your going to have to do it anyway. Oh and don’t die because you’ll loose all of your hearts that way.
Pain in the ass.
I guess I should end this section by listing some of the positive elements of the gameplay. The platforming and demon slaying is still solid and I actually like the day to night transitions. I like how the atmosphere suddenly changes with the villagers being replaced by zombies. I also like how the music changes and how the monsters become more powerful. Hell, I even like the bit of narration before and after each transition. It’s good in a cheesy kind of way. But it does get annoying when the gameplay freezes every five minutes because of it.
Extra Features: None
Replay Value: Well, I can’t honestly say that this is the kind of game I would see myself playing multiple times. It is simply too confusing and irritating for my tastes but the night time demon slaying and the superb music in Simon’s Quest still has the charm of the Castlevania series, so it may be worth turning on once in a blue moon.
Overall Value: Download Price- 500 Wii Points
What it’s Worth- $3 (mostly for the music and night time levels)
So what can I say? We have one game that is truly great, despite some unfair difficulty caused by an obvious gameplay flaw. And another game that was a failed experiment due to its overly cryptic nature, irritating gameplay elements, irritatingly long passwords and a few bland level design choices but all things considered it is still good to a degree and has a certain nostalgia factor.
To Be Continued!