Castlevania II: Simon's Quest review
This stake may hurt a little
Introduction: Castlevania is definitely an excellent series, especially during it's early days. The first, third and fourth games manage to showcase some excellent level designs and tough challenges for the player to overcome. But what about the second game? What makes this one so different? It feels more like an expansive adventure game than an action platformer, with some things that were ahead of the time, but unfortunately, it just didn't turn out that great. There are a few flaws that turns the game from a rather ambitious experience to dog shit.
Story: Continuing from the first game, Simon Belmont is cursed by the wounds from his battle against Dracula. To life this curse, he has to find all of the parts of Dracula from all over Transylvania, and burn it all at a furnace. Again, it's a simple story that manages to work well, and managed to stand out further from what you would've seen on this console. It manages a sort of different plot that stands out in amongst the rest, involving a sort of scavenger hunt to cure a curse. Wouldn't mind seeing these sorts of plotlines in today's games.
Gameplay: The basics are about the same. You still sidescroll and whip monsters and bosses. Most of the basics still work as well as they did in the first game. Still got the awesome power of the whip. Still got the stiff jumping. Still got the pain in the ass hit recoil where you fall back a million feet, often into water (protip: learn to swim). Still got some pretty solid level designs; this time, managing some pretty big levels. The basics and designs are damn solid, managing to keep them consistent with the first game... almost.
There are some different elements. For one, instead of a rigid level structure, you can explore fields to get to towns and castles. I'll explain castles in a bit. Towns let you talk to people in order to buy items or get clues as to where to go next or what to do next. As well as that, there's the ever so useful healing place. Remember the hearts from the first game? Now they're used as currency to buy items in shops. Of course, this only happens during the day. At night, everything is closed due to nightly zombie attacks. It's pretty cool that Castlevania 2 works more like a sidescrolling adventure game, rather than a typical platformer. To add on to that, you can select what item to use in the pause screen, instead of just taking what you just took. Ahh, nothing like expanding and being so far ahead of the curve, like Zelda in this regard.
Unfortunately, we hit problem numero uno - day and night transitions. This shouldn't be a huge problem, but it is. Basically, you move around for about six-eight minutes, and then a menu pops up, stops the game for about ten seconds, and then the game unpauses. Now, the whole day and night concept might've worked well on paper, but in execution, it's damn tedious, having your game stop every six minutes for ten seconds.
The next problem is related to the entire nature of the game. It's cryptic. The townspeople lie to you, which is a pain in the ass. It requires trial and error in order to find out who's lying to you, and who's pointing you in the right direction, which isn't a good thing in an adventure game like this. This doesn't make the game more challenging, it just makes shit annoying. The constant need to run around and check to see if they're right shouldn't be on your mind. All that should be on your mind is progress. Let me tell you - if the player has to consult the Nintendo Power walkthrough constantly, you have failed at game designing, especially in regards to some of the real cryptic stuff. Invisible blocks? Kneeling at a certain wall? How should you be able to know to be there, equipped with certain crystals? Easy - talk to the bullshitting townsfolk! Oh wait, by first impressions, you know they're lying dicks or they just say useless stuff at times, so you naturally don't trust them. This is where the game really breaks down into crappiness.
To rub salt into the gash, there are non-solid blocks. What kind of game has the balls to make visible blocks pitfalls? This game, apparently, because you can fall down pits. Want a strategy to figure out how to tell what's safe and what's not? Here's two - see where an enemy turns around, and that's where. If there are none, use your holy water on EVERY *bleep*ING BLOCK YOU SEE! This shows some serious lack of polish, since Konami forgot to make all of the blocks solid. Again, this doesn't make the game more challenging. It just pisses the player off. How could they overlook this, anyway? Did somebody forget to playtest this or something? Must have! You can't overlook something like this during one!
The lamest thing about this game is that there are no real challenging aspects. The jumps aren’t exactly ball busting, the bosses – which there are only a few of, by the way – are extremely easy to beat, especially Dracula, and damn near everything else that might have been challenging, well, isn’t. All of the challenge is in trying to tell who is useful, and what to do at what wall. This isn’t good gameplay. This is crap.
Controls: They’re about the same as the first game’s. You have the same rigid movement, stiff jumping, and overall controls from before, so if you’re familiar with the last game’s controls, you should get used to these controls.
Graphics: The graphics are crispy clean with a side ordering of detail. The only problem here is the color scheme – why so many browns and grays? It feels a little too monochromatic most of the time. Unlike the first game, it doesn’t portray the gothic atmosphere – it just feels a little lazy, like they couldn’t think of more appropriate colors to use.
Audio: This game offers two of the best 8-bit tracks out there – the day time track, and the night time track. Both of these tracks are damn excellent. Even hearing them just once each will sear them into your retina for all of eternity, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for the rest of the soundtrack. They’re also good songs, but it takes a lot longer to remember them, and they just aren’t as captivating, nor are they as good.
Replay Value: If you’re even able to survive the 3-6 hour torture, why would you replay this game? There isn’t a whole lot to come back to, since there aren’t any challenging bits to get better at or anything, and everything it starts is better in other games, like Zelda. It’s just... bland.
Overall: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is a boring black sheep, managing to be ahead of the time in some senses, but also managing to either frustrate or bore the hell out of the player. This is essentially the “Nintendo Power” game, since it’s the only way to make any sense of anything in this game. Despite some good graphics and a damn fine soundtrack, the gameplay is convoluted and bullshit hard, as well as lacking in the polish department. *bleep* this game, watch it fly!
Replay Value: 3/10
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