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Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES) artwork

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES) review


"Despite destroying Dracula in game one, stout-hearted Vampire Killer (that’s a proper title, I’d have you know!) Simon Belmont is stricken by a curse at the hands of the dying despot, and desperately needs to find five of the bloodsucker’s body parts in order to be free of what plagues him. A nasty business to be sure - I’m not altogether certain, but hack Thomas Harris might have lent some assistance in developing the gruesome plot. "



Simon's already cursed - why join him?

I applaud Konami for taking a chance with Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. They didn’t have to. The original Castlevania had been so popular, they could have done more of the same and still sold multiple copies to kids without NES's. Instead, they ventured away from the very platform oriented formula of that first game, and approached the role-playing game realm in the guise of a side-scrolling action-adventure. They managed an action RPG in Castlevania clothes. Though not a good one, mind you. Yes, the applauding can stop now, because Konami didn’t pull it off.

The game’s story is well documented, but let’s take a cursory glance anyway (aren’t all glances cursory?). Despite destroying Dracula in game one, stout-hearted Vampire Killer (that’s a proper title, I’d have you know!) Simon Belmont is stricken by a curse at the hands of the dying despot, and desperately needs to find five of the bloodsucker’s body parts in order to be free of what plagues him. A nasty business to be sure - I’m not altogether certain, but hack Thomas Harris might have lent some assistance in developing the gruesome plot.

Anyway, as you might expect, the displaced body parts are in different places - different mansions, spread out around the Castlevania II world. If only Konami had left it at that - if only they had made this a five level action adventure where Simon battles bosses, zombie-rending whip in hand, with body parts and a life of normality for Simon at stake (I had to do it!). Rather, we are forced to walk around aimlessly in non-linear fashion, bumping into townspeople who are also walking around aimlessly. They’ve got one up on us though; at least their aimless constitutional is limited to something akin to the nervous expecting husband’s waiting room pacing. Ours is not.

As Simon, we traverse dark, depressing locales: from run down towns, to murky underground passages, to haunted forests, and of course, the foreboding mansions themselves. Strangely enough, after a certain amount of time has passed, night falls, and enemies become much harder to deal with on the outskirts of towns, the already downcast skies becoming grossly darker. Worse yet, townspeople mysteriously evacuate their homes, leaving you on the streets, to deal with the freaks. They do come out at night. It's so true.

The unnecessary transition won't impact you much when you're out of town, battling gamely, but it's a different story when you've just made it to a town to do some shopping (interestingly enough, some shops can't be accessed through doors alone - holy water is necessary to bomb floors to uncover walled up merchants. Right then: first Harris, now Poe). With your wallet stuffed with hearts earned in battle, you’ll be eager to splurge, like when you’ve got a new credit card burning in your pocket. But you’ll have to wait until morning for the townspeople to reappear! It's especially annoying when you're low on energy, awaiting the reappearance of the guy in the church to heal you, rattling around the three-screen town for the sun. ''Blah, this is becoming boring.'' I found myself saying aloud in my empty room. And if talking to myself wasn’t strange enough, I made the comment within the first ten minutes of play - much too early in the proceedings (and I really did say ''blah'', you can quote me on that, and probably will).

When the knot-headed townspeople are actually around, you are expected to prompt them to begin their short soliloquies, RPG-like, to glean 'clues' from them. Stabbing at them will do the trick nicely. The clues are disjointed pieces of seemingly random information, and so you’d better be ready with a pen and an inexhaustible writing hand. Or more likely, a walkthrough guide. Most folks that I know who’ve played this game, and enjoyed it even a little, have admitted to employing cheats to do so. Which points to Castlevania II's bad design. The 'puzzles' we must solve as we adventure along, are obscure to the point of hilarity. With a straight face, the game's developers imagine us knowing to kneel at rivers, family jewels in hand to manifest miracles.

Create any random conundrum, one that you might come up with while under the influence, one that your little brother or toddler nephew might concoct, and it wouldn’t be any more ludicrous than what Konami quite seriously expects us to 'solve' as if there was clear logic involved. My nephew might say, ''Um, okay, Uncle Marc. Here's why I didn't give you a cookie when you came in the kitchen. You didn't hurdle through the pink hula hoop in the basement, an' you didn't count to fifteen backwards with purple bubble gum on your forehead an' my yellow Power Ranger under your armpit.'' And I would say, ''Dammit! And I was so close to figuring out what it was you wanted. Hey champ, your puzzle making seems awfully reminiscent of the style they used in Castlevania II, champ. I thought I told you to stay away from that game…''

And so it comes down to how much fun you can have whipping at undead enemies in darkly morbid areas, waiting out the nightlife, with a walkthrough at your hip. Not a whole lot. At least the graphics are decent; they're often a bit more detailed than the visuals were in Castlevania, though somehow, they're nowhere as enjoyable to look at. Well, at least the platfomer elements are adequate, though wholly pedestrian even in comparison to the original game, featuring none of the tough jumps or intense boss battles. But at least the music is fantastic, which is what you’d expect from Konami in general, and a Castlevania game in particular. Though since all the best tunes from this game (yes, Simon’s Quest debuted the ubiquitous ''Bloody Tears'') have been remixed for much later, much better games, you needn’t spend your time with Castlevania II solely for the tunes.

Indeed, spend your time with this only if you’re a diehard fan who has to jaunt through every inch of Castlevania unholy ground (like me), but for heaven’s sake, take a guide of some sort along, and get that Ebay seller screen ready - even the hardcore won’t want to endure a second go round with this curse.

Better games in the series: Almost all of them. But since we’re playing the NES, don’t let this game sour you so much that you miss out on the brilliance that is Castlevania III.

Better games in the genre: There are a good number of action RPGs out there, but most don’t use the side-scrolling format. Though not spectacular, Faxanadu is a decent example of the format at work for your NES.

Rating: 3/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (December 31, 2003)

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