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Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES) artwork

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES) review


"This is either the crappiest translation in 8-bit history or a fiendishly clever plot to foist subscriptions to NINTENDO POWER upon precocious vampire-hating youths who were subsequently scarred for life by that awesome cover in which our hero clutches Dracula's severed but eternally undying head for all to see."




Much like the Satanic summoning circle of Dracula's dark priests, Simon's Quest certainly conjures up a lot of memories.

There's the worn signage and crumbling brick of villages that tower over intricate catwalks of staircases, a setting so vividly recreated when it was put to the torch in Dracula X. There are the nocturnal treks through thick forestry in pursuit of bouncing werewolves and suspicious ferrymen who'll take you "someplace good," or the skeletons forlornly hanging in chains beneath the bowels of haunted mansions. And of course, a classic compilation of music that was even enhanced over the original disk release: the now legendary chords of "Bloody Tears" that accompany your travels, the less celebrated but similarly excellent "Silence of Daylight" in town, and that spine-tingling tune upon finally stepping into the ruined halls of Castlevania itself.

What you won't recall, however, are any memories of the classic Castlevania gameplay, because instead of building on its predecessor's formula the sequel flies off in a radical new direction, not unlike a hungry (and blind) vampire bat. Those familiar little hearts are now used for purchasing whip upgrades and cryptic items rather than feeding an endless array of sub-weapons, and rather than traversing discrete stages Simon sets out from the center of a labyrinthine countryside teeming with countless branches. For the first and only time in the series you'll also experience the cycle between dusk and dawn, as while trudging through its poisonous marshes and scenic cemeteries the land is frequently plunged into an eerie darkness following the iconic pronouncement "What a horrible night to have a curse."


A horrible night, indeed.

It has since been established that Dracula can only be resurrected once every century, but apparently the cagey Count discovered a loophole this time out, having fatally cursed our hero during their previous encounter with his nosferatu necro-hoodoo. Hence if Simon wishes to avoid joining the ranks of ungrateful dead he'll have to gather up his fallen enemy's dismembered body parts, which for some reason have been scattered far and wide across Transylvania, just so he can reanimate the vengeful vampire and then stake that go!@#$!ed bathead all over again. All those constant failed rebirths coupled with schemes like this are what lead me to suspect the Prince of Darkness isn't aiming for world domination so much as he simply loves to screw with the Belmondo clan.

Unfortunately it turns out that Konami's design team also wanted to screw with their audience, for our hero's quest somehow manages to be both ridiculously easy and just plain ridiculous. It's well documented that the Japanese consider us to be veritable gaming supermen, and yet there's virtually no challenge to be found in any of the whip-cracking combat, whether by the fleeting light of day or when all the nastier monsters creep out under the evening moon. The mansions containing Dracula's bits are equally simple affairs compared to the cunningly crafted palaces of Zelda II, even if you have to first track down a stake-peddling merchant before you can nab the occult organ, and instead rely on cheap trickery like invisible pitfalls that force you to lob vials of holy water over every floor tile to see if they pass clear through to the depths below. Signature bosses like the dreaded Grim Reaper are similarly insubstantial, as the scythe-wielding skeleton just idly floats around his chamber in the hopes you'll mistake him for a levitating cloak rack.

The true challenge of Simon's Quest is attempting to wrap your brain around its frankly absurd collection of puzzles. In the very first mansion it's necessary to equip the otherwise useless white crystal in order to reveal a moving platform, but at no point does the game decide to share this little tidbit with you. Such situations are merely par for the course; should your journeys later come to a screeching halt upon reaching a seeming dead end, it's because you're expected to conjure up a tornado from thin air by kneeling there for several seconds despite the local townsfolk counseling you to "hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole." All their "helpful" dialogue ranges from flagrant lies to outright insanity; shortly after deciphering that "a magic potion will destroy the wall of evil" is a needlessly cryptic reference to those little bottles of holy water, you'll be provided with gems like this one:

Despite my considerable efforts to the contrary, this mausoleum-dwelling mallard was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it was devoured by zombies.

This is either the crappiest translation in 8-bit history or a fiendishly clever plot to foist subscriptions to NINTENDO POWER upon precocious vampire-hating youths who were subsequently scarred for life by that awesome cover in which our hero clutches Dracula's severed but eternally undying head for all to see. [Warning: Simon's Crotch.] And speaking of awesome covers, the one on the game box is a blatant rip-off of Clyde Caldwell's painting for the legendary Dungeons & Dragons module Ravenloft; they simply changed the vampire lord's face and added in a blond, bulging Belmondo. One can only hope he was suitably compensated for this, since Konami obviously didn't shell out any cash for enemy AI, play testing, or English lessons. Sadly, the second saga of Simon is one stroll down memory lane that will only cause you to stumble.


Rating: 4/10

sho's avatar
Staff review by Sho (October 27, 2009)

Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.

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zippdementia posted October 27, 2009:

I totally remember the cover getting pulled. Don't recall what it was replaced with or if it just got swept under the rug along with Nintendo's other dirty secrets... like the corpse of Atari.
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sashanan posted October 27, 2009:

You probably already knew this, but the infamous graveyard duck confusion is generally understood to be the result of TWO hints displayed together without interpunction, namely "get a sillk bag from the graveyard" and "duck to live longer" - whether the latter is just advice to avoid projectiles or somehow intended to let you know how to summon up to the tornado, I wouldn't presume to say.

Funny bit of nostalgia: this is the first Castlevania I played, and I enjoyed the RPGish elements of exploration and levelling up (and never played long enough to get annoyed by the game's very real problems). When I later obtained Castlevania 3 for my NES, I was initially disappointed by its "dumbed down" gameplay, not realizing at the time that this was a return to the original's mechanics.
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overdrive posted October 28, 2009:

Great review. This is a game I've been meaning to play through and review, but never have gotten around to it mainly because it's one of those games that has a certain amount of nostalgic value to me as...well, when it's the only new game you have for 3-4 months when you're younger, you're going to play it like a religion and force yourself to overlook some of those flaws.

But yeah....

1. Extremely easy. The exploration idea was nice, but nothing battle-wise was challenging.
2. I HATED those invisible trap floors. Cheap and stupid. And invisible platforms, too. You needed the Eye of Dracula to see them and you need to jump on a couple to get into one mansion.
3. I played this game before the original CV or CV 3. Yeah, I noticed a "slight" difference between the Grim Reaper in this one compared to those two. And in Dracula, come to think about it. In most games, he had better ideas on how to fight other than floating in a circle around the room.
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randxian posted October 28, 2009:

That tears it. I'm going to re-publish my second draft. I'm tired of everyone trashing my second favorite NES game.

In all seriousness, I did enjoy reading the review despite completely disagreeing with the verdict. Enjoy the lively word choice and the research done about how the box art is a blatant rip off. Still like that picture nonetheless.

A few things however:

It's well documented that the Japanese consider us to be veritable gaming supermen,

Huh? I thought it was widely considered the Japanese consider us to be inferior gamers, hence why we usually get verions with the difficult toned down. Or were you being sarcastic here?

As for the difficulty, I disagree that the game being too easy is a black mark. Considering most of the old school Castlevanias are among the hardest games, having an easier romp is a breath of fresh air.

Yes, most of the "hints" are useless, but some of the villager babble is humorous and charming, such as the old man who begs you to take his daughter.

Sure, if you try to take this game too seriously and beat it as quickly as possible, you're not going to enjoy it. If you just take a time out, sit back, and smell the roses, you'll find this can be a pleasant experience.
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Genj posted October 28, 2009:

Huh? I thought it was widely considered the Japanese consider us to be inferior gamers, hence why we usually get verions with the difficult toned down. Or were you being sarcastic here?

When I comes to action games, I can mostly think of games that became harder upon localization (Contra: Hard Corps, Castlevania III, Devil May Cry 3, Bayou Billy).
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randxian posted October 28, 2009:

Castlevania 3 is harder? In what way(s)?
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Genj posted October 28, 2009:

The amount of damage you take is different:

"In the North American and European versions, each enemy takes away the same amount of energy when the player is hit. But as the game progresses, damage taken from enemies increases (capping off at 4/5 bars, depending on the player character, in the North American version, and 3/4 bars in the European version), Instead, in the Japanese game, each enemy takes a different amount of energy away from the player. Many fans believe this factor makes the Japanese version easier."
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joseph_valencia posted October 29, 2009:

You probably already knew this, but the infamous graveyard duck confusion is generally understood to be the result of TWO hints displayed together without interpunction, namely "get a sillk bag from the graveyard" and "duck to live longer"

Actually, the hint in the Japanese version also included something about a water fowl. Castlevania II just likes to screw with people. :-)
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sashanan posted October 29, 2009:

To elaborate on the damage question, damage caused by enemies in the JPN version of Castlevania III depends on what critter it is, whereas in the US and in Europe the damage is tied to what stage you've reached. Early on this may provide a small advantage but it means that in the late stages of the game, a few hits from anything will kill you, when that wasn't the case in the original.

Another Castlevania that I observed a major difference in difficulty on, but between the US and Europe this time, was Bloodlines (censored to The New Generation in Europe as apparently having 'blood' in the title was too much). I think this is a 50hz/60hz thing in that the European version runs noticeably slower, and suddenly switching to the US one meant I kept getting hit by enemies that gave me less time to react than I was used to - and I reckon there were more of them as well. Given that in Castlevania even ONE bat is too many, being attacking by them from both sides every time the floor isn't stable gets old fast.

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