|FIMP: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest [NES]|
Today I'm on a quest to finish my tremendous backlog of games I have accumulated throughout the years, including old gems that I couldn't buy on my own as a kid. Castlevania 2 is one of those games, and I'm proud to say that it's 60% on its way from being kicked out of my backlog list. The wheels are set in motion, and the world-ending feat of me completing my 120-game backlog is becoming a rea- er, let's just keep talking about Castlevania 2.
My true first impressions of Castlevania 2 -- not from a 14 years ago, but from last night -- are that of another good execution of one of gaming's great concepts: the old school adventure game. No, Castlevania 2 is not a linear hack fest through a truly hazardous arcade-action world. It doesn't, so far, pack the horrific yet satisfying challenge of its predecessor or its followers. But so far it's a very good game whose Metroid-like attributes won't show up until Symphony of the Night. I'm betting they could have made a great SNES game with this concept as the base.
Simon Belmont still carries the whip, still walks and jumps like his name was Atlas. He controls largely the same, which is to say he makes the game very fun to play, with the exception of his committed, uni-directional jumps. And he can toss around daggers, holy water, sacred flames (think of how Heat Man attacks you in Mega Man 2), rebounding crystals, and even Garlic.
Simon's arsenal becomes only a minor difference, however, when considering the structure of the game: Castlevania 2 is much like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and the Metroid games. The whole world is technically available for you to traipse around, but of course there are things in your way, blocking your path. You are initially restricted to a small area, which begins to grow as you advance and achieve your goals. The game spends the majority of the time scrolling from side-to-side; the vertical progress found in Metroid, Symphony, and the GBA Castlevanias is non-existant here. Any vertical progress here is limited to a few screens and serves as branches to more long-winded side-scrolling excursions. You will also never see over-world map traversal, as in Zelda II.
It's all contained in an intensely left-to-right format that has gotten me lost, especially considering how the very nice and detailed graphics still tend to repeat themselves. Sometimes, screens even duplicate themselves -- enemies included -- throughout the game with only a minor palette swap to differentiate. And, like in Metroid, I came to (seemingly?) dead-ends everywhere that made me bleed my eyes out. Where do I go from here, I'd ask. It's easy to pass by a downward staircase with the intention of coming back later... and subsequently forgetting about it, whereas in something like Zelda II, I can easily spot something on the overworld map that I didn't check out yet. Let's not talk about Metroid, though, where the seemingly identical vertical shafts proved to be more confusing than Castlevania II.
What keeps me going is how juicy-good it feels to whip down some punk-a$$ enemies with that classic Casltevania feel. Unfortunately the game is exponentially less challenging than its predecessor, but this is offset by the confusion mentioned abvove and the possibility of opening up new areas to explore (should I get un-lost). Should you want to press on, you'll eventually find your way to your main goals: the five mansions scattered throughout the game. The object is to find a way to gain access to the mansion, then find the oak-stake seller in the mansion, then find the orb that houses one of Drac's body parts and use that oak-stake to smash open the orb. Get the body part, and your job is done for that mansion. Now it's time to get out, find out how to get to the *next* mansion, and repeat.
The greatest thing about this game, though, is the sense of adventure that this type of exploration gives me. It's even more enhanced by the fact that the game shifts between day and night -- with longer nights. During the day, towns are bustling with people and enemies fail to intimidate (most of the time). When night falls, people retreat to their homes, zombies roam the village streets, and monsters become twice as powerful. I would start to panic whenever daylight had pressed on for a few minutes with one more hit before I died, and I've finally reached a town to recharge my health... "Where's the church to regain hit points? Is night going to fall as soon as I find the church door? How much daylight is left!? Crap, is that bat going to knock me into that hole? I HATE THIS STUPID GAME!"
I've just completed the third mansion, and I'm lost again. But I must press on. I'll get back to you when I've beaten it and tell you why I'm a moron for not having experienced this when it was first out.
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