Written by  :  Adzuken (861)
Written on  :  Nov 11, 2009
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars

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Simon, is there ever a good night to have a curse?

The Good

I believe that it’s necessary to give a game a second chance. There are a lot of outside factors that affect how we view the games we play. Things like disappointment, anticipation, nostalgia, discomfort, or even sometimes illness can colour the games we play poorly. This is why I decided to give Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest a second chance. As the legend goes, I acquired my NES in high school as my first retro system. Among the games I received with it was Simon’s Quest. I was disgusted with its poor controls, confusing design, and punishing difficulty, likely due to my inexperience with older titles. Nowadays, however, I’m a bit better adjusted to the games of yesteryear, so I decided it was high-time that I went back to see if Castlevania 2 is as bad as I remember.

Sequels are a huge part of the video game industry, and why not? It gives developers a chance to expand on what made the first game good, or to take it in a new direction. Castlevania 2 leans heavily into the latter category. The gameplay itself will feel very familiar to anyone who has played the first Castlevania, but the way it’s presented and set up has been changed drastically. The stage by stage progression of the original has now been replaced by a more interconnected world. This is interesting, since this is more or less the direction that games later in the series decided to go.

Players are once again put in control of Simon Belmont. It seems that Dracula put a curse on him during their battle in the first game, and the only way he can break it is to gather up Dracula’s remains to resurrect him, and then defeat him again. I find this to be an interesting and involving storyline, even if it is a bit farfetched. Why, for example, would Dracula’s ring, or even his nail, be required for his resurrection? Then again, I’m quite thankful that it isn’t necessary to gather up every part of Dracula’s corpse. This is partly because it would have made the game far longer and more tedious, but also because I’m not sure how I’d react to picking up Dracula’s penis.

People who’ve played the first Castlevania will feel right at home with the controls. Simon still moves in the same stiff fashion, but once you’re used to it, the controls can be very comfortable. Whip upgrades also make a return, but now you must buy them and they will also remain with you after you die. Added is the ability to gain experience points and level up, which can increase Simon’s life bar. Besides that, Simon’s Quest feels a lot like the first Castlevania. It should be comforting to any fans of the previous game.

I think what is most important, however, is that the atmosphere from the first game is actually improved upon. Everything feels very oppressive and hopeless, which is difficult to pull off on the NES. I can’t help but question the decoration in the mansion stages. They look more like dungeons to me. At least hang a picture up. The music is also just as stellar as the original’s, putting it right up there with the best on the NES.

The Bad

I can admire it when a developer takes their franchise in a new direction, but yeesh. The idea is to keep all the things that were good about the original and then expand upon them. I am actually kind of stunned by how many poor design choices were made in creating this game. I’d use the analogy “one step forward, two steps back” but that doesn’t begin to cover it. Some of the game’s problems can be traced back to a lack of polish, others seem to indicate the game being rushed to market, but some are just baffling.

The biggest offender in the game’s design is the puzzles. Castlevania 2 employs a very strange logic. For example, holy water is used to eliminate breakable blocks. Worse yet, nobody in the game world tells you that. You just have to hope that you throw holy water at the right place, and happen to make the connection. But wait, it gets worse. There are places in the game that require you to have a particular item equipped, then they require you to wait a relatively lengthy amount of time, and expect you to sit in a certain pose. Nowhere in the game does anyone or anything tell you this. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to even know what a particular item is for. Even the instruction manual doesn’t adequately explain them.

I challenge you to complete this game without some sort of strategy guide, because I don’t think it’s possible. I’m normally the sort of gamer who never employs any sort of outside help when it comes to my games, because I feel it cheapens the experience. Even despite my stubborn nature, however, I caved and checked a guide. Maybe it’s simply a product of its time. Perhaps, it was targeted more towards the Nintendo Power subscribers. Maybe it’s a case of poor translation. Whatever the reasons are, it comes across as obnoxious nowadays.

The day and night cycle is a form of irritation for me. In concept, it’s an interesting idea, but the way it’s employed makes it a nuisance. The game progresses on its own clock, so when it becomes night, enemies become stronger and the buildings in town lock their doors. The problem arises when you need to wait for the stores to open again. Night can last quite a while, especially if it occurs directly before you actually reach the village. You’ll be left standing and waiting. Your best bet is to either get up and walk away from the controller, or go and grind for money.

A smaller complaint of mine is the lack of bosses. All in all, I counted three, if you can call them bosses, that is. Aside from them being sparse, they were also very simple and easily defeated. Especially the final boss, who, with very little effort, I vanquished before he could even fight back on my first attempt. To make things worse, there’s no sense of accomplishment from beating them. After you leave the room and return, they’re back, and you can just walk right on past them. It’s very peculiar that the game only has three bosses, despite having several lairs. Why not put one in every mansion? I don’t understand.

The Bottom Line

It’s a real shame. Most of the elements that make the Castlevania series good are still present and as enjoyable as ever in Simon’s Quest. Unfortunately, it’s all buried beneath some absolutely horrendous and frustrating game design. The inability to progress without any outside assistance is extremely vexing. If, however, you’re the type of gamer who normally looks at a strategy guides anyway, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this game a lot more than I did. On the other hand, if you’re someone like me who’d rather wander aimlessly for hours than consult a guide, then there’s a good chance you’ll see the game as I have: BAD, bordering on broken.