Saturday, May 9, 2015

Friday Night Rental: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

The game that would launch a thousand ships...and Youtube videos

Before you even start, I know what you are thinking, "Everyone and their grandmother has done a review of Simon's Quest already!  Geez Jester, can't you start off with something just a little different?  Criminy this is old school even for old school!"

Sit back and listen to some tunes whilst I talk my lovelies...

Well, truthfully I did think about doing a different game.  Something like one of the Mega Mans, Elevator Action, Kid Icarus, Metroid, or any of the other countless games that I remember renting over and over again.  However, the fact that this one game has been reviewed several times got me thinking--what about this game in particular makes it a focal point of frustration in gamer community?

Besides that...
It can't just be because annoying text pops up in the middle of the game, can it?  I mean, sure it gets annoying from time to time, but it isn't like it gets in the way of progress, it just artificially lengthens the game.  So why does this particular game get the shame that it does?  I wonder if it's for the same reasons that I thought of this game immediately when deciding what to start the Friday Night Rentals section.  When truly awesome games for the Nintendo were everywhere, you couldn't just buy whatever you felt like, you had to rent them.  And if your parents were like mine, this meant you had to wait for the weekend to get something.  Don't get your heart set on a particular game though, because you could end up getting to the store and a selection of garbage games, games you had already beaten, or ones you had just given up on awaited you.  Sometimes my mom and I wouldn't arrive until just before close at the local video store and this meant you either got something you weren't interested in (i.e. hadn't read about in Nintendo Power), or you went home empty handed.  Since the latter was totally unacceptable, sometimes this meant going home with a game that was...well...lacking.

See, here the interruption makes sense.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike Castlevania II right off the bat--ha ha puns!

But after the third time I rented it, I began to sense that something was wrong as it was not the vampire-head-ripping time my Nintendo Power had promised.

Hey !14 pages of gory details can't be wrong, can they?

So, what exactly was I thinking when I grabbed Simon's Quest for the fourth, fifth, and sixth time I rented it?  I guess I was thinking that Nintendo games were awesome, the first Castlevania was awesome, so I just had to give it another try.  Maybe this time I would get it.  Maybe this rental it would all make sense and I would beat the game and arise victorious!


Just to give a little insight, I partially blame the fact that the particular video store I'm talking about was not one of those stores that proudly displayed the game box with the actual game behind it stored in a plastic case.  I loved video stores that did that!  It was both a quick and easy way to see whether the game I wanted was in, and if not whether they actually had the game at all. This video store had all of the games behind the service counter and the only way you could find out what games they had to rent was to go through a folder full of laminated cards held in baseball card keepers.  Each card had the name of a game.  I tried asking the clerks now and then if there were any new games in, but they seemed fairly clueless.  So there was no way of telling whether you might be missing out on something awesome or not.  All you had to go with was what you saw.  And time after time I kept on going back to Castlevania II hoping that it would be better than last time.

It wasn't better even the seventh time...

So let's break down the game in a quick review, and just why I kept renting it:


The core controls of the game never felt choppy, and never felt like a cheat.  The whipping action seemed solid, Belmont moved when I wanted him too, and I never found myself feeling like the controls were unresponsive.  I know there has been much said about how easy it was to get knocked back and take a fatal belly-flop into the water.  But that seemed fairly standard in some game of the time.  You get hit, you get pushed back a little, and you lose some health.  True, it feels like Belmont has some serious over-acting going on as he flayals helplessly backward, but I just chalk that up to being a Castlevania staple.  As for the jumping thing, again, I don't think that it was that huge of an issue.  Annoying at times, yes.  But not a programming fault.  It was just like Ghosts and Goblins: when you jumped, you were committed to that jump, no take-backs do or die.

Music and Sound

I love most video game music (see Wednesday's post) and I think most of us in the gaming community would agree teh Castlevania series has a solid selection of tunes.  That said, you will be hearing that nighttime music a bit more than you would think possible.  No it wasn't just goofy parody; there's a reason it was a gag in the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of the game.  Now, this isn't to say that the loop is terrible.  The loop has the same Castlevania feel you know and love where an action beat meets a somewhat sinister tone.  However, you better learn to love it because you will be hearing it a bit:

Annnd one more time!

The sound has that Konami feel, and that's a compliment.  The tinny whoosh of the whip, the satisfying clash noise of hitting an enemy, even the annoying splashes that portended the arrival of fishmen were solid.  I've played a few games where hitting the action button resulted in such annoying sounds you almost wanted to die or run away rather than attack.  Konami sounds, and in particular the Belmont whip rank high on my list of top favorite game sound effects.

Gameplay and Graphics

Getting knocked back?  That's just par for the course, and truthfully, it helps ground this as a Castlevania game.  Not to say that just getting knocked back automatically makes this a worthy entry into the Castlevania franchise.  If that were the case then every game that uses fireballs and jumping are basically Mario clones.  (Okay, I guess you could make that argument, but that is neither here nor there.)  What I mean is the way in which you get knocked back, while annoying, just makes it feel like a Castlevania game.  And the game needs every little chance it can to remind you that what you are playing has connections to the franchise.  Using hearts to buy stuff rather than just getting to use it as ammo?  Really?  For a sequel, it feels like Konami was a little over-ambitious.  Dashes of RPG elements with grabbing garlic here dropping it there, Picking up gems and kneeling before Zod in the right location, gathering pieces of Dracula--not bad touches, just I wanted to whip it, whip it good!  Yes, you get to whip monsters, battle through bosses and toss wooden stakes--but I guess I just was hoping for liner gameplay at the time, even if I didn't know what liner gameplay meant.  Not that I don't appreciate the attempt--well, actually, maybe I didn't appreciate the attempt!  The original Castlevania and Castlevania III felt like the same game, whereas Simon's Quest felt like an odd spin-off game that never took hold.  That said, the graphics did look like an improved and updated version in spots. The whip animation was still there and solid.  I like the splashes that appear as the fish men dove in and out of the water, which has a satisfying deep blue hue that makes me think water.  I know that might sound like stretching for praise, but sometimes companies in the 8-bit era would try to make something look like sea water with touches of green; only to end up having what looked like an ocean of slime.  Platte choices can effect how much a forest feels like a forest, and Konami knew what they were doing--at least back in the day they did.  Maybe not so much now.

aaaaaannnny who..... 

Overall Impression

I don't know why I thought I could beat this game as a kid.  Why did I think I would manage to puzzle things out with the garlic bulbs and tornadoes?  I had more times that I was bored with going back and forth aimlessly hoping to stumble on a way to progress the game than times I was making consistent progress on the game.  Other games moved along at a clip, even other non-linear games and other RPGs.  Sometimes the grinding of RPGs was dull work, but compared to this it was like I chose to get dental work rather than go see Jurassic Park on the big screen. Not to get down on myself.  I just clearly was lost every time I rented this game, and I admit as a silly kid I would rent this because not renting a game was never an option in my book.  Perhaps I should have made an exception in this case.  I like the game more as an adult than I did as a kid, but I still pick it up and remember all those times I wasted my money (and my parent's) trying to enjoy a game that clearly bored me.  Sunday morning may have meant I had to return this game to the store, but I actually felt relieved by the time it rolled around.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt returning the game.

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