TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Simon’s Quest’ is an NES ‘Castlevania’ misstep, but not a horrible curse
Did you do read that last part and then go “Ooooooh, spooky!” because if you didn’t, that’s something you need to work on as we make our way through the month because it totally adds to the atmosphere.
One thing that is certain is that “Castlevania,” like any tried and true longstanding franchise in gaming history, has had its ups and downs, successes and setbacks, memories and things developers and gamers alike wish they could forget. Today, we begin with a game that definitely gets the “famed” reputation of being the worst “Castlevania” game on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but is this defamation truly earned or did we just miscast this entry as the worst because it was just different?
Get your whip and holy water ready for “Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest!”
“Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest” (NES)
Despite whatever personal opinion you may have of this game, one thing is clearly undeniable – like many “Castlevania” titles, “Simon’s Quest” has some stellar tunes. With songs like “Silence of the Daylight,” “Bloody Tears,” and “Monster Dance,” the soundtrack is there to create a truly sinister, dark, and evil experience that exemplifies what the “Castlevania” franchise is all about.
What is most impressive about this, and thus the most iconic, is how the music changes with the time of day; so many gamers prepared for the hell of battle whenever Simon uttered the words that would go down in gaming history: “What a horrible night to have a curse.” The sound effects are nothing truly notable, led by the crack of Simon’s whip, but there almost doesn’t need to be, as the soundtrack carries the game along.
While perhaps muddy in spots, “Castlevania II” definitely captured the dreary feeling of the environments you’re in; you feel as if you’re entering a world that has been ravaged by monsters. I do feel that the towns are a bit too repetitive in nature, and the enemies a bit lacking in variety though, overall, this really captures the spirit of “Castlevania,” at least in the sense of desperation in doing what’s right and ridding this world of evil.
Obviously, I love the descent into night in the game, something that I don’t recall other games doing at the time. A lot of the color scheme in this game is dark, macabre, and bleak, with a lot of deep purples, midnight blues and, of course, black.
Prior to “Castlevania II” coming out, gamers were introduced to the franchise in a very simple, yet effective way. In straight up linear fashion, you rid rooms of enemies, and then, after a few levels of this, did battle with a boss, and that was it – until you reached your final battle with Dracula. While this may appear too simple by today’s standards, just the fact that you were doing battle with iconic monsters in hopes of facing off against the Prince of Darkness was enough to keep gamers entertained and, yes, frustrated, for a long time.
Enter “Simon’s Quest.” You can tell developers were almost trying to cram as much unnecessary stuff into the game as they could, perhaps in hopes of making it stand out from the crowded pack of great titles out at the time. That notion may seem OK on paper, but the fact is “Castlevania II” is not a regular linear game, as you can almost do as you wish. However, and this is where the game loses its flavor, you are forced to obtain certain items or perform specific tasks in order to progress that, since there was no Internet, you either had to find answers in Nintendo Power or through frustrating trial and error.
In addition, while it wasn’t as linear as its predecessor, it still boggled many minds because, eventually, you became lost, wondering if you missed something and having to double back before trudging forward. Let me tell you, traveling in this game made you feel like you were taking each plodding step with Simon (who was no sprinter), making you wish you had the old “Castlevania” back.
“Castlevania II” tried something fresh and new, but it got stale and boring real quick. Obviously, a lot of NES games we have fond memories of possess that love/hate dynamic, a frustrating game that isn’t so frustrating that you want to stop playing. This game doesn’t fall into that category, as even one of my customers at the shop, Mickey, who played this game again as an adult told me, it still isn’t fun to play. To me, this was a definitive step back in the franchise that thankfully was rectified in the final NES “Castlevania” game, “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.”
Thanks for taking this nostalgic quest with me. Join me again next week when we take a look at “Super Castlevania IV!”
Until then, remember, just because it’s a vampire game doesn’t mean it has to suck. Game on!