Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Action Games, Castlevania, Dracula, Monster Mash, NES, Retro, Reviews, Vampire Killer

Back in the days of the NES, a lot of the higher-profile sequels didn’t set out to simply copy the gameplay of their predecessors. A lot of them tried new ideas in their second games; they were bigger, bolder and more ambitious. Very rarely did they meet with quite the same acclaim as their forefathers did, however. Super Mario Bros. 2 was literally a different game (Doki Doki Panic) repackaged with the Mario characters. Zelda 2 ditched the top-down viewpoint for side-scrolling dungeons and an RPG-style character development system. And Castlevania 2 moved from a traditional system of levels to having an open, explorable world.

Zelda 2 and Simon’s Quest have a lot in common, really. Both are much larger than their predecessors; alongside this they are both excessively cryptic (a combination of poor localization and the small amount of memory available for text on an NES cartridge). And finally, both have kind of become the black sheep of their series (at least Simon’s Quest was until crap like Harmony of Dissonance came along). However, this is where the similarities end- Simon’s Quest retained the side-scrolling, whip swinging action of the game that begat it, where Zelda 2 introduced a completely new gameplay style.

The core gameplay of Castlevania remains unchanged- you strut around the Romanian countryside, whipping things to death. However, Simon’s Quest introduces a day-to-night cycle (WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE) that complicates this task considerably. Townsfolk are only out in the daytime- zombies roam the streets of towns at night, and enemies in the woods and mountains are considerably stronger by moonlight. By the same token, however, they’re worth more hearts per kill if you fight them by night (hearts serve as money, ammunition and experience points in Simon’s Quest). Early on, you’ll need all the hearts you can get to purchase the essentials for not getting slaughtered. Once you start upgrading your whip and trading crystals the game kicks into gear and develops a sort of rhythm. You’ll fight for a few things you need, then head out into the wilds to find the mansions where Dracula’s remains have been scattered.

The game has a very bleak, lonely atmosphere in spite of the fact that it probably has the most non-monster characters of any Castlevania title (including even Order of Ecclesia). Every time you leave the safety of a town and wander off into the woods, you see the countryside overrun by monsters. Another place you might find the game to be rather empty is in the boss department. There are only three in the whole game, and of those, one is skippable. The other two must be fought to progress but are almost insultingly easy. This is kind of a disappointment- you reach the end of one of mansions and you find that no one’s guarding Dracula’s Spleen?

In any case, the game itself isn’t half as bad as its reputation holds (which is mostly due to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s original review, which points out valid flaws but James Rolfe himself holds no ill will towards the game. and later re-reviewed it as part of his collective Castlevania retrospective). The music is terrific. The cryptic, strange things that so many people say are called out in the manual and I tend to think of as sort of the townspeople being driven mad by Dracula’s curse, or some of them being deliberately difficult with Simon for apparently bringing the curse down on them all. The odd translations like “you now prosess Dracula’s rib”, are more a symptom of localization as we know it today not existing in the 1980’s.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is an experiment that would later develop into what is practically its own sub-genre. While in a post Super Metroid and Aria of Sorrow world it can be difficult to see one of the founding Metroidvania’s innovations, it stands the test of time as an atmospheric, classic blend of action game with adventure and RPG elements.

PROS: Same Castlevania action, new gameplay elements. A larger world to explore.

CONS: Cryptic messages from lying villagers. Confusing world layout. No world map.

Yeah, I know this is from the Ravenloft module. But Simon’s Quest copied the art, and it’s good art.

  1. frank says:

    man your blog’s cool as f***

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