Welcome to You like Castlevania, don’t you?, my sort-of-answer-to The Year of Zelda. I’ll be playing every game in the series that I can get my grubby little hands on for fun and profit (they pay me in VHS tapes full of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown episodes).
Naturally, it all begins with the original Castlevania for NES where we first encountered Simon Belmont and his quest to severely whip the behinds of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy, and more. In retrospect, Simon may have been ahead of his time and trying to spare us all from the Universal Monsters movie universe. It’s a decent game, but much like many first wave NES games, it’s noticeably more clumsy and rough than the sequels it would spawn, and it’s easily the hardest game in the whole series.
Combat is clunky, enemies are vicious (especially the bosses), health is scarce, and there are soooo many insta-death pits for you to fall or be knocked into (you WILL learn to hate the infamous flying Medusa heads). On the bright side it has an amazingly iconic soundtrack and for those of us that were around at the time, it has that irresistible flavor of nostalgia that still makes it worth a rare replay.
Simon’s Quest was an interesting next step, though the changes were a little jarring at the time. This was one of that wave of first generation NES sequels where they decided to try something massively different than the original, much like Zelda 2 and Super Mario Bros. 2 (sorta). It actually turned out pretty well though, despite some laughable translations and the poorly explained leveling system. The game just lets you run wild in the “open world” and you’re pretty much on your own figuring out which is the right way to go and exactly what the hell it is you’re even trying to do. It had been so long since I played this one that I actually had to make a little map to keep track of things. Little did we know that these light RPG aspects would return again someday to become the norm for the series.
The only real downsides of the game are the severe lack of bosses and the fact that a few times the clues you get regarding directions are completely wrong due to overseas translation issues. It still holds up pretty well overall though.
Oh, you’ve never heard of the arcade game Haunted Castle? Well, there’s a good reason for that (aside from the fact that I’ve never seen this game in a single arcade in my entire life). This is possibly the most sadistic game I’ve ever played. It’s a game that’s blatantly designed to make you fail miserably and quickly. I’m surprised they even bothered putting all the levels in because there’s isn’t a chance in hell that anyone actually finished this game in the arcade. The words difficult and punishing take on a whole new meaning here, with enemies and traps constantly coming at you from every direction, doing massive amounts of damage, making you wonder why you even have that big health bar full of 18 little bits or so when all it takes is 2-3 hits to empty it entirely. You also have an extremely limited number of continues before it suddenly cuts you off, and you don’t even get to see how many you have left, you’re just done when you’re done. Even using save state spamming, it was a struggle to get through this game.
The last level may very well be the worst level ever designed. It’s just a single bridge that starts crumbling behind you as soon as you step on it, and you just have to keep running forward while bats rush towards you at random times, from a terribly awkward angle that you can only really successfully counter with a moving jump attack. If you miss and more than a few of the bats hit you, you’ll die. If you slow down to try to aim more than a few times, you’ll fall and die instantly. This goes on for around 2 minutes straight, which doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but it’s a terribly long time to be forced to repeat the same precise actions over and over again without fail, especially when you only get one chance at it. If you should somehow manage to make it across the longest bridge of all time, you’ve still got a multi-formed Dracula boss fight to get through at the end. Good luck with that. It was interesting to see once, but I can’t imagine that I would ever bother touching this one again.
That’s all for this installment of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time for Game Boy shenanigans, the Japanese adventures of Kid Dracula, and more!