Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

Review: Monster Bash

bandicam-2017-06-29-23-56-48-914.jpgMonster Bash was one of those early 90’s games by Apogee, former king of weird PC platformers and shoot-em-ups. I think this was about the last game like this that they did before they became 3D Realms and started doing nothing but first person shooters (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Monster Bash tells the thrilling story of Johnny Dash, whose dog has been stolen by the evil Count Chuck, a powerful, vampiric leader of the undead who I guess has nothing better to do but kidnap all the local cats and dogs for…reasons.

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Who exactly put these signs here?

You’ll have to slingshot your way through a slew of creepy locations, none of which you can escape from without finding and rescuing every pet first. This is all looks and sounds rather simple, but don’t let Johnny‘s silly pajamas fool you, this game actually gets pretty difficult pretty quickly. There are a lot of strange and deadly enemies trying to stop your progress, but that’s not really the biggest problem for Johnny. No, the greatest challenge is making your way through the maze-like levels without killing yourself on the many, many spikes, water pits, and various other traps, all of which deal out pretty heavy amounts of damage.

There are occasional health refills and extra lives to be found if you take the time to find them in the many well-hidden secret areas scattered throughout each stage, but you’ll need to be careful here as well. Health refills give you your entire life bar back, but their rarity means that you have to be careful to not touch them if you don’t need them yet, or you might end up in trouble later down the line.

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Just a quick trip to hell to save a few cats and dogs.

Oddly enough, there’s no way to see how many lives you have left either. You just have to assume that you’re always on your last one and try to get through each level without losing any lives that you haven’t regained before the exit. In fact, you really should probably just play this on Easy and/or use the +5 lives cheat (press Z+F10!), or you’re going to be replaying levels a lot later on, to the point that you may become too frustrated to continue.

Also to be found in the many secret areas are many secret skulls and candy pick-ups. These are all entirely optional and only serve to add to your score (which is also strangely absent from the UI). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hunting these things down anyway though. Finding all the cleverly hidden secrets in this can be pretty fun and satisfying, despite the lack of any real rewards.

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I don’t even know what this place is. Some kind of evil lumber mill?

Also worth mentioning are the interesting backgrounds and monster designs/animations (disclaimer: the screenshots here appear a little smoother than the game actually is due to me using the high quality filter in DOSBox, which does some automatic edge smoothing). The sound and music are also very nice for their time, with fittingly satisfying monster and monster death noises and some really catchy midi tracks.

Overall, it’s not exactly an essential title that everyone should immediately rush out and play, but it’s a nice little classic DOS platformer that is quite effective at scratching that particular nostalgic itch, should you ever find such a need arising.

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“Now I’m in the stew. Oh poo.”

 

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You like Castlevania, don’t you? Part III

Super_Castlevania_IV_North_American_SNES_box_artSuper Castlevania IV finally brought Castlevania to the 16-bit world and did quite a fine job of it. Konami really went all out with this one, taking advantage of every bit of the Super Nintendo’s new technology. The backgrounds are highly detailed, animated, and often multi-layered. The vaunted parallax scrolling is also applied to the level in some interesting ways, making for some great background effects and that one very cool, but very short, level where the rooms start rotating.

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Manual whip control. The greatest new feature that you’ll never use.

Once again there’s a killer soundtrack too. I probably say that about just about every Castlevania game, but man, they just have some really good soundtracks, and this one is one of my favorites out of all of them.

Beware though, this game gets ferociously difficult in the later levels, with some very nasty platforming segments, and a final level that throws four super tough bosses in a row at you. At least they give you a password system though, so you don’t have to do it all in one sitting.


21305_frontCastlevania Bloodlines is an unusual, but enjoyable entry in the Castlevania series. This time you’re in the early 1900’s (over 100 years after the previous games…and all of the sequels, which went right back to the 1800’s), facing off against…Dracula’s niece? I didn’t know Dracula even had a brother. He isn’t mentioned at all here, but I’m just going to assume that his name is Giuseppe the Impaler.

Anyway, it’s a decent game, with some nice visual design and music like usual, but I can’t help but get that feeling that this was another outsourced title. There are so many weird little changes and so few recognizable enemies that it feels slightly out of place.

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LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO THE CARPET! BAD DOG!

It feels like an odd step backwards too, after Super Castlevania IV. While it’s still a perfectly enjoyable and well made game, it can’t help but feel a little clunky and clumsy compared to all the fancy enhancements in the previous game. You can also choose to play as some random new guy with a spear, but I don’t know why you would really want to do that in a Castlevania game.


250px-Dracula_x_(j)_frontThe next game in the series was Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, a.k.a. CastlevaniaRondo In Blood. This one only came out for the PC Engine, a.k.a. the Turbografx CD, and only in Japan. An English port was released overseas, Castlevania: Dracula X, but our filthy Eastern consoles hadn’t quite reached that level of CD-ROM gaming yet, and so we ended up with a pretty dumbed down version of the game.

Many years later we would see The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, which was much more similar to the original version, but was still very different, having been completely remade using 3D graphics. I had always heard that the original was the ultimate version, but never had a chance to play it until the modern wonders of the internet once again graced us with a translated copy.

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Because you won’t be able to understand the complex plot otherwise.

Now I finally understand. You can really see the resemblance to Symphony of the Night here (which was a direct sequel to this game, not Bloodlines, as the incorrect translation in the beginning of Symphony claims). The visual style and CD music are both amazingly similar to Symphony, though slightly less polished. The gameplay is a lot more complicated than the linear SNES version, with multiple secret paths to be found in each level, that lead to alternate levels and bosses, and a few secret maidens to rescue. There are also some anime-style animated cutscenes with full voiceovers, though these are a bit goofy.

I must say, I really do much prefer this version to either the port or the remake. It’s no Symphony of the Night, but it was a much more exciting next step for the franchise than the Super Nintendo port had led us to believe back in the day. It’s definitely a version that’s worth playing if you can get your hands on it one way or another. Turns out that the full Rondo in Blood is actually unlockable on the PSP game, so I guess I’ve actually had it right here and ready to play since uh…*looks it up*…2007?!? Oops!


Thus ends another episode of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time for Symphony of the Night with a twist, trying to force myself to play and enjoy Castlevania 64, and more!

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I forgot all about Skyblazer

At the end of the DF Retro video about the upcoming SNES mini, they discuss some of the games that they would have liked to have seen on the final roster of pack-in titles. Most are worthy but obscure titles like the platformer DoReMi Fantasy which incidentally I’d never heard of before today, but it looks pretty damn great.

But at the end of the list came a game that lit up a part of my brain I haven’t used in 20 years…

“Hold on, this rings a bell…” I thought, as gameplay from Skyblazer filled the screen. “Yep, this is definitely familar…”

I took to Google, and the more images of the game I found, the more dormant memory nodules were triggered. “Skyblazer! Yes, I had this! It was bloody great!”

Somewhere along the line I’ve completely forgotten about owning and playing this fantastic SNES game, and I still can’t remember buying it or what happened to the cartridge. But the more gameplay footage I watched, the more I remembered about the game itself. Funnily enough, it was the sounds that really brought it back – especially the weird barking noises made by the lamp boss at the end of the third level (check it out at the 5.00 mark in the video below).

It was a wonderful game, sort of a medieval fantasy version of Strider complete with wall clinging and energy blasts, although with fists and feet taking the place of fancy energy swords. There are also some impressive uses of the Super NES’s Mode 7 technology, with spinning 3D towers, morphing bosses and into-the-screen flying sections.

What a great game. I’d really love to play it again, but seemingly it’s never been rereleased on Nintendo’s Virtual Console or anywhere else. This could be because the game was published by Sony Imagesoft in Europe and the US, so there’s a chance that Sony weren’t happy about it appearing on Nintendo’s download service. Or, perhaps more likely, everyone else has completely forgotten about it, just like I did.

Still, what a shame if this game is destined to become just a footnote in gaming history. It was one of the standout games for the SNES, although it had some stiff competition – in fact, it came out just before the release of Super Metroid in early 1994, which probably didn’t help sales.

The developer, Ukiyotei, folded not long after its release, and Skyblazer was by far the standout game from their short and patchy gameography – the highlights of which include video-game versions of the limp Peter Pan spinoff Hook and Neo Geo Pocket conversions of Metal Slug. As a developer, they barely lasted five years. But they left behind an absolute gem of a game that has sadly been largely looked over.

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You like Castlevania, don’t you? Part II

castlevaniagameboyWe return to the wild world of Castlevania with The Castlevania Adventure and its sequel Belmont’s Revenge, both for the Game BoyThe Castlevania Adventure is a fun little game for what it is, but I don’t know how much anyone that didn’t already have a nostalgic itch for it would enjoy it. Being a Game Boy game naturally means that it’s been significantly simplified compared to its predecessors. The levels are extremely basic and linear, and movement is oddly slow, not even including the odd occasional lag. Sub-weapons have been removed entirely and aside from Dracula and some minor generic enemies like bats, you won’t be seeing any familiar foes or locations here. The game feels like it may have been outsourced to some people who were simply told to make a game about a guy who whips monsters. Still, it does somehow manage to have a certain Castlevania charm to it, with some interesting new creatures and some pretty catchy music.

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Look at those high-tech graphics! Eh, I guess you’d have to have been there at the time…

Belmont’s Revenge is much like the first one, simplistic and arcade-y, though with enjoyable enough gameplay and music, despite being a vomit green portable game. This time they’ve added in a level select feature, though it really doesn’t matter one bit what order you do them in, so it’s a rather pointless addition. Neither of them are what I’d call essential titles, but they’re a decent enough short burst of fun for a Castlevania freak like me.


castlevania3Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse basically ignored everything from Simon’s Quest and returned to a style more closely resembling that of the original, but with a lot of improvements. The difficulty was slightly toned down to a level that was still pretty tough, but not in a painfully punishing way like those last few levels of the original. The game was also a good deal longer than the original, especially with a new system of branching paths that split off into sections with different levels and bosses, each of varying levels of difficulty. There were eighteen unique stages and bosses all together, making it the biggest and bossiest Castlevania so far.

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I told you to stay in your grave!

Each path also contains one of three new secondary characters that you can change to at any time once you’ve recruited them, though their actual usefulness is questionable. Grant and Alucard’s climbing and flying abilities can be used as shortcuts for a few platforming parts, but none of them are particularly helpful when it comes to combat. The soundtrack is one of the very best of the 8-bit era too.


akumajo_special-boku_dracula-kuncoverWhile not an official Castlevania game, Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun, a.k.a. I’m Kid Dracula, was only released on the Famicom in Japan (though there would later be an English remake/sequel on Game Boy). I thought it would be interesting to try it out, as it seemed to be a child-like parody version of Castlevania, so I tracked down a rom that had been fan-translated into English. The first level seemed to support the theory of it being a Castlevania parody, with it being a blatant clone of classic Castlevania levels, along with cartoonish versions of famous Castlevania enemies and music, but after that the game quickly ditches the theme entirely and suddenly turns out to be a completely unrelated shooting platformer that has you hopping around the globe to a puzzling variety of locations. You will find yourself on a pyramid in the desert, or on a spaceship, or on the rooftops of New York, fighting UFOs, blue Spider-Man clones, and having a quiz battle with the Statue of Liberty because that’s the boss fight of that level for some reason.

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Galamoth (or Garamoth, depending on the translation)

It was certainly a…unique experience, but not a particularly memorable or enjoyable one. I wouldn’t play it again and I wouldn’t call it a Castlevania game at all (thanks a lot, WikiPedia). The only thing of debatable worth that I learned from all of this is that apparently that secret super-tough boss in Symphony of the Night is actually supposed to be the main bad guy of the same name from I’m Kid Dracula, though there doesn’t seem to really be any resemblance other than the name. Oh wellllllllll.


Thus ends another installment of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time, when the Belmonts graduate to 16 bits of power!

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Review: Blood 2 – The Chosen

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For some reason I never got around to Blood 2 back in the day, or any day since. Perhaps its bad reputation had been subconsciously swaying my opinion about it? Who can say? Whatever the cause, I figured it was time to finally give it a shot and see if what they say about the game is true.

I literally had not taken a single step in Blood 2 before I ran into my first problem. Upon starting the game, it immediately and unceremoniously dropped me into a subway train and told me to track down Gideon. What? How did I get on this train? Who in the world is Gideon? What is going on?

I felt like I had missed something. Maybe I accidentally skipped an intro cutscene somewhere, so I quit and started again. Still nothing. I tried YouTube and sure enough, an intro scene existed (though it didn’t explain a whole lot more), it just wasn’t playing for me at all for some reason. Oh well, there couldn’t be that much story in a game like this anyway, could there? I continued on.

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I…don’t think that’s how blood works…

As it turned out, there was a good deal more story to this one than the original game, but unfortunately it was almost entirely as vague and incomprehensible as the beginning. Gideon is the new head evil guy, and you have to stop him because…he’s evil and stuff, and then one of his lieutenants, I couldn’t tell you which one since they never bother naming them, tries to shoot you with an experimental singularity gun, which instead of killing you causes a portal to open and this person jumps out. You apparently know this person and call them Gabriel, but she corrects you and says to call her Gabrielle, then immediately runs away. Do I know this person? Did they just change gender for some reason? What the hell is going on?? This is a story?

Characters just pop in and out like this on a semi-regular basis, with no explanation whatsoever of who they are or whose side they’re on or what their motivation is. Once, a new character was introduced by him suddenly teleporting into the scene next to me, where he just started talking to me like we were old friends, yet no name or explanation was ever given, we just shared some cryptic banter for a minute before he disappeared just as suddenly as he had appeared and things carried on like nothing had happened. The only thing these characters seem to have in common is that your character interacts with them as if they’re very familiar to them and as if the audience should be very familiar with them too, but I don’t understand how. Later I finally came to realize that these mystery characters were the other members of the group that you were with in the very first cutscene of the original Blood, one where they all died and were never seen or mentioned again afterwards. Oh. Great.

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“Oh boy, a boss fight!”…is not something you’re going to be saying while playing this.

Other aspects of the game followed in a similarly confusing and frustrating fashion. While the core gunplay was fun enough while it was working, it was often tarnished by bizarre bugs like leaping enemies jumping on your head, and I mean they would literally jump up and stand there on an invisible platform atop your head and just be walking around up there until you finished them off. There was also some really bizarre hit detection going on, with enemies who would sometimes take seven sniper rounds to the head to finish off, but sometimes if you just shoot them once in the leg they’d instantly die.

Then there’s the level design. Boy, I sure hope you like office buildings, warehouses, alleyways, and sewers, because that’s 90% of the game, just the most generic, uninteresting locations imaginable. I would expect this from G.I. Urban Action Force 5 or whatever generic military shooter of the nineties, but not from a sequel to a game that was entirely made up of horror movie references. In fact, there are almost no horror references to be seen here either, and instead of spitting out Evil Dead quotes, Caleb has now taken to making bizarre references (I hesitate to call them jokes) to 1950’s pop culture, such as Howdy Doody and Frank Sinatra.

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This is the head evil guy, Gideon. I don’t even watch wrestling, but I’m 99% sure that that’s just a picture of Ric Flair…

I just don’t know what they were thinking with this game. I had hoped that its bad reputation was exaggerated due to it being a little technologically outdated compared to other shooters of the era, but it seems that history was not wrong about Blood 2. Without all the clever level design and iconic horror references that made the original a classic, all that remains is an unrecognizable, generic mess that’s mediocre at best, if you’re feeling really generous. The developers have apparently long since admitted that this game was rushed out in an incomplete state in order to compete with Half-Life and Unreal and all the other much better shooters coming out in the late nineties, the logic of which is utterly baffling. Fortunately, Monolith survived as a developer and seems to have learned from this mistake, as they’re still around and still producing quality games today, but this misstep would prove to be the death of the Blood series, and a gruesome death indeed. R.I.P. Blood!

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Review: Blood

bloodcoverSpeaking of nineties shooters, how about Blood? Published by 3D Realms and developed by gaming legends Monolith Productions, Blood answers the question that no one asked; ‘What if Duke Nukem 3D was a comically violent horror game’?

Created with the Build Engine not long after Duke Nukem 3D, it’s impossible to not see the strong similarities between the two on the surface. From the weapon and items systems, to the structure of the levels, to the mini-map, it almost feels like a high-end mod. However, where Duke took his cues from sci-fi and action pop culture of the eighties and nineties, Blood instead found its inspiration in the horror movies of the same era.

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Excuse me sir, have you given any thought to donating blood?

Blood‘s story is pretty negligible. You’re Caleb, an evil undead guy who is betrayed by his even more evil undead master, and so you must wreak bloody vengeance upon him. That is literally the entire plot right there. The many levels between you and your master have little to no relation to each other and are mostly made up of a random selection of set-pieces ripped straight from popular horror movies. This is all Blood is, really, just a big crazy quilt of all the developers’ favorite horror movies. You’ll travel to sinister temples, grimy slaughterhouses, Camp Crystal Lake, zombie filled malls, and more, and find Easter eggs ranging from The Shining to A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Along Caleb’s journey you’ll battle quite the menagerie of foes, some of which will surely be quite familiar, such as the robed midgets that look suspiciously like the ones from the Phantasm series or aggressive severed hands that taunt you with ‘I’ll swallow your soul’! Caleb’s dialogue is also entirely and unapologetically made up of direct movie quotes, mostly consisting of lines by Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame.

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Don’t underestimate the power of that flare gun.

Naturally, in the process of this journey you will commit many a violent atrocity upon your fellow undead. Shooting, stabbing, igniting, and exploding your way through them in ways that would make Shang Tsung blush. Assuming you can survive that long, anyway. This is one tough game. Blood‘s baddies are incredibly aggressive, prone to ambushes, and dish out damage like it’s on clearance sale. Luckily the game offers manual saving, because you are going to die, a lot. Any given corner turned without care can easily end in a swift death. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with your enemies’ weaknesses too, as certain weapons are much more effective on some enemies than others.

Fair warning, there are some aspects of Blood‘s design that tarnish the experience a bit. The controls are terribly archaic, forcing you to go back to the ancient ways of putting your right hand on the arrow keys and your left hand on Ctrl, Alt, Space, and etc. There is a mouse look feature that can be enabled, but it’s too jerky and imprecise to be relied on. The lack of identification of locked doors on the mini-map and overabundance of key types (there are SIX of ’em!) can make some of the larger, more labyrinthine levels quite the exercises in patience too.

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Hot dogs, anyone?

That said, while it doesn’t quite live up to my seventeen year old self’s belief that it was the greatest game of all time, twenty years later it still holds up well enough to live up to its legend of being a classic game that can be enjoyed by fans of challenging, over-the-top nineties shooters and of old-timey horror movies.

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You like Castlevania, don’t you?

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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.

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[Insert obligatory Devo joke here]

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.


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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.

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What a horrible night to have a curse.

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.


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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.

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This guy will take 60% of your health just by breathing on you.

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!

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