After a successful start on the NES, a sequel to Castlevania was at hand. But just like Zelda 2 and Mario 2, Castlevania 2 would take a bit of a departure from the original, making it another black sheep that is mixed among fans. I personally enjoyed Zelda 2′s take on the series a lot (even with some brutal and punishing moments), which I feel Castlevania 2 takes a note from. In reality, it actually had already started somewhat with the previous title on MSX: Vampire killer, so they had already experimented with this formula. How well did Konami do with this installment though?
“What a horrible night to have a curse”
After the last encounter with the count, Simon became cursed by him and is now searching for his five remains that got scattered all over the land of Transylvania. This is the basic story that you will get and while that would seem like an okay setup, the game is filled with townspeople with dialogue that are poor and can even be misleading. They hardly try to create an atmosphere in line with what is going on and are simply there to maybe guide you or be a nuisance. Usually, a story with such a simple concept is glanced over, but when there is so much dialogue that tries or even doesn’t try to add to the plot and setting, it can lead to frustration. Some dialogue is at least so bad it is kinda funny, but that is all the praise it will get.
Story Score: 4/10
Are you lying to me?
Simon Belmont still controls like in the last entry on the NES, with stiff jumps, whip-attacks, and sub-weapons that are used by pressing up and attack. Taking on a non-linear style, it now has towns to visit, lands to explore and of course: castles, all done with the 2D-sidescrolling perspective. It is nice to see the familiar setting from Vampire Killer, mixed with elements from Zelda 2, and even expanded upon with the amount of equipment, including the parts of Dracula. However, what they actually do is not always clear or even told. The townspeople tend to lie a lot, making exploring and finding secrets a blind journey at times. The only thing that is for certain, is that when you buy equipment or upgrades for your whip, you will get them and you can heal in churches.
Hearts functions as currency just like in Vampire Killer and you get them from killing enemies in the world, with the stronger ones giving more. The lands are filled with enemies to kill and secrets to find, with branching paths taking you to different areas. This is a pretty good setup for traveling, but with no map, searching for a specific item or area can be a drag unless you have a notepad and a pencil at hand. The enemies do act differently at times, but are simple obstacles that can often be dealt with easily.
The same can be said for the few bosses, they are uninteresting and can even be walked past (except for the last fight). The landscapes themselves have some platforming to be dealt with and can be an okay time to traverse through, but not interesting. When it tries to be challenging however, it is usually moving platforms that are a pain to traverse over due to Simon’s stiff jumps and design that doesn’t complement our hero’s movements, but this is fortunately rare. The castles are a totally different story. These mess of stages are large and confusing, with fake blocks that you can fall through, hidden books that contain secrets which can be skipped by simply holding any button on the controller, and you must have an oak-stake to throw at the orbs at the end of the castles.
This is not to say that all of the game is bad or mediocre. The night til day-mechanic is a decent idea even if it takes a long time due to the text-boxes being slow, the equipment is cool such as using Dracula’s rib as a shield or the whip power-ups, the few sub-weapons are helpful and the magical balls at least do something interesting. You also have three lives that will support you from start from scratch. Getting a game over will make you lose all of your hearts, which I found personally fair and hearts aren’t too bad to acquire. If the game could just have been less obscure by actually telling the truth, contain less obnoxious castles and a more interesting journey through the stages, it could have gone a long way. As it stands, it is unfortunately a mess, that had potential, but not much else.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Somehow less in what should be more
The game has nice visuals, with a lot of good use of color and pretty decent sprites for enemies and townspeople. They might not be the most varied selection, but good enough to never become repetitive. The environments are often easy to distinguish from one another, even if the design of the actual stages are similar, but the castles and town can feel a bit too samey.
The soundtrack doesn’t have many entries, but what is here is really good, with the most famous and my personal favorite being “Bloody Tears”. Many tracks are still being used in later Castlevania-games and it is fantastic. The sound-samples are pretty good, but due to using holy water for differentiating fake platforms from the real ones, the sound of crushing glass will sound like torture near the end of the game. So while both the visuals and music are a bit repetitive and limited, it is still good.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Multiple ways to end this journey!
Due to the misguidance, it can take a player upwards of 6-8 hours to finish the game. If they had been more helpful, you could finish this game in about 3-4, give or take depending on you keeping notes. There are multiple endings depending on how fast you can beat the game in in-game days, but this is unfortunately not enough to warrant a second playthrough.
Extra Score: 5/10
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is a guilty pleasure of mine for being such an interesting failure, but I could never recommend it unless you love to search every nook and cranny for secrets. For anyone who wishes to give it a shot, I would recommend Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest – Redacted, a fan-made version of the original that fixes a lot of the major issues it had, making it at least a decent game. As for this, it is hard to recommend to anyone unless you love searching blindfolded.