Game Corner: Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: July 1991
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
So far, since I started working my way through the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I’ve realised two things: first, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987) was easily the worst of the Castlevania titles released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, second, Castlevania: The Adventure (ibid, 1989) was a disappointingly frustrating debut for the series on the Game Boy. Yet, despite this, Konami returned to everyone’s favourite monochrome handheld in 1991, just a few months before the release of the fantastic Super Castlevania IV (ibid, 1991). By this time, the Game Boy had finally made the jump to colour and developers were actually able to put its limited capabilities to good use, even as its lifecycle began to wind down, but does Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge manage to outperform it’s handheld predecessor or is it more of the same, exasperating gameplay?

The Plot:
Fifteen years after defeating Count Dracula in Castlevania: The Adventure, Christopher Belmont, of the renowned Belmont family of vampire hunters, is forced to take up his legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and confront Dracula once again after the Count’s evil spirit corrupts both Christopher’s son, Soleil, and erects four castles to consolidate his power once more.

Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players once again take control of Trevor and Simon’s ancestor, Christopher Belmont. Luckily, age has actually improved Christopher’s performance rather than slowing him down as, while he still limps along in the trademark Belmont shuffle, his jumping mechanics are vastly improved over those seen in Castlevania: The Adventure. Now, when you jump, you no longer plummet like a stone or feel as though you’re constantly fighting against gravity in a losing battle; he still jumps backwards (often to his death) when hit and platforming can still be a tricky business, but it’s far better than in the last game, finally bringing the controls back on par with…the first Castlevania (ibid, 1986).

Battle with the whip or the returning sub-weapons!

Christopher once again battles with his whip, the Vampire Killer, which can again be upgraded to be both longer and to shoot fireballs as in the last game. Unfortunately, he can still only attack in the direction he is facing, meaning you’ll have to jump or use ledges to dispose of airborne enemies…or make use of the game’s sub-weapons. Yep, conspicuous by their absence in their last game, sub-weapons return here and, while we only get two of them, they’re the two I’ve used the most in the series thus far (the Holy Water and the axe). As always, you can whip candles to collect hearts, which once again act as the ammo for your sub-weapon due to the debut of meat into the Game Boy series; however, in my playthrough, I never actually found a single piece of health-restoring meat and had to settle for cheesing save states and having my health bar refilled after besting each of the game’s bosses. Like in the last game, you can also grab coins to increase your score and 1Ups to earn extra lives, and this game also features the debut of the traditional door transitions from one area to another, again bringing it more in-line with its NES counterparts.

Some castles have you travelling left to right, which is always a weird experience.

Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a notable return to form for the Castlevania series in that, of the two Game Boy titles, it is the one that most closely replicates its NES counterparts. Yet, like its predecessor, the game is still short on stages; you’ll visit four castles (Cloud, Rock, Crystal, and Plant), each of which can be selected in any order from the main menu. While it doesn’t really matter which order you take on the castles, each has different enemies and gameplay mechanics to overcome. Take on the Plant and Crystal castles, for example, and you’ll be tasked with travelled from the right-side of the screen to the left, which goes against almost every instinct in my body. I found Rock Castle to be the best one to start with as it has the easiest boss, enemies, and level layout, while Cloud Castle was one of the hardest takes to the inclusion of the Night Stalker enemy. Regardless, once you’ve cleared the four castles, a fifth, Dracula’s Castle, rises up and presents the game’s toughest challenge.

Belmont’s Revenge is all about the ropes.

Like its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is an extremely vertically-orientated videogame; Christopher clambers up and down ropes, rather than taking staircases, to reach higher and lower areas of each castle. Luckily, as he’s often once again faced with walls of spikes looking to impale him, he can now quickly slip down a rope to quickly clear these obstacles, but he’ll also be tasked with jumping from one rope to another, which can be a tricky task. The biggest hindrance to this is that Christopher won’t jump from his rope if he doesn’t have a clear path so you’ll have to make sure to manoeuvre Christopher beyond the edge of the stage or risk taking damage. As part of this, Christopher can now use spider webs to clear gaps; spiders will descend and ascend down a web line and you’ll have to use your weapons to kill them, leaving yourself a series of lines to jump to. As with all Castlevania games, the enemies respawn, so, if you mess up, you can just respawn the spiders by walking a little off-screen so you can try again. The breaking and collapsing platforms of Castlevania: The Adventure also make a return; you’ll again have to contend with Big Eye’s exploding and destroying bridges though, for the most part, you’ll simply drop to a marshy layer below. While this does slow your forward momentum, it’s still preferable to dropping to your immediate death. Rather than hopping from one collapsing platform to another, as in the last game, Christopher is now faced with blocks of crystal; when he lands on them, the block starts to crack; wait too long to make your move and the block will shatter, dropping Christopher to his death, meaning it’s best to plan ahead a bit and hop to safety as soon as possible. Thankfully, the auto-scrolling sections and abundance of instant-death spikes of Castlevania: The Adventure have been ditched; you’re still asked to make some difficult jumps, will have to contend with spiked platforms, and you’ll have to frantically slide away from some spiked walls but it’s nothing like in the last game.

Each castle features its own traps and hazards.

Instead, you’ll now be faced with massive weighted spikes that must have their central column destroyed in order for you to pass by safely; a similar mechanic was present in Castlevania: The Adventure but its far more prevalent here and you’ll have to risk taking some damage to use the weight’s height to reach a rope before the weight drops too low. Plant Castle also uses a blackout feature at one point; whenever you destroy a candlestick in this section, the entire background and foreground will go pitch-black, meaning it’s usually best to avoid destroying the candlesticks unless you’re confident of where you’re walking and/or jumping. Cloud Castle tweaks the rope-based mechanics of the title by having gears turn the ropes up and down in intervals; since touching the gears is liable to drain your health quite quickly, it’s best to jump from rope to rope as quickly as possible. You’ll also jump to ropes weighed down by spiked balls; as you jump to these, the weights will shift and you’ll also be at risk of taking damage from spikes or the gears unless you jump to safety. All of these gameplay mechanics and obstacles are ramped up to eleven by the time you reach Dracula’s Castle, fitting as this is the game’s most difficult level by far. However, despite some tricky platforming and the presence of some truly annoying enemies, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is far less merciless than its predecessor. Since Christopher no longer drops like a stone every single time he tries to clear even the smallest gap, it’s far easier to navigate through the game’s handful of castles which, while still limited compared to other Castlevania titles, are also much bigger than in the last game.

Graphics and Sound:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is still a Game Boy title so you can’t expect too much here but, unlike the last game, this title actually features a decent level of detail in each of its environments. Crystal Castle features a Greco-Roman aesthetic in the background and an abundance of semi-transparent crystal platforms and blocks, Rock Castle is dotted with cracks and holes for rats to leap out at you and resembles a cave-like dungeon, Plant Castle seems coated in moss and/or slime and features a quagmire-like swamp beneath its destructible bridges, and Cloud Castle (fittingly) has mountains in the background and is full of gears and pulleys.

Belmont’s Revenge has some varied and nicely detailed environments.

Dracula’s Castle begins with a fairly elaborate gated courtyard filled with statues, progresses to a rock-like dungeon, and culminates with a stained-glass throne room lined with chandeliers, portraits, and large paned windows. It’s all very elaborate and nicely detailed, giving each area is own unique look and feel, yet not being so detailed that you can’t see the sprites. Speaking of which, both Christopher and his enemies look pretty much the same as in the last game; classic, blocky little 8-bit sprites are the order of the day but, thanks to the game better balancing its limited colour palette and backgrounds, it’s much easier to see where Christopher is at any time…except when you’re forced to travel right to left, which always confuses my line of sight. Similar to Castlevania: The Adventure, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers a black-and-white, monochrome, or colour filter rather than the more detailed gradients offered by the original Game Boy Color version but, despite this, the game is noticeably faster and suffers from less (if any) sprite flickering.

A few limited cutscenes and dialogue boxes extend the game’s narrative.

Unlike its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge also features a few limited cutscenes; after clearing the four castles, Dracula’s abode dramatically rises on the map screen and, each time you visit a castle or an area of Dracula’s Castle, you’ll be treated to an animation of Christopher heading there. Additionally, after defeating later bosses, you’ll actually get some dialogue boxes pop up that give some context to the game’s events, which was a nice (and surprising) touch. Similarly, the game features a fairly decent and catchy soundtrack; not only does each castle have its own theme, when you progress far enough into the castle the music will switch to a more ominous tune to help keep things interesting as you play.

Enemies and Bosses:
Every enemy from Castlevania: The Adventure makes a return in this sequel, meaning you’ll still be going up against giant eyeballs, sloppy Mud Men, annoying crows, and pizza-spitting globby monsters. The Under Mole boss from the last game is recycled as the regular rat enemies, which leap out at you from holes just like that boss did, and the last game’s worst enemy, the Night Stalker, returns more frustrating than ever as it is nigh-impossible to dodge his flying sickles without taking damage. There are some new enemies on offer here as well, though; there’s a giant bat that, when destroyed, results in two smaller, regular bats buzzing around you until you take them out as well; skeletons make their Game Boy debut, here clambering up and down and jumping to and from ropes erratically whilst throwing bones at you, and you’ll also have to contend with jellyfish-like enemies who soak up damage like a sponge and drain your hearts when touched. Perhaps the most interesting new enemy is the Cave Snail; these are dormant until you make the lights go out in Planet Castle, when they’ll unfurl and plod towards you. They’re not the most difficult, exciting, or sexy enemy but it’s an interesting gameplay mechanic, if nothing else. Aside from the Night Stalker, you may also have difficulty whenever you face off with the dagger-throwing Lizard Men but, once you learn their pattern, it’s pretty easy to safely avoid them as they hop around chucking daggers at you.

Belmont’s Revenge has some massive bosses.

Bosses in Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge are a step up from the last game in terms of their size, variety, and threat; while the armoured Iron Doll, statue-like Twin Trident, and teleporting wizard Dark Side aren’t too much of a challenge, you’ll also face the two-headed Angel Mummy, which is a skeletal creature that has fused to a wall, takes up the entire right-side of the screen, and launches both boomerang-like energy waves and fireballs at you, making it perhaps the most difficult of the regular bosses. The Bone Dragon can be a bit of a bastard as well; this is where the auto-scrolling comes back with a vengeance and you’ll be forced to lumber ahead so that you can avoid the dragon’s bony body, spiked tail, and land a few hits to its big ugly head.

Those spheres make this battle with Dracula one of the toughest so far.

Once you reach Dracula’s Castle, you’ll have to battle Christopher’s son, Soleil, who has been possessed by Dracula’s corrupting influence. The toughest boss of the game so far, Soleil not only throws daggers across the screen that can rain down on you, he attacks with his own whip and can absorb a great deal of punishment. Luckily, his pattern is quite easy to predict so you can pre-emptively toss Holy Water at him to damage him when he’s standing still and get a few hits in with your whip at the same time. After freeing Soleil, Christopher goes on to battle Count Dracula once more in an area strikingly similar to the one they fought in in Castlevania: The Adventure (another nice call-back). While Dracula only has the one form this time around, he’s far tougher than before as, this time, he surrounds and protects himself with a series of spheres, blasting them out in a spiral pattern as he teleports around the spiked-lined arena. As always, you can only damage his head and, due to the nature of his teleportation animation and the aforementioned spheres, you have a very limited window to land a hit and get to safety. As a result, the axe is a must-have item for this boss as it allows you to get into a safe position and still hit Dracula without risking the jump to a higher platform but, even then, this was one of the hardest of the 8-bit Dracula boss battles for me.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Everything for the last game makes a return here, meaning the Christopher can still throw fireballs out of his whip once it’s fully powered up. These do feel slightly nerfed than in Castlevania: The Adventure, though, as they’re slower and can’t be thrown successively (this, however, does seem to have improved the game’s sprite flickering and performance). You also get the axe and the Holy Water as sub-weapons, which is a welcome return, and, while you could complain about the lack of other Castlevania sub-weapons, they’re not needed thanks to the versatility of Christopher’s whip.

Additional Features:
Like pretty much every Castlevania videogame, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge features a “Hard Mode” that, as the name suggests, offers a greater challenge. Unlike its predecessors, though, the only way to play the game’s Hard Mode is by inputting a password as beating the game simply leaves you in the “The End” graphic. Passwords can also be used to jump to the game’s various stages and bosses and grant extra lives, but don’t offer any other benefits; there’s no way to play as Soleil, for example, which is a bit of a shame. Furthermore, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection bestows upon you an Achievement after you clear the game, allows you to make liberal use of the save state feature, and apply different frames and display options to customise the game’s appearance to your liking.


The Summary:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a dramatic step up from its predecessor; featuring far more detailed and varied environments, the return of classic Castlevania tropes like the doors to new areas and sub-weapons, and proving that the Game Boy is more than capable of producing a worthy counterpart to its NES cousins. Honestly, this is the Castlevania Game Boy title we should have gotten in the first place as, rather than being a frustrating, subpar experience, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is actually relatively decent to play simply due to the fact that you don’t plummet to your death every time you jump. With far larger and layered stages, more visually striking and challenging boss battles, and a difficulty curve that is based on your level of skill and ability rather than simply (literally) weighing you down with slowdown, sprite flickering, and sloppy physics, it’s still far from surpassing its NES equivalents but Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a decent enough Castlevania title, especially for a Game Boy game.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge? Do you agree that it showed that Castlevania: The Adventure was capable of so much more or do you still rank it low on the totem pole of Castlevania titles? What was your favourite Game Boy title? Whatever your thoughts about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, or Castlevania, in general, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania: The Adventure (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1989
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
Understandably, it seemed like Nintendo had a rule of sorts back in the day: If a title was successful on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) then it was getting a port, or some kind of sister release, on the Game Boy…and Castlevania (Konami, 1986) was no different. Back then, of course, Nintendo’s Game Boy was quite the popular bit of kit; even after SEGA released their technically superior Game Gear in 1990, the Game Boy was still the go-to handheld gaming device. However, Castlevania: The Adventure (not The Castlevania Adventure, as the title seems to suggest) was an early Game Boy title and, as such, is largely subpar even compared to the NES Castlevania but is it still capable of telling a halfway decent Castlevania story or does it crash and burn in all its monochrome glory?

The Plot:
A century before Simon Belmont’s adventures in Castlevania, his ancestor, Christopher Belmont, took up the legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and went on his own journey to confront the dreaded Count Dracula.

Castlevania: The Adventure, despite its title, is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Christopher Belmont. However, just like Trevor and Simon in the series’ NES titles, Christopher is a clunky, heavy lump of meat; he trudges forwards as if walking through soggy mud, has very slow reaction times, jumps backwards upon taking damage, and has some of the most awkward jumping mechanics I’ve ever seen, to say nothing of in the Castlevania series.

Christopher’s whip can be upgraded to shoot fireballs!

When you press the jump button, Christopher does a pitiful little hop; holding it allows him to jump higher and, when combined with a direction, theoretically allows him to clear gaps…but he has a hell of a hard time doing this. Generally, when you try and clear a gap, Christopher prefers to drop like a stone to his death, meaning you can burn through your limited lives quite easily just trying to jump across a small gap. Like his counterparts, Christopher wields the Vampire Killer, a whip that you can upgrade to first make it longer and then, revolutionarily, spit out a fireball. Each time Christopher takes damage, he loses a portion of health and his whip downgrades one level, meaning you may struggle with later enemies and bosses if you take too much damage.

Castlevania: The Adventure loves breakable and falling platforms.

Due to the limited power of the Game Boy, Christopher cannot pick up sub-weapons in this game, meaning that you’re heavily reliant upon the whip’s fireball mechanic. This also means that, for the first time in the series, picking up a heart actually replenishes your health! Whipping candles also allows you to pick up coins for extra points (being granted an extra life upon every 10,000 points) and, on the rare occasion, a 1Up that gives you an extra life. And you’ll definitely need to grab these when you see them as Castlevania: The Adventure is one tough cookie, probably the most difficult of the 8-bit Castlevania’s so far. This is primarily due to three prominent gameplay mechanics: the first is the game’s use of breakable and falling platforms. In one particular area, you can destroy Big Eye’s, which explode upon being attacked and take out a section of a bridge. In many other areas, Christopher must jump from one platform to another but, upon landing, the platforms will almost immediately drop, meaning you have to have pitch-perfect timing to even attempt a clumsy jump to the next platform. The second is the game’s use of looping sections; at times, you’ll be faced with the choice of taking a higher or lower path, usually using a rope. Castlevania: The Adventure loves to have you climbing up and down ropes, for some reason, rather than climbing stairs, making for the most vertically-orientated Castlevania title thus far. Sometimes, though, you’ll simply loop around again and again because you’re supposed to take the other route; this isn’t so bad but it’s compounded by the game’s timer, which continually counts down at the top of the screen, and, of course, the fact that the game’s enemies respawn when you leave an area.

You’ll be outrunning a lot of instant-death spikes!

The third and most annoying element is the game’s use of auto-scrolling sections. The game only has four stages so, to make the third stage more difficult and annoying (and, no doubt, to pad the game out by sapping you of all your lives), the stage sees Christopher being inexorably chased by a wall of spikes. You have to climb up ropes and make tricky jumps across gaps (and on to falling platforms) to escape the rising spikes and then rush to the left past enemies and jumping from rope to rope as the spikes chase you from the right. It’s a tense, frustrating section of the game that pretty much lasts for the entirety of the third stage; the fourth and final stage might be lined with instant death spikes but at least they don’t force you to plod along as fast as Christopher’s heavy ass can take him (which is not very fast at all). Unlike every other 8-bit Castlevania title, Castlevania: The Adventure is a cruel, mercilessly cheap little platformer; no matter how good your skills are, the game’s plodding pace and insistence on having Christopher drop like a stone every time you press the jump button means that you are, more often than not, going to die at least once per stage when playing this game. Perhaps this is the reason why the game doesn’t have many enemies (well, that and the Game Boy’s lack of processing power…) and is quite generous with its health and 1Ups because the moment you try and hop across a gap, you’re probably going to plummet to your doom regardless of your skill level.

Graphics and Sound:
As a Game Boy title (and a very early Game Boy title at that), Castlevania: The Adventure is, understandably, quite bland. Each of the game’s four stages is unique in its presentation, which is honestly surprising as it would have been so much easier for the developers to have the entire game take place inside Dracula’s Castle. Instead, you’ll journey through a gloomy graveyard, a haunted forest, and different areas of the Count’s spike-filled castle, which helps keep the game visually interesting stage by stage.

Castlevania: The Adventure looks quite good…in colour…

As for the game’s sprites, Castlevania: The Adventure actually does a pretty decent job of replicating the aesthetics of its 8-bit counterpart; unfortunately, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers the original, black-and-white version of the title, which is a shame as the Game Boy Color version is much easier on the eyes. Even with the Collection’s colour filter, Christopher struggles to stand out from his surroundings and enemies and the game suffers from slowdown and blurriness, which leads to some noticeable sprite flickering, all of which only makes the difficult platforming even more frustrating. Surprisingly, the game has quite a decent little soundtrack; each area has its own catchy themes (with the first stage’s “Battle of the Holy” being a standout track), which, again, is surprising as I would have understood if the developers had just used one or two tracks throughout the game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Castlevania: The Adventure manages to separate itself from its 8-bit counterparts by featuring a few different enemies; sure, you’ll still have to contend with bats and variations of the crows and fireball-spitting bone pillars, but, rather than being faced with waves of skeletons, zombies, and axe-throwing knights, you’re faced with some unique foes. Christopher battles giant eyes that explode on contact, the shuffling Creeper, variations of the mud men (who don’t split into pieces and are more like the old zombie enemies), annoying little worms that can curl into balls to attack you, and perhaps the game’s most annoying enemy, the Night Stalker. Like the axe knights, the Night Stalker tosses a projectile at you (in this case a sickle) either up high or down low; what makes this guy so annoying, though, is that the sickle will circle around and you’ll have to either awkwardly try and jump over it or desperately try to duck under it in time, meaning the fireball whip is highly recommended against these guys.

The game’s bosses aren’t much of a threat, even when they appear as regular enemies.

As the game only features four stages, you’ll only have to battle four bosses, none of which are particularly difficult. The game throws a wrench in the works by having Gobanz, the armour-clad boss of the first stage who can repel your fireballs (they won’t hurt you though) and wields a retractable spear, pop up as a regular enemy in the final stage but, as long as you attack his head from a distance, he’s not much of a threat. The game even cheaps out a bit by having the Under Mole simply be a gauntlet against a near-endless wave of the creatures but it’s pretty simple to stay completely safe from danger and destroy them as their pattern is pitifully predictable.

Though he has two forms, Dracula is a bit of a pushover here.

The game’s most difficult bosses are easily the Death Bat and the two-stage finale against Dracula. After you destroy Dracula’s human form, he’ll transform into a giant bat and send three smaller bats out to damage you; this battle also takes place over a pit of spikes but, for the most part, its pretty simple to camp out on a platform for both bosses and deal some decent damage before dodging or switching your position, meaning their actual threat is minimal, at best.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Whip at candlesticks and you may produce an orb; collect one to make the Vampire Killer longer and another to have it shoot fireballs. You can also grab a Cross to receive a generous invincibility but that’s about it for power-ups. Collect coins for points; you’ll get an extra life for every 10,000 points and, the more enemies you destroy, coins you collect, and faster you beat a stage, the more points you’ll receive as a bonus. Otherwise, that’s pretty much all there is.

Additional Features:
As is a tradition in the Castlevania series, once you defeat Dracula and sit through the game’s credits, you’ll be deposited back into the first stage only, this time, you’ll be playing in “Hard Mode”. Every time you beat the game, you replay it again and again, with the enemy’s dishing out greater and greater damage each time for an added challenge. Unfortunately, there is no password system for this title, though you are given an infinite number of continues if (well, when) you run out of lives. As with all titles in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, you can earn an Achievement for clearing the game, use save states to cheese the game’s difficulty save your progress, and apply different frames and display options (but, sadly, there’s no colour option).


The Summary:
Castlevania: The Adventure does a decent enough job of recreating the look and feel of the first Castlevania while doing just enough (literally the bare minimum) to stand out as its own title. However, most of the features that make this game unique are the most frustrating parts of the game; omitting the sub-weapons makes the game so much tougher as you really need the fireball whip but you’ll lose it the moment you take damage and the game’s janky controls and insistence on making jumping as difficult as possible means it’s very difficult to jump and whip and clear a gap while collecting an item that much harder. With only four stages, a handful of bland enemies, and four of the franchise’s easiest boss encounters, Castlevania: The Adventure clearly struggles to get the most out of the Game Boy. As an early release, though, it was clearly hampered by the fact that other developers hadn’t yet found ways to working around the handheld’s limited capabilities and, as we have seen, the Game Boy is perfectly capable of producing decent 2D sidescrolling titles so it stands to reason that Castlevania: The Adventure could have been so much more than a slow, clunky title with a penchant for having you plummet to your death at every press of the jump button.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


Did you ever play Castlevania: The Adventure on the Game Boy? Do you give the game a pass (or, at least, some slack) because it was a Game Boy title or did you think Nintendo’s handheld was capable of producing a much better Castlevania title? What was your favourite Game Boy game back in the day? Whatever you think about the game, or Castlevania, in general, leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Super Castlevania IV (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1991
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 4, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
So, thanks to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I recently found out that Super Castlevania IV is actually a remake of Castlevania (Konami, 1986), though the US version of the game positions itself as a sequel to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987). Either way, though, Super Castlevania IV (a grandiose title I adore as it implies there was a “regular” Castlevania IV), is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) entries in the entire Castlevania series thanks to its tight controls, gameplay mechanics, soundtrack, and, of course, sporting some of the most impressive 16-bit graphics ever seen. Despite the fact that I grew up playing the Mega Drive, I’ve probably played Super Castlevania IV the most out of all the classic Castlevania games thanks to emulators and the SNES Classic Edition. Of all the games available on the SNES Classic, this is one of the only ones I actually took the time to play and beat so I was excited to jump back into it as part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.

The Plot:
When the immortal vampire Count Dracula threatens the land, Simon Belmont, of the legendary Belmont family of vampire hunters, takes up the feared whip of his ancestors, the Vampire Killer, and journeys into Dracula’s castle to end this threat.

Super Castlevania IV is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that once again casts players in the role of Simon Belmont. Unlike every Castlevania I’ve played as part of this marathon, though, Simon actually controls well in this game. And not just “well”; his control is superb and unparalleled to his predecessors thanks to the 16-bit power of the SNES.

The whip is at its most versatile in Super Castlevania IV.

For the first time, you can properly control Simon as he jumps and he doesn’t feel like he has weighted lead in his boots. As always, he attacks with the Vampire Killer, a whip that can be upgraded to a chained variant within the first few minutes of play. However, unlike in all previous Castlevania games, players can now attack in eight different directions! This means Simon can attack airborne enemies much easier thanks to his upwards and diagonal attacks and while also making short work of those beneath him. Additionally, by holding down the attack button, the whip goes limp, acting as a shield of sorts and can be manipulated by the player to damage enemies.

Some new mechanics have been added alongside the traditional Castlevania tropes.

Simon can also use the whip to swing across gaps and, of course, to destroy candles to acquire the traditional Castlevania sub-weapons, hearts (the ammo for his sub-weapons), and bags of gold for extra points. In a nice change of pace, he can also acquire a small health boost from chicken drumsticks also found in these same candles (as well as being able to find the odd pot roast by smashing breakable walls). While you can break through some walls to find hidden areas, or will often find power-ups and bonuses hidden away in the game’s stages, the branching path system of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989) is gone, replaced by a far more linear progression system, but the game’s various stages are so large and varied that I wasn’t even bothered. The game also does away with the frustrating auto-scrolling sections of Castlevania III and replaces them with far simpler (though no less exhilarating) sprints across crumbling platforms and walkways.

Mode 7 allows backgrounds and sprites to dynamically rotate and expand.

The majority of Super Castlevania IV is spent fighting your way towards Dracula’s Castle rather than journeying through it as in the original Castlevania. This takes Simon through some stunning and varied environments, each of which is populated by the usual traps, ghouls, and ghosts of the Castlevania series but also bolstered by some impressive graphical elements. You’ll go through gate doors in chain fences to explore the background of a stage, swing across gaps, leap across swinging chandeliers, and contend with a rotating background thanks to the SNES’s “Mode 7” capabilities. This graphics mode was further employed not only to rotate certain parts of levels in dynamic fashion, but also bolsters some of the boss battles; Simon will encounter the biggest, most complex bosses of the series so far in this game and they’re made all the more impressive by the way they expand or contract thanks to the added power of the SNES.

Thanks to tightened controls, Simon no longer feels like a lump of clay.

As always, a lot of Simon’s quest will involve him travelling through gothic environments; luckily, platforming has never been better. Simon still flies backwards upon being attacked, which can still send him careening down bottomless pits or into deadly spikes, but the flexibility of Simon’s attack range makes it far easier to strike enemies while making tricky jumps. Additionally, it’s much easier to ascend and descend staircases in this game than in Castlevania III; there was no accidental plummeting to my death when trying to do something as simple as going down stairs in this game and, even better, Simon can even “moonwalk” and is far less open to attacks when on stairs thanks to the flexibility of his whip.

Graphics and Sound:
Unsurprisingly, Super Castlevania IV was the best the series had ever looked at that point. Crisp, highly detailed sprites and environments are the order of the day as the game takes full advantage of the SNES’s vastly improved graphics power and colour palette. Backgrounds are alive with animation and additional elements, enemies pop out from behind background obstacles, and Simon and his gothic surroundings are finally fully realised in fantastic detail.

The game can handle multiple enemies and/or effects with only minimal slow down.

Thanks to the added power of the SNES and the Mode 7 graphics, the game can handle multiple enemies and projectiles on screen at once; though there is, admittedly, some slow down in some areas with more graphical effects than others (the rotating corridor springs to mind), it’s nowhere near as bad as in the 8-bit titles and there’s never any sprite flickering here. As for music, Super Castlevania IV has some of the most memorable tunes in the series. Even better, by the time you reach Dracula’s Castle, the game will bust out 16-bit renditions of classic 8-bit tracks like “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears”. The added power of the SNES really bolsters the creepy, gothic atmosphere of the game, allowing for weather and sound effects to punctuate the catchy, energetic soundtrack.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being as it was intended as a remake of Castlevania, all of the classic and traditional Castlevania enemies make their 16-bit debut in Super Castlevania IV. Simon primarily contends with skeletons; some will just walk back and forth, some pop out from the background, some throw bones at him, some leap at him and attack with whips, the red variants can reform after being destroyed, and the gold variants are tougher to destroy. He’ll also be swarmed by bats, Medusa Heads, knights who attack with lances or throw axes at either Simon’s head or crotch, and mud men who break into progressively smaller variants the more you attack them. There are some new enemies to content with here, however; the amusingly named “Mr. Hed” (which is a bloodied, disembodied horse’s head that attacks like a Medusa Head), ghosts, floating, severed hands, possessed caskets and dinner tables, and swarms of vipers that spontaneously spawn at Simon’s feet at the most inappropriate times. You’ll also contend with frogs and bothersome little gremlins, who jump around erratically, annoying little hedgehog-like creatures that roll into spiked balls, dogs that rush at you at high speed, and even enemies that emerge from the walls and scenery to grab or injure you.

Some bosses are tougher than others, though at least Death has a more forgiving attack pattern.

Super Castlevania IV’s bosses that range from ridiculously easy (like the skeletal horseman from the first stage and the giant bat made entirely of gold coins from the ninth stage), the visually impressive (the massive golem Koranot, which grows so large it fills the entire screen), and the down-right frustrating (I’m looking at you, Slogra!) You’ll also notice that a lot of the bosses from past Castlevania games return here, rendered in all their 16-bit glory: we’ve got twin-headed, fire-breathing dragons, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Medusa Queen and, of course, the Grim Reaper. Unlike in the 8-bit titles, though, while Death is one of the more troublesome bosses, it is much easier to attack and dodge his scythes and he has a clear attack pattern this time around, making it a challenging encounter but not one I wanted to rage-quit over. Before you can even face Dracula, you’ll have to endure a gauntlet of three bosses: Solgra (who is a massive pain in the ass until you learn to dodge, duck, and jump out of his wide-reaching attacks and hit box), Gaibon (a gargoyle-like creature who, despite having a second, faster form, is a joke compared to Solgra), and the aforementioned Grim Reaper. While you might think that this will leave you at a disadvantage for the final boss, there is a well-known hidden staircase just before this battle where you can refill your health and hearts to give you a fighting chance.

Watch out for Dracula’s lightning attack and fry his ass!

As always, Dracula’s weak spot is his head; this time, however, he initially teleports across this throne room in beams of light and attacks with a spread of fireballs. With the boomerang, you can increase your chances of hitting his weak spot and concentrate on using Simon’s limp whip to block these projectiles; once you’ve done enough damage, Dracula spawns two flaming skulls that follow Simon around. You can destroy them relatively easily but still have to be wary of their splash damage; luckily, though, unlike other Dracula fights, you’ll be able to pick up a little bit of health during this battle, increasing your chances. You’ll also need to use the limp-whip technique to shield yourself from a smaller fireball that blasts projectiles in a circular motion and, after you’ve damaged Dracula enough, he’ll assume a more demonic visage and try to fry you alive with four columns of lightning. Standing between them, you can attack his head and, when his health is depleted, the morning sun will break through the castle windows and destroy the Count.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
All the standard Castlevania power-ups and pick-ups are available here; you can upgrade Simon’s whip three times, acquire the ability to throw two or three sub-weapons in quick succession, destroy all enemies on screen with the Rosary, and briefly turn invincible. All the same sub-weapons return in Super Castlevania IV in exactly the same way you’d expect; this time around, I favoured the axe and the boomerang and had little use for anything else. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that Konami didn’t take the opportunity to bring in some new sub-weapons or Simon’s fire whip but I guess they were more concerned with tightening up Simon’s controls and gameplay and taking advantage of the SNES’s increased graphical power than changing their tried-and-true combat mechanics.

Additional Features:
As with previous Castlevania titles, Super Castlevania IV employs a password system to allow you to return to a saved game after a game over; additionally, once you finish the game, you’ll automatically return to the first stage with your score, lives, hearts, and last-used sub-weapon intact to take on the game’s “Hard Mode”. You can also earn an Achievement on the Xbox One Castlevania Anniversary Collection for finishing the game and apply the same frames and display options as the other games in the collection. In a way, it’s disappointing that Super Castlevania IV doesn’t offer more in terms of replayability (there are no additional characters or even helpful codes to input beyond the level passwords), but I would still rather come back to this title again and again than any of the previous 8-bit games (with, perhaps, the exception of Castlevania III).


The Summary:
With its tight controls and impressive 16-bit graphics, Super Castlevania IV finally allows the series to live up to the ambition it was striving for in Castlevania III and the game more than earns the its reputation as an absolute classic of the 16-bit era. I enjoy the first and third Castlevania’s but it was obvious that Konami had ambitions for their franchise that Nintendo’s 8-bit consoles just couldn’t realise; thankfully, the SNES changed that and we finally got a Castlevania game that looked, sounded, and (crucially) controlled the way they always intended. Every bit of praise you’ve heard for Super Castlevania IV is deserved; graphically, it’s on another level. It builds atmosphere brilliantly thanks to its gothic, moody environments, music, and aesthetic and the game’s difficulty builds just as naturally. All the familiar tropes and mechanics that made the Castlevania series work prior to this game are present, meaning you still have to watch out for sudden tumbles to your doom and the game requires only your very best platforming skills, making for a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable romp through the haunted hallways of Dracula’s infamous castle.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think of Super Castlevania IV? Where do you rate it in the Castlevania series? What were your favourite games on the SNES? Whatever your thoughts on Castlevania, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: December 1989
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Family Computer Disk System (Famicom), Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
After dramatically altering the straight-forward action/platforming of the original Castlevania (Konami, 1986) with the awkward and frustrating Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987), Konami went back to the drawing board for the third outing and, thankfully, opted to return to the formula that worked so well in the original game. What resulted was one the more well-regarded titles in the series; Castlevania III made up for a lot of the failings of the second game by not only ditching the role-playing elements of Castlevania II but also featuring the unique ability to ally with one of three other additional characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to switch to them on the fly, and also offering branching paths for the player to take. I was primarily aware of Castlevania III’s due to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, 1997), which continued the story of Alucard and directly referred to the events of the third game, and its influence on Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018), which was, basically, a spiritual successor to Castlevania III. After being unimpressed with Castlevania II, however, I was happy to just return to the tried-and-true gameplay of the original Castlevania.

The Plot:
A prequel to the original Castlevania, Castlevania III sees Simon Belmont’s ancestor, Trevor, arming himself with the legendary Vampire Killer whip and battling the dark forces of Count Dracula. On the way, he teams up with one of three new characters, each with their own motivations for confronting Dracula and, together, they journey to end Dracula’s curse.

Ditching the role-playing elements of the second game, Castlevania III is, once again, a 2D sidescrolling action/platformer; this time, however, players assume the role of Trevor Belmont, Simon’s ancestor. This doesn’t really alter the core gameplay that greatly, though; it seems clunkiness runs in the Belmont family tree as Trevor is just as stocky, weighty, and cumbersome as his successor, and also attacks enemies with the same whip and sub-weapons as Simon. What is new, however, is that the game offers the player the chance to take different paths at various times; the path you choose leads you to encounter not only different enemies and obstacles, but also an encounter with one of three additional playable characters. Trevor can team up with the sorceress Sypha Belnades, the acrobatic Grant DaNasty, or the dhampir Alucard and, at the press of a button, the player can (sl-ow-ly) switch over to controlling this character. While none of them can use sub-weapons, they each have their own abilities that, like the Vampire Killer, can be upgraded to deal more damage.

Trevor’s allies each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Unlike in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, you can only team Trevor up with one of these characters and they all share the same health bar and heart counter. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well: Sypha attacks with a magic wand and can, eventually, unleash magical attacks upon her enemies but isn’t much for jumping; Grant can cling to walls and ceilings but is limited to stabbing at enemies from close range; and Alucard tosses fireballs and can transform into a bat to avoid enemies and obstacles entirely but this drains your hearts considerably. Yes, the hearts are back once again; luckily, there’s no need to waste them buying weapons and upgrades this time. Instead, you once again use hearts as your ammo and replenish your character’s health by breaking walls and finding pot roasts. As in the original game, the player is also fighting against a time limit, though I found this to be quite generous and never actually experienced a time over. Castlevania III offers far more instances of auto-scrolling than its predecessors; more than once, you’re tasked with out-racing a rising or falling screen, all while respawning enemies wait to swarm you at a moment’s notice. Jump too soon and you’ll die, either from plummeting to your death or touching the equally deadly top of the screen, but you’re not always safe on platforms either as Castlevania III loves to have blocks crumble beneath you or flip around to stab you with deadly spikes.

Castlevania III places greater emphasis on tricky platforming.

Such areas are often accompanied by broken staircases and fireball-spewing pillars; rather than taking the time to destroy these, its far better to watch their patterns and time your jumps to avoid them entirely. This is made all the more troublesome by the fact that it seems far more difficult to climb up and down stairs in this game; previously, I experienced no real issues with this mechanic but, in Castlevania III, I constantly found myself slipping down a bottomless pit rather than going down stairs as I intended. It doesn’t help that going down stairs seems a lot more troublesome than going up, and Castlevania III is far more vertically layered than its predecessors. There’s a couple of other obstacles to contend with here as well, most notably the rotating gears in the clock tower and the swinging pendulums that you must jump to (while avoiding erratic bats) to reach the final staircase to Dracula’s throne room. The path you choose will determine which enemies and obstacles you’ll come up against, lending the game a much greater degree of replayability than its predecessors as you can experiment with different paths and different characters on each playthrough.

Graphics and Sound:
Castlevania III is a far more ambitious title than its predecessors; there are a variety of environments here, and even Dracula’s castle has received an upgrade in its details, obstacles, and colour palette. This makes the game far more detailed and ambitious than previous Castlevania titles, which can make it difficult to spot your character’s sprite against some of the more meticulous backgrounds, especially as some areas of the game start you on the right-hand side of the screen, rather than the traditional left.

8-bit Castlevania has never looked better.

Thankfully, the game seems a lot more stable than its predecessor but is still, clearly, pushing the limits of its 8-bit hardware. There is far less slow down and sprite flickering than in Castlevania II but it is still present, mainly because the enemies constantly respawn in most areas and, when these areas are filled with other obstacles or moving elements, the game can struggle a bit with rendering everything but it’s nowhere near as noticeably or obtrusive as in Castlevania II. Castlevania III features easily the most ambitious soundtrack of the series so far; composer Hidenori Maezawa helped to create a custom VRC6 coprocessor to provide the game with five extra sound channels, effectively doubling the sound channels available in the Famicon version. While this had to be downgraded slightly for the NES version, Castlevania III still features some of the most memorable tracks and versions of Castlevania’s iconic themes, resulting in one of the most impressive 8-bit soundtracks of the time.

Enemies and Bosses:
Like Simon, Trevor will battle a slew of gothic and supernatural enemies and bosses, many of which featured prominently in the first game; he’ll come up against skeletons (who throw bones, wield swords, or reassemble themselves), the always-annoying bats, crows, and Medusa Heads, and giant spiders (who spit out smaller spiders this time, rather than webs…) Trevor also battles against swarms of zombies, fishmen (who hide underwater and attack with fireballs), and axe-throwing knights but he’ll also encounter some decidedly tougher enemies; flying, shield-wielding gargoyles, hunchback-like goblins who bounce around the screen, and mud men, for example.

Castlevania III‘s bosses more than make up for Castlevania II‘s.

While Castlevania II largely abandoned boss battles, Castlevania III brings them back in full force…but makes the equally disappointing mistake of repeating many of these battles. You’ll battle the Cyclops and Mummy more than once (which is a shame as these are relatively simple or annoying fights, respectively) and battle new versions of the Queen Medusa, Giant Bat, and Frankenstein Monster. However, you’ll also battle against the Skull Knight and the two Water Dragons; while this first battle is easy enough, the latter is made all the more difficult by the fact that it’s pretty easy for your character to take a hit and be sent careening to the deadly water below.

You’ll have to defeat Grant and Alucard to recruit them.

To recruit Grant and Alucard, you’ll first have to defeat them in battle. Similarly, you’ll also have to fight against a doppelgänger of your character; even if you switch characters during this fight, the double switches accordingly, meaning you can’t just tank Sypha with Trevor’s superior attacks. I found this to be one of the more difficult boss battles in the game, easily up there with Death’s first form and the gauntlet against two Mummies, a Cyclops, and the demonic Leviathan. After being a pitiful shell of his former self in Castlevania II, the Grim Reaper returns with a vengeance here; not only do you have to battle him and his maniacal scythes in a startlingly accurate repeat of the fight in Castlevania, you’ll also have to fight Death’s second form. Luckily, however this is simply a giant floating skull that spits scythes at you and isn’t too difficult…providing you survived Death’s first form with enough health!

Dracula now has three forms to contend with!

Similarly, Dracula is now a far more formidable foe; this time, you’ll face the Count in a three-stage boss battle. In the first, he surrounds the player with pillars of fire, spawning a third right underneath you; in the second, Dracula’s becomes a floating mass of blood-spitting heads; for his final form, Dracula becomes a gigantic, demonic background element who zaps at you with laser bolts and manipulates the ground. As in the first game, Dracula’s only weak point is his head, meaning it’s best to have the axe for this boss fight; the most difficult thing about Dracula’s first form is making sure you have enough room to manoeuvre between the pillars of fire to avoid the third pillar. The second form isn’t too bad but it’s best to run underneath it so you don’t get cornered. The final form is pretty simple but, like the Water Dragons, is made more annoying and difficult by the presence of bottomless pits. Despite this, though, it’s pretty easy to dodge the Count’s attacks and lob axes at his head until he’s finished.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Each character can upgrade their attacks to deal more damage, as is the Castlevania tradition; it’s worth noting that, if you’ve upgraded the Vampire Killer and switch to your partner character, the upgrade won’t carry over and you’ll have to grab the upgrades for your partner as well. This is very much encouraged; I partnered with Sypha for my first playthrough and never upgraded her attacks, meaning she just uselessly smacked skeletons with her stupid little wand. When I switched to Alucard, I upgraded his fireball and it became a very handy spread of fireballs, so it’s best to upgrade each of your characters. All the sub-weapons from the first Castlevania return as well; this time, I found the axe the most useful as there seems to be more flying enemies, or enemies placed above you, or more uses for this compared to the Holy Water.

Additional Features:
Like its predecessor, Castlevania III features a password system, which allows players to continue their game after a game over. Inputting certain player names and passwords will also grant you extra lives, allow you to skip to certain levels with different partners, or jump to the game’s “Hard Mode”. Yep, like the first game, once you clear Castlevania III and view one of the game’s four different endings (each of which is pretty positive, in comparison to Castlevania II’s endings) and the game’s credits, you’ll be plonked right back into the first stage in Hard Mode. As you’d expect, enemies deal more damage to you in this mode and, while some are missing, you’ll encounter tougher enemies a lot sooner. The Xbox One Castlevania Anniversary Collection has four Achievements available for this game, one for finishing the game with each of the game’s partners and one for finishing it with just Trevor, and the same features available for the other games in the collection (save states, frames, and display options).


The Summary:
After Castlevania II turned the franchise on its head with its annoying day/night system, barren castles, and reliance on obscure clues and role-playing elements, Castlevania III is a fantastic, and much welcome, return to form. Unlike the sequel, this prequel takes everything that worked in the first game and improves upon it; there are branching paths, more playable characters, more options available to you, and vastly improved environments. It’s clear that Castlevania III is pushing the NES to its limits and is an extremely ambitious title for an 8-bit system; Konami would go on to improve upon many of these elements in later, graphically-superior games in the series, but it all started here. The bosses are better, the environments are more interesting and varied, the characters add some much-needed variety and, despite the same janky controls that plagued these earlier Castlevania titles, this is clearly the best of the 8-bit Castlevania games and, thanks to the different paths and character options available, offers far more replayability than its predecessors.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse back in the day? Did you play it on the NES back in the day? Which of the four characters did you prefer? Whatever you think about the game, or Castlevania, in general, leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: August 1987
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Family Computer Disk System (Famicom), Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
If Castlevania (Konami, 1986) has a reputation for being one of the more difficult games of the days of classic 8-bit home consoles then Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest has an even more infamous reputation for being, perhaps, the most frustrating and confusing title in the entire series. Famously lambasted by the Angry Video Game Nerd for its obscure hints, non-linear gameplay, and frustrating gameplay mechanics, Castlevania II stands as the black sheep of the franchise. Castlevania II follows a trend in NES series of the late-eighties in that, rather than improve and define the gameplay mechanics and structure of the first game, it takes a dramatic right turn; in this case, into a more non-linear, adventure-style role-playing game (RPG). We saw a similar thing happen with Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo EAD, 1988) and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (ibid, 1987), which both featured deviations from the gameplay styles of their predecessors. Rather than being a relatively straight-forward action/platformer, Castlevania II places far more emphasis on grinding for experience points (EXP), levelling up, purchasing items, talking to non-playable characters (NPCs), and using key items in obscure ways. Because of this, and the game’s dodgy reputation, I can’t say that I was too excited to delve into this game; to make it easier, I’ll admit to using a guide so I would know where I was going and what I was doing, which was enough to make this a more annoying experience than playing the first game.

The Plot:
Seven years after defeating Count Dracula in the original Castlevania, Simon Belmont finds himself suffering from a fatal curse placed upon him by the evil Count. To break the curse, he must “prossess” Dracula’s five body parts in order to resurrect, and defeat, the Count once more.

Castlevania II is a sidescrolling action/adventure platformer; players once again control the legendary vampire hunter Simon Belmont, who controls largely the same. Once again, Simon is a slow, plodding character with little control when leaping from platform to platform, and suffering from the same annoying trend of throwing himself backwards into bottomless pits or deadly bodies of water when hit with attacks.

Simon again attacks with his whip or a number of sub-weapons.

Simon primarily attacks enemies with his trademark whip, the Vampire Killer, and can throw a variety of sub-weapons at his enemies. As before, the whip can be upgraded to deal greater damage but, in a twist, this must be done by purchasing the upgrades from NPCs. Similarly, the sub-weapons are acquired either by defeating one of the game’s handful of bosses or buying them from NPCs, placing a greater emphasis on the collecting of hearts.

At night, enemies are tougher and are even in towns!

As Simon defeats enemies, they will drop hearts; these can then be used to buy new weapons and upgrades, as well as being your ammo for using sub-weapons. As items and upgrades come at a high price, you will be finding yourself farming for hearts a lot throughout the course of the game. This is helpful, in one way, as Simon now gains EXP for dispatching enemies; with enough EXP, he will level up, further increasing his health bar. However, working against him is the fact that, at regular intervals, the game will suddenly succumb to the curse of night. When night-time falls, the enemies deal greater damage, take more hits to defeat, increase in number, and even swarm the game’s usually safe towns. The towns also close up at night; the normally-vague and fearful NPCs hide indoors, the church (which is the only place Simon can refill his health) and other buildings shut their doors, and Simon is forced to sit and wait for the sun to rise and dispel the curse. This night-time mechanic has, rightfully, drawn the ire of many commentators over the years and rightfully so; it’s an annoying, frustratingly awkward mechanic that takes way too long to load up, lasts for far too long, and generally results in you either standing around like a moron waiting for the night to end or battling tougher enemies to gain more hearts.

The game’s “clues” leave a lot to be desired…

Compounding the matter is the fact that the game’s translation leaves a lot to be desired; NPCs dish out incredible vague and obtuse “clues” that really don’t help your progress through the game. You’re given items with little explanation as to their purpose and are required to use them in some really weird ways; without a guide, I really don’t see how anyone would be able to figure out that you need to kneel down by a body of water or in front of an impassable wall with a certain gem in order to access new areas. All this might be bearable if the game made up for it with some interesting levels and dungeons but it really doesn’t; the bulk of Castlevania II’s enemies are found in the overworld and all of the castles look and feel the same. You’ll jump across the same spiked pits, attack the same enemies, and acquire Dracula’s accursed body parts in the same way (throwing a wooden stake at a glowing orb, of course). Hell, the final castle doesn’t even have any enemies; it’s just a minor inconvenience of a maze leading to an anti-climatic battle with the Count himself. Depending on how long you take to beat the game, you’ll be treated to a variety of endings; sometimes, Simon prevails but succumbs to his wounds, others he will triumph unabated. This is probably where Castlevania II’s replayability comes into play as you’re encouraged to get the best ending but, considering how annoying it is to slog through this bland adventure, I can’t say that I’m too interested in trying to beat it any faster or better (or play it ever again, for that matter).

Graphics and Sound:
Castlevania II doesn’t really improve upon its predecessor much; it looks, feels, and sounds pretty much exactly the same, with the same limited sprite animations and colour palette.

There’s a lot of level variety but some annoying graphical bugs.

If anything, Castlevania II is a graphical step down as there are often so many enemies and sprites on the screen at the same time that you’ll notice some sever sprite flickering and super annoying slow-down. As if Simon wasn’t slow enough, he’ll now jitter through the air and, often, it feels like you’re walking through wet mud; it can massively affect your trajectory when trying to clear deadly pits or spikes and mean the difference between a decent health bar and struggling to progress. At the same time, the game does feature a soundtrack to rival its predecessor; “Bloody Tears” has since become a recurring theme in the franchise and I like that the music changes when the game shifts from day to night but, as good as the music and sound effects are, they’re not enough to really increase the appeal of this game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Once again, Simon will battle against a slew of gothic and supernatural enemies; he’ll mostly encounter skeletons and spear-wielding knights in the castles and areas he visits but will also battle mummies, bats, floating eyeballs, and Medusa Heads as you progress. Boss encounters are few and far between and a pitiful inclusion compared to the battles you endure in Castlevania; there are only three boss battles in this game, two of which can be bypassed completely (though you’ll miss out on two of the game’s stronger sub-weapons), and all three are pretty pathetic compared to the first game. This is best exemplified in the battle against the Grim Reaper, which was an annoying test of my endurance and skill in Castlevania.

Bosses are few and far between, with even the dreaded Count being pitifully easy.

Here, Death is slow, predictable, and easily dispatched after a few hits. Similarly, Dracula is renowned for his ludicrous ease in this game; granted, this battle is potentially harder if you didn’t acquire the Golden Knife sub-weapon but even without it, you can land a ridiculous number of his as Dracula spawns into the arena and defeat him before he can even launch a single attack. It’s a dismal end to a dismal title and as though the developers knew that gamers would struggle with the game’s level-up system, day/night cycle, and more obscure elements so over compensated by significantly reducing the number and difficulty of the game’s bosses.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Simon can upgrade the Vampire Killer as he progresses to new towns and visits new areas. Certain NPCs will sell you an upgrade that turns the whip into a chain and its eventual strongest form, the Flame Whip. However, to acquire these upgrades, you’ll need to not only locate these NPCs (usually they’re hidden behind blocks or walls that must be destroyed with Holy Water) but also have enough hearts to purchase the upgrade. Similarly, the first game’s sub-weapons return but must be purchased with hearts, which are also necessary to use these items. However, perhaps because of his pivotal the Holy Water is for checking for illusionary blocks, the Holy Water is free to use so you can spam it as much as you like. There’s some new power-ups here as well, though, like the powerful Sacred Flame or the Laurels, which make Simon invincible for a short time, and cloves of Garlic (which, when used in the right place at the right time, spawn an NPC who will provide Simon with free upgrades).

Additional Features:
Castlevania II features a password save system, which was probably very useful back in the day when most gamers were renting the game or, lacking a guide, were unable to finish the game in one sitting. Unlike the first game, though, there is no “Hard Mode” awaiting you; the game is hard enough as it is and you’ll need to be really good at it in order to beat it fast enough to get the game’s best ending. If you’re playing the version featured in the Xbox One Castlevania Anniversary Collection, as I did, you can earn an Achievement for completing the game and make liberal use of the save state feature to chart your progress and come back to where you left off whenever you want. There are also a number of frames and display options, though they don’t really do much to improve the appeal of this game.


The Summary:
No matter how you look at it, Castlevania II is a poor follow-up to Castlevania. I was expecting a lot worse but I can’t deny that the game is far less fun that the original; it’s a slog to get through, even with a guide, and just a far more boring experience. Perhaps if the game made better use of its castles and included challenging bosses it would have more appeal. The day/night cycle is annoying but I like the added challenge it provided; the problem was that, most of the time, I just stood around like an idiot waiting for the sun to rise so I could heal up and continue. Any game that means you have to stand stationary for minutes on end is a bad game for me, and Castlevania II asks way too much from players; I get that a lot of RPGs and games back then were vague and non-linear, but this game takes the piss with its terrible “hints” and massively obscure item usage. I can’t see myself returning to this title again any time soon.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you play Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest back in the day? Do you agree with the reputation is has for being one of Castlevania’s weakest titles or do you feel it’s an under-rated gem? Which of the titles in the series do you consider to be the best, worst, hardest, or easiest? Whatever you think, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania (Xbox One)


Released: May 2019
Originally Released: September 1986
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Amiga, Arcade, C64, Family Computer Disk System (Famicom), Game Boy Advance, Mobile, MS-DOS, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
Castlevania (known as “Akumajō Dracula”) is notorious for its reputation as not just inspiring an entire sub-genre of videogame (the “Metroidvania” genre) but also its punishing difficulty. Back when Castlevania was first released for the NES, videogames (especially those on Nintendo’s ground-breaking platform) were built to last. As many gamers simply rented titles, and videogames were still heavily influenced by the pay-to-pay formula of the arcades, it wasn’t conducive for home console titles to be easy to complete and few titles exemplify that mentality more than Castlevania and its sequels. Given that I grew up mostly playing SEGA consoles, my experience with Castlevania has been understandably limited; I tried to change that with Castlevania (Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe, 1999) on the Nintendo 64…but that was shit. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018) was such a fun experience that I jumped at the chance to play through one of Castlevania’s most celebrated titles, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, 1997) which, in turn, led me to playing through its spiritual successor, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (ArtPlay, 2019). Though I have also finished Super Castlevania IV (Konami, 1991) on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition, I leapt at the opportunity to buy the Castlevania Anniversary Collection for Xbox One and play through these classic titles and see if I can conquer their notorious difficulty.

The Plot:
With the immortal vampire Count Dracula threatening the entire land, Simon Belmont, the latest in a lineage of legendary vampire hunters, takes up the feared whip of his ancestors, the Vampire Killer, and journeys into Dracula’s castle to end this threat.

Castlevania is a sidescrolling action/platformer in which players control the vampire killer Simon Belmont. Being an 8-bit title released in the early days of the NES, Simon is a bit of a slog to control; he’s stocky, heavy, and very awkward. Simon does okay when walking in a straight line but isn’t so great at jumping or changing direction on the fly, which can make for some tricky jumps.

Attack with Simon’s whip or sub-weapons.

Simon attacks Dracula’s minions with his whip, the Vampire Killer; Simon can attack standing up, while ducking, and while jumping but can only attack in the direction he’s facing, which can make hitting flying and more active enemies very difficult. Luckily, Simon can also acquire a number of different sub-weapons, which can make it easier to attack the more awkward enemies or to attack from a distance. Speaking of which, while you’ll collect a whole bunch of hearts during the game, these won’t refill your health. I’ve never understood why the developers decided to have the hearts essentially be the ammo for your sub-weapon rather than health as it goes against every piece of videogame logic I know. Instead, you’ll have to break open walls and blocks to find food, which will replenish your health. Simon also starts the game with three lives and can earn more through earning enough points; once all your lives are spent, though, you do get unlimited continues so it’s not a complete loss.

Watch out for the knock-back; it’s a real bitch!

As you journey through Dracula’s castle, you’ll battle not only a whole slew of gothic-inspired enemies but also the clock; each of the game’s eighteen stages carries a time limit. If you don’t manage to reach and defeat the boss before the timer counts down, you’ll lose a life. You’ll also have to deal with the game’s finicky controls and devastating knock-back, which can easily send you careening down a bottomless pit, into water, or simply to the previous screen. Either way, it’s usually instant death for Simon. You’ll also have to climb a number of stairs during the game and, while Simon can defend himself on the stairs, he can also walk right through them and fall down them, which means certain death. As a result, it’s not really advisable to barge in all guns blazing; enemies all have a specific pattern that you must learn, and exploit, to defeat them. Many times, it might be easier to simply dodge the enemies with a well-timed jump, duck, or simply walking past them as they swoop by; whatever it takes to reach the boss with as much health and ammo as possible.

Graphics and Sound:
Being that it’s an 8-bit title on the NES, Castlevania obviously looks rather pixelated and dated by today’s standards. There aren’t many frames of animation used in the game and, yet, there’s a surprising level of detail. Though limited by the NES’s colour palette, sprites still manage to pop out from the surprisingly-detailed backgrounds; rendered in a reddy/browny hue, Simon always sticks out compared to his surroundings and enemies, making it easy to see where he is. Some enemies can blend in a bit, as they’re mostly black or red against black or red backgrounds, but they’re easily recognisable once they start their attack patterns.

Castlevania‘s backgrounds are surprisingly detailed.

Considering the majority of the game takes place in a castle, the game’s environments are quite varied; Simon journeys through standard brick-and-mortar gothic architecture, across the outskirts of the castle’s rooftops, and through the grimy dungeons and flooded tunnels of the castle. Each levels is punctuated by some of the most iconic videogame themes ever realised; Castlevania introduced gamers the world over to such catchy tunes as “Vampire Killer” and “Nothing To Lose”, which would become staples of the series. There’s also some unobtrusive in-game sound effects, too; Simon’s whip makes a satisfying “Whoosh!” as you swing it, you always know when you’ve picked up items, and there’s even an indication of when you’ve landed a successful hit on a enemy or boss.

Enemies and Bosses:
Dracula’s castle is chock full of all manner of gothic and supernatural enemies, many of which have since become cliché, especially in NES titles. You’ll encounter zombies, ravens, skeletons, and mermen and most of these bog-standard enemies are simple enough to get by or take out but the game soon starts placing them in awkward locations, having them throw projectiles at you, and also has them respawn when you go off-screen. Things really begin to ramp up once you encounter the Medusa Heads; these float around the screen in a predictable arc but seem never-ending, and are at their most deadly whenever Simon is climbing stairs. Personally, I had the most trouble with the hunchbacks, who randomly just hop all over the place and are a pain in the ass. Axe-throwing knights and fireball-spitting dragons also add to the game’s challenge, particularly in one notorious corridor that has three knights and a near-endless slew of Medusa Heads.

The Grim Reaper is a pain in the ass and actually tougher than the dreaded Count Dracula!

The gothic influences continue with the game’s bosses; you’ll battle a giant bat, the Medusa Queen, two Mummies, Frankenstein’s Monster (with the hunchback-like Igor), and the Grim Reaper himself. While most of these aren’t too much of a challenge with the right sub-weapon (generally the Holy Water), the Grim Reaper was probably the most frustrating experience of the game thanks to his sporadic attack pattern and constant spawning of scythes. Eventually, though, you’ll do battle with Dracula himself in a two stage final battle. Dracula initially attacks by teleporting around his tomb and firing a spread of projectiles at you and, while Simon can destroy these with his weapons, Dracula can only be damaged by hitting his head and he has a nasty tendency to warp right into your path. After defeating Dracula’s first form, he’ll transform into a demonic, gargoyle-like bestial form. While he deals heavy damage in this form, he’s actually a lot easier to whittle down, especially if you have the Holy Cross Boomerang sub-weapon; once again, Dracula can only be damaged by hitting his head, so it’s best to run underneath him as he leaps at you, toss the Boomerang and also attack with your whip to damage Dracula and dispel his fireballs. Overall, the difficulty spike in the bosses is noticeable once your reach Frankenstein’s Monster but inescapable when you battle the Grim Reaper; how players managed to trump that asshole with no save states is beyond me.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, you can upgrade the Vampire Killer to increase the damage it deals but you can also pick up items to increase how many of your sub-weapons you can throw. These are pretty much essential to defeating the game’s tougher bosses, especially Dracula, as it allows you to spam the more effective sub-weapons rather than relying on the whip.

Holy Water will solve most of your problems.

There are a number of different sub-weapons available in the game, each with their pros and cons: the axe travels in an arc, for example, allowing you to better hit flying enemies and the knife allows you to attack from a safe distance. The stopwatch can briefly freeze all onscreen enemies, but this isn’t really that helpful when you’re surrounded by enemies or battling certain bosses, and the Rosary will eliminate all onscreen enemies. Perhaps the most useful weapons are the Holy Water, which stuns enemies and deals successive damage, and the Boomerang, which flies back to Simon and thus deals twice the damage.

Additional Features:
Once you complete the game and sit through the laughably-bad credits, you’ll automatically return to stage one with all of your upgrades, score, and remaining lives. However, you’re now playing in Hard Mode! Hard Mode places different enemies in different places and ramps up the difficulty significantly as enemies move faster and do more damage. If you’re playing the version featured in the Xbox One Castlevania Anniversary Collection, as I did, you can earn an Achievement for completing the game and can even cheese it using save states; this may be frowned upon by some but there’s nothing stopping me (or you) not using this feature if you wish. There are also a number of frames and display options, though they can’t do much to improve upon the original’s pixelated goodness.


The Summary:
In the end, Castlevania more than lives up to its reputation; even using save states, the game is a tough experience as you can only hold one sub-weapon at a time and having the wrong one at the wrong time can make bosses and certain sections near impossible and the time limit means that you can’t dawdle too much waiting for an opening. Yet, the game is fun; the challenge comes from learning enemy attack patterns, attacking every block and candlestick holder looking for health, upgrades, and hearts, and a bit of trial and error in getting past some of the game’s tougher sections. With the exception of the Grim Reaper boss battle, which I found a tedious and frustrating experience, and a few annoying times where the game crashed on me, I enjoyed myself from the beginning to the end and am glad that I finally got the chance to play Castlevania.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you play Castlevania back in the day? Which of the titles in the series do you consider to be the best, worst, hardest, or easiest? What did you think to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection? Do you agree with the tactic of manipulating save states to win at games? Whatever you think, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / TMNT II: The Arcade Game (Xbox Series X)


Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 11 October 1989 (Arcade) / 7 December 1990 (NES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad, Arcade, Atari, Commodore 64, GameCube, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and ZX Spectrum

The Background:
If you were a kid in the eighties or nineties, you were probably really into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). If, like me, you lived in the United Kingdom, you were probably just as enthusiastic as the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles but, either way, before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series. A toned down version of the original Mirage Comics characters, Ninja Turtles was incredibly popular, spawning not just three live-action movies (of varying quality), comic books, and a fantastic line of action figures but also a whole host of videogames, without perhaps none being more popular than the original Ninja Turtles arcade game. Developed by Konami at a time when arcades were full of amazing side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups, Ninja Turtles may not have been the first videogame based on the franchise but it definitely defined the genre that would prove most popular for subsequent videogame releases, particularly in the arcade. After Konami helped to define what it meant to be “NES Hard” with their original NES TMNT title, which proved to be a huge success at the time, they turned to the incredibly successful arcade game for the sequel, which proved equally popular thanks to its presentation and ambitious recreation of its technically superior arcade brother. In later years, the arcade version of the game was further ported and emulated to numerous consoles over the years but was de-listed from digital stores for the better part of eleven years until both versions were included in this Cowabunga Collection for modern consoles alongside a host of other games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
The Turtles’ arch-nemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, has kidnapped their friend April O’Neil and their mentor and father figure, Splinter, and swamped the streets with his Foot Soldiers and other minions. Understandably unimpressed, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo waste no time in grabbing their weapons and giving chase in a rescue mission.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; some arcade cabinets were apparently set up to accommodate just two, and to allow any player to select any character but, generally, cabinets were set up specifically for four players to play simultaneously. Each of the four Ninja Turtles is selectable and has specific strengths and weaknesses: Leonardo is the most well-rounded, Donatello is slower but has a longer reach, and both Raphael and Michelangelo have fast attacks but are limited in their range. Each character can perform a flying kick and a super attack by pressing the jump and attack buttons at the same time which, unlike other sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups of the time, doesn’t appear to drain your health. In addition, they can hurl their enemies around for extra damage but there’s no forward dash and very little in the way of intricate combos on offer here; it’s a simple, pure “go right and mash the attack button” beat-‘em-up, with the exception of one level, where the TMNT race around the streets on rocket-powered skateboards.

Fight with the TMNT’s signature weapons, and the environment, but watch out for hazards!

While levels and environments are noticeably sparse, there are a few intractable elements that both benefit and hinder your gameplay; traffic cones and street signs can be hit to damage enemies, you can smash fire hydrants to push enemies away, or blow up groups of them by attacking explosive barrels. At the same time, though, enemies can drop on you from behind signs or pop up from sewer holes and throw manhole covers at you; there’s also some spiked walls, laser turrets, freezing blasts, and electrical hazards that can be difficult to dodge without a dash or roll manoeuvre. The search for their friends and family takes the TMNT from the streets and sewers of New York City to the Technodrome itself; along the way, they battle various versions of Shredder’s Foot Clan and some other familiar faces, such as Bebop and Rocksteady. If you’re really, really lucky, you can pick up a pizza box to restore your turtle’s health, but these are few and far between, so you’ll either need a lot of money to replay after losing a life or, better yet, make use of the infinite credits made available in this version of the game.

The NES version is surprisingly faithful and even includes new additions!

For the NES version of the game, much of the gameplay and combat remains intact and surprisingly faithful, especially considering the NES’s limited hardware. Naturally, you’re limited to two players at any one time, but you can still attack with X and jump with A, pulling of flying kicks and smacking the odd fire hydrant, parking meter, traffic cone, and explosive barrel to help thin out the enemies coming at you. The Foot Clan will still burst out from window sand jump out from the sewer, and you can still fall down the holes they leave behind, but the amount of onscreen enemies is severely limited compared to the arcade game; on the plus side, this makes crowd control a little easier and you’re rarely swamped with too many enemies at any one time. While a bit sluggish compared to the arcade title, the NES version performs far better than other similar 8-bit ports, like Double Dragon (Technōs Japan, 1988), though it helps that the Cowabunga Collection gives you the option to disable slowdown and sprite flickering. You’re still able to go diagonally down or fight on higher panes, too, as well as blast along on your rocket-powered skateboard; the NES version even includes two new stages, a snow-swept New York City and a Japanese dojo, each including new enemies, hazards (falling ice blocks and bamboo spikes), and bosses alongside additional cutscenes, which was a nice and unexpected touch.

Graphics and Sound:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is presented in the finest 2D graphics of the time; the four turtles and their enemies are large, bright, and well-animated; though they have limited idle animations, each wields their signature weapons and looks ripped right out of the animated series. Environments aren’t incredibly inspiring, however; the streets of New York are surprisingly bland and there’s not much going on in most of the levels. Rats will run by in the sewers, enemies will jump out from behind buildings or burst out from walls, and there are some layers to some levels that allow you to fight on higher ground but, mostly, the environments are lacking much of the character and interaction of later TMNT games (with the exception of April’s apartment, which features some impressive fire effects, and the final Technodrome level).

Speech bubbles, and funky soundtrack, and cartoony effects add to the game’s charm.

There are some fun elements to be found here, though; the TMNT can fall down open manholes and hide from enemy attacks while peeping at the player; when electrocuted you can see their skeleton, and when caught in Granitor’s flame burst, they’ll appear charred and damaged. When grabbed by enemies or battling certain bosses, little speech bubbles will also pop up, which is quite a fun inclusion, as they implore you to mash buttons to escape. Accompanying these are sound bites, with the TMNT exchanging quips and taunts with certain bosses or rallying each other with a cry of “Cowabunga!” You’ll always know when you’ve picked up health thanks to their triumphant shout of “Pizza time!” and, alongside these, levels are generally filled with some up-beat, catchy tunes that work well with the constant combat and the game also includes an impressive rendition of the cartoon’s iconic theme song.

Although its obviously much more basic, the NES version recreates much of its arcade counterpart.

Of course, the NES version has taken a hit (well, more of a pummelling!) in terms of graphics and audio; the sprites are incredibly basic, featuring little in the way of animation and detailed, and the backgrounds and environments are incredibly empty. However, it’s still a decent conversion of the arcade title; flames still flicker in April’s apartment, the Foot still drives cars and motorcycles at you and burst out from behind billboards, and the game does a pretty good job of translating the arcade’s cutscenes into NES-capable sprite art, even using the in-game sprites at various points to progress the story. The music is equally ambitious; while there are no sound bites included in this version, there’s a nice chip tune version of the TMNT theme and everything sounds very appropriate for the hardware. Although there’s a greater emphasis on text in this version, there is no boss dialogue and bosses don’t sport life bars; the heads-up display is also changed to one that’s far more simplistic and certain graphics, like the pizza, have been redesigned to fit the engine. Yet you can still splash in and out of water in the sewer, still race along on your skateboard, and the developers even included new stages and enemies. Although you can disable sprite flickering and slowdown, however, the game is still quite sluggish, which isn’t helped by the way the characters just shuffle or hop along, and I noticed some odd screen tearing as I was playing. Also, the screen scrolls a little out of synch to your movement, meaning you’re often right at the edge of the screen, which causes it to lag a bit and forces you to hop back more to the middle to keep things moving smoothly.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, the TMNT will be butting heads with various members of the Foot Clan; these come in all different colours and variants, with the regular, easily dispatched foes wearing the common purple and the tougher, weapon-wielding goons coming in red, silver, or yellow colourings. These foes will toss shuriken at the turtles, stab at them with spears, or try to flatten them with comically large mallets, among other weapons. They can also throw manhole covers, dynamite, or massive tyres at the turtles and, later in the game, zap them with laser blasters, charge at them in sports cars and on motorbikes, and chase after them on skateboards and in annoying helicopter-like crafts. You’ll also battle robotic enemies, such as the Mousers (who will clamp onto your arm and drain your health) and Roadkill Rodneys, which race around the screen, whipping at you, and trapping you in an electrically charged tentacle.

You’ll battle some of the TMNT’s most recognisable foes.

As for bosses, the TMNT will contend with classic enemies such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman. You’ll first battle Bebop and Rocksteady individually, but they later come together to try and crush the turtles; each wields a projectile weapon (Bebop a machine gun, Rocksteady a laser pistol) and can attack with powerful physical attacks, like charging or punching. Baxter, however, will attack from the air, dropping Mousers on you from his craft, while Granitor and General Traag are much tougher thanks to their rock-like hides and roasting you with their flamethrower and rocket launcher, respectively. These two are not only notorious spam-artists, repeating the same attacks over and over again, but at also immune to “God Mode” available in this version of the game. While this normally allows you to defeat enemies and bosses in one hit, Granitor and General Traag will need to be whittled down like in the original arcade release so it’s helpful to be a bit quicker on your toes and use a character with longer reach, like Donatello.

The Technodrome boasts the game’s toughest bosses, even with God Mode activated!

After fighting through the Technodrome, you’ll be attacked by Krang inside his robot body; Krang’s also a bit of a classic arcade spam-artist as he’ll kick you, and zap you with lasers while you’re down to drain your health in no time. Although Krang is also immune to the benefits of God Mode, he is quite the showboat and will pause to gloat about being invincible long enough for you to land a few decent hits. After defeating Krang, you’ll immediately battle the Shredder. Oddly, Shredder attacks alongside shadow duplicates, effectively increasing his attack power and his threat; Shredder swipes at you with his katana but also unleashes a powerful energy blast that regresses your hero back to a regular turtle and is, essentially, a one-hit kill move. As you battle Shredder, he’ll lose his helmet, which is a nice touch, but there’s not a lot of real strategy to any of the boss battles beyond simply avoiding attacks and striking as fast and as often as possible. Amusingly, the Shredder can be defeated in one hit using the game’s God Mode, which significantly downplays his threat compared to the game’s later bosses. One downside to this game is that the bosses don’t have an energy meter, so the only way you know you’re doing any damage or getting anywhere is by noticing when the boss sprites start flashing.

Three new bosses have been included in the NES version of the game.

Many of the enemies and hazards featured in the arcade version reappear in the NES version, with some alterations and limitations; the Foot can still grab you from behind and Mousers will still bite your hand, but shaking them off is clunkier than before and Roadkill Rodneys now simply fire lasers. There is a new variant of the Foot that tosses dynamite at you, however, and the portraits of tigers randomly spring to life in the dojo stage; you’ll also encounter antagonistic snowmen that fire homing missiles at you in the snow-themed stage. All of the arcade game bosses return as well, but again with less dialogue and being far simpler; Rocksteady and Bebop simply blast at you and kick or punch you up close, for example, but you’ll still get (partially) roasted and blasted by Grindor and General Traag’s heavy ordinance. Two new stages means two new bosses, but there’s actually three new bosses in total as Baxter’s fly form replaces the duo of Bebop and Rocksteady at the end of the parking lot stage, hovering about and firing duel lasers from his antennae (or his wings, it’s hard to tell…) Anyway, Tora the polar bear awaits in the frozen New York City, though I never saw him do anything but wander around and punch at me, and the robotic bounty hunter/samurai, Shogun, battles you at the end of the dojo, swiping with his katana while his disembodied head flies about the place. The fight with Krang and the Shredder remain largely unchanged, except Krang’s sprite isn’t very intimidating and the Shredder can’t seem to one-hit kill you this time around; all enemies and bosses can also be defeated in one hit with God Mode activated as well.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, for a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, there’s very few power-ups on offer here. The only item you can pick up is the health-restoring pizza and you can’t grab other weapons or gain any temporary buffs or bonuses, though it does seem as though this was originally planned for the game before the option was removed during development. The NES version stays true to the arcade in terms of power-ups and such, however I did notice an annoying lack of pizza, which no doubt would make the game more difficult for anyone not playing with the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements activated.

Additional Features:
In terms of in-game extra features, you’re obviously somewhat limited here as this was a simple arcade release; you can play through again with a different character and try to beat your high score, or play alongside up to four players, but there’s no additional gameplay modes to be found in the game. The Cowabunga Collection adds a whole slew of additional features, however; first, you’ll gain a sweet 70G Achievement for finishing each game, you can use the Left Bumper to rewind the game if you mess up, and press the Right Bumper to bring up a new options menu that allows save states and display options. Even better, you can opt to activate a number of enhancements, such as the aforementioned God Mode that makes you invincible and allows one-hit kills on most enemies and bosses, alongside a level select, the removal of penalty bombs (which instantly kill you if you linger too long), and the ability to play in “Nightmare Mode”, which vastly increases the number of enemies. For the NES version, you can also remove slowdown and sprite flickering, give yourself extra lives, enable “Easy Menu Navigation” (which I found no use for…), and “Fancy Jump Kicks” for increasing aerial attack effectiveness. The best part is that you’ll still get your Achievements even with these activated; you can also play online, make use of a strategy guide, switch between the American and Japanese versions (though there appears to be little difference between the two), view the game’s box art and manuals, and even choose to watch the game play itself if you wish.


The Summary:
Compared to other games of its era and genre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is surprisingly light on features and content; there’s the most basic levels of combat and content on offer here, which probably puts it below other games of this type, which offer additional power-ups or combat mechanics. Yet, it’s the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game! Other TMNT games may have perfected the formula but there’s a charming appeal to the original. The classic 2D graphics, the simple beat-‘em-up gameplay, and the catchy, iconic music all make it feel as though you’re playing an episode of the animated series and really evoke the spirit of the influential cartoon. It might be a case of nostalgia goggles forgiving some of the game’s shortcomings but, for a straightforward TMNT adventure, it’s hard to deny that the arcade game is simple, evocative fun through and through. The NES title was legitimately impressive in its ambition; though obviously hampered by the limitations of the NES hardware, this version carries over all of the features of the arcade title (albeit far simpler in their presentation) as well as including new stages and bosses. For those who didn’t have access to Nintendo’s 16-bit console, the NES version of the arcade title is a decent substitute and a surprisingly faithful conversion considering the graphical downgrade, despite the lack of in-game options generally associated with similar sidescrolling brawlers. The additional features offered by the Cowabunga Collection only sweeten the deal; after years of being denied access to these classic titles outside of ROMS or unlockable bonuses, it’s great to be able to jump into them again at my convenience; both are short, snappy, fun-filled adventures that never outstays their welcome and the arcade title is especially important since it laid the foundation for future TMNT arcade titles so it’s a fun way to waste about half an hour of your life (or less if you plough through on God Mode!)

Arcade Rating:

NES Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Pretty Good

Did you ever get to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out in the wild or own it on the NES? How do you think it compares to other TMNT videogames and similar arcade fighters? What did you think to the NES version of the game, the new stages it added, and the allowances that had to be made? Which of the characters was your go-to and which of the game’s bosses was your favourite? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts on the Ninja Turtles, be sure to share them down below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Xbox One)


Released: June 2019
Developer: ArtOkay
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch

The Background:
Developed by Koji Igarashi, famous for his role in producing the Castlevania (Konami/Various, 1986 to present), Bloodstained was funded by Igarashi through Kickstarter with the intention to make a spiritual successor to his popular gothic/horror series, specifically Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, 1997). After raising over $5 million, Igarashi also developed an 8-bit style companion game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018), which was more a spiritual successor to another popular Castlevania title, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (Konami, 1989). While my experience and exposure to Castlevania is a bit limited, I had a good time with both Symphony of the Night and Curse of the Moon; both games required a lot of skill and patience to master their mechanics and, once Ritual of the Night was available on Xbox Game Pass, I decided to give it a whirl.

The Plot:
Back in the 18th century, the Alchemy Guild began summoning demons by forcibly infusing humans with demonic crystals to create Shardbinders. One such Shardbinder, Gebel, has begun summoning demons to destroy England and it’s up to another Shardbinder, Miriam, to confront him and put a stop to his efforts.

Ritual of the Night plays pretty much exactly like Symphony of the Night in that it is a 2.5D action/adventure game in which the player guides Miriam through a number of gothic, Victorian locations making copious use of backtracking, exploration, and item management to uncover new areas, confront new enemies, and upgrade her weapons and equipment.

Miriam can attack with a variety of weapons.

When you start the game, Miriam is capable of dodging enemy attacks with a backstep, jumping, attacking with a slide kick, and dispatching monsters with her sword. As you progress, you can expand upon these moves and also acquire and equip other weapons, like a pistol and, of course, the classic Castlevania whip. Miriam is also capable of using magic to move objects and attack enemies; her magic meter slowly replenishes over time but can be refilled faster by smashing candle sticks and similar background item as you explore the massive, maze-like castle and collecting magic orbs. When you destroy enemies, you may also absorb a magic Shard, which will allow you to assign a new ability to Miriam, allowing her to make use of Familiars, throw axes or spears, teleport short distances, or increase her stats.

Equip different Shards and change gear on the fly.

These Shards make up an essential component to Ritual of the Night’s gameplay as you will need to acquire certain abilities in order to progress further through the castle; they will enable you to backtrack to previous areas and access new locations, overcome certain environmental hazards, and increase your ability to dispatch enemies and bosses. However, you can only equip four different types of Shards at a time; luckily, you cans witch these on the fly by assigning shortcuts but you’ll still find yourself jumping back and forth between menus to equip the right Shard.

Save or warp around the map using special rooms.

Miriam will level up as she destroys enemies and gains experience points but, while she is tough, she will die if she takes too much damage. You won’t find any chicken or meat in the walls of this castle, unfortunately; instead, you replenish health by drinking Potions, eating certain foods, or using various Shards. The game also uses exactly the same save and fast travel system as Symphony of the Night in that you’ll find save rooms (which will fully replenish your health and magic) and mirrors (which allow you to fast travel across the map) dotted throughout the game; but this system is maybe something I could have seen dropped as it creates a massive amount of undue tension when you’re in desperate need of a save room, with no Potions, and die at a critical part and have to replay a difficult section all over again. Also coming over from Symphony of the Night, and Castlevania in general, is the ability to smash through walls to reach new areas or pick up items that increase Miriam’s health or magic bar. You can also chat to non-playable characters in a nearby village; they will sell you goods and wears, ask you to perform tasks (generally just destroying certain monsters) for additional items, and, of course, give you access to the game’s crafting system. You can craft better items, increase the power and ability of your Shards, cook up new foods to increase your stats, or dismantle weapons for extra gear.

You need to prepare for the game’s later areas.

On the whole, Ritual of the Night controls extremely well; Miriam can’t dash forwards or dodge through enemy attacks (or, at least, I was never able to get her to) but she can utilise special moves with each of her weapons to parry or counterattack enemies. There are a lot of options available for players to change Miriam’s look, upgrade her abilities, and equip gear and weapons and these are all reflected in Miriam’s appearance. In addition, while there are some platforming elements involved, Ritual of the Night is more about exploration but if you wander too far too fast you may jump right into an environment you aren’t ready for and be set upon by enemies you’re too weak to properly battle, which can result in some frustrating deaths. The only way to properly navigate through the game is to master Miriam’s abilities, equip the best gear, and learn the best ways of taking out monsters and crossing the game’s various environments.

Graphics and Sound:
Ritual of the Night closely apes the graphical presentation of Symphony of the Night but expands upon it greatly; the game has a number of environments, each one packed with details and impressive effects in the background.

The game’s areas all look spectacular.

Miriam will scale a massive spiralling tower, wade through underground passageways, battle through both a hellish landscape and a frozen tomb, and trudge through a desert as well as explore a dilapidated ship, among other areas. Each section of the game has new enemies and obstacles to overcome, new secret areas to find, and can be connected to other areas through the warp mirrors or hidden passageways.

The game doesn’t completely avoid cliché dialogue.

Miriam and other characters and enemies are rendered using smooth 2.5D graphics; the game’s cutscenes use a mixture of static images and text with voice acting to fully-animated movies, though these are used sparingly. Voice acting is suitable enough; all the characters have an English accent or an exotic twang to their speech and do a serviceable job; there’s nothing quite as over the top as in Symphony of the Night, but Igarashi, thankfully, doesn’t completely shy away from the corny dialogue that made Symphony of the Night so enjoyable. As for music, there are a lot of tunes here that will be more than familiar with Castlevania/Symphony of the Night fans; there’s also some remixed and upgraded versions of tunes from Curse of the Moon, which was an inspired move considering how fitting and catchy those tracks were. Each one conveys the ominous presence of the area you’re in and brings yet more life to this gothic, nightmarish world.

Enemies and Bosses:
Miriam will battle a myriad of enemies more than familiar with any Castlevania fan: we’ve got everything from globby monsters, floating heads, possessed portraits, shrieking spirits, deadly toads, annoying bats, and fire-breathing dragons!

It wouldn’t be an indie game without a cameo from Shovel Knight…

Enemies increase in number and danger as you progress through the castle; go from beheading monsters with relative ease to dodging over bigger, armour-plated knights with spiked shields, drill-like swords, or familiar-looking shovels as well as giant werewolves, magic-spewing demons, and skeletal dragons.

There’s some massive bosses here!

The game not only beautifully renders its environments but produces some impressive bosses; you’ll battle titanic beasts such as a two-headed dragon that covers the entire background, a spider-like creature comprised of stained glass, and a giant, demonic mermaid creature. These massive bosses will test your endurance but they’re nothing compared to the more spritely, human-like bosses you’ll encounter; you’ll duel with a blood-spewing vampire, go sword-to-sword with the rogue swordsman Zangetsu, and battle against sorcerers in encounters that will test you reaction times, skill, and patience as you dodge their attacks, learn their patterns, and unleash your most powerful attacks to attain victory.

The two-stage final bosses was a pain in the ass.

The game’s final boss combines both of these elements, pitting you against a demented sorceress who leaps about he screen attacking with her whip-like hair and various elemental magic attacks. Once you finally overcome her, she’ll spawn in a screen-covered, three-headed demon and launch a variety of energy and elemental attacks at you while you leap and dodge around the screen desperately trying to attack her and whittle down her insane health bar.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
While you’ll upgrade your stats when you level up, as you explore your environment, you may uncover goblets that will increase your health bar, potions that increase your magic bar, and special pistols that increase how many bullets your guns can carry and fire. You’ll also obtain items and weapons from downed enemies and bosses and from a variety of chests hidden throughout the castle; when you equip a weapon or gear, it will have positive and negative effects on Miriam’s stats. You might increase her attack power, for example, but lose your resistance to fire damage, so you will have to use trial and error and a combination of gear to keep her stats in optimal condition.

Use magic books and boss Shards to obtain new abilities.

You can also check out magic books from a shady librarian, which will increase your stats further but the game’s main source of empowering Miriam come from the Shards you will obtain from enemies and bosses. These will eventually allow Miriam to move obstacles out of the way, use a double jump, teleport through narrow gaps or walls, and to breathe and manoeuvre underwater in order to reach new areas.

Additional Features:
The game has three different endings, two of which are considered bad endings. To reach the game’s true ending, you’ll have to backtrack to old areas, visit new areas, and battle through the game’s toughest enemies to acquire the items and weapons necessary to confront the true final boss of the game.

There’s some hidden areas and extra bosses to confront once you’re done.

Whichever ending you get, you’ll gain access to a Boss Rush mode to test you skills against each of the game’s bosses in turn. If you pursue the game’s true, good ending, you’ll eventually find hidden keys to battle three optional bosses and visit an 8-bit area for some classic Castlevania action. Obtaining the game’s true, good ending open up a Sound Test and allows you to play through again on New Game+, where you keep all your weapons and upgrades. If you’re a sadist and in need of an additional challenge, you can try the game in “Nightmare” mode to face much tougher enemies; there’s also a few codes you can enter when naming your game file to access different accessories, weapons, and amusing gameplay modes (like big head mode). To keep you playing and give you an incentive to playthrough the game again, the developers have been planning some free downloadable content that will not only allow access to other game modes and Zangetsu as a playable character, but it doesn’t seem to be available just yet. As you might expect, there are also a fair amount of Achievements available here, ranging from defeating certain bosses and completing a number of side missions, to completing the game’s extensive map and finishing the game on higher difficulties.


The Summary:
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an absolutely gorgeous game; for a Kickstarter-funded project, the controls and graphics and features available are impressive, to say the least, and ambitious. This is, in every way, a spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, offering as much of the same challenge and reward as that game while also birthing an entirely new franchise and offering an entirely new experience for Castlevania fans. I imagine die hard Castlevania fans will get even more enjoyment out of this title but I’d argue that you don’t have to have played those games to enjoy this one, though it would probably help to be somewhat familiar with the concept or else you’ll struggle with the game’s massive amounts of backtracking. There are some aspects that I found frustrating; the save system, for one, the sharp spike in difficulty in certain areas, and the two-stage final boss but, honestly, there is nothing here that cannot be overcome without investing the time to master Miriam’s abilities, find better weapons and gear to increase her stats, and just learning how to overcome the challenges ahead of you.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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What did you think of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night? Have you played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night before? What is your favourite Castlevania, or Castlevania-inspired videogame? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Game Corner: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Xbox 360)


One of the things I love about Xbox Game Pass is that it allows me to play videogames I’ve either always wanted to play, haven’t played in a long time and can just farm for Achievements, or games I’ve always wanted to play, like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, 1997). Now, I’m not an especially well-versed player of the Castlevania series (Konami, 1986 to present); I’ve only ever owned one game in the franchise, the abysmal Castlevania (Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe, 1999) for the Nintendo 64, and I’ve only ever completed one title in the franchise, Super Castlevania IV (Konami, 1991), courtesy of the Super SNES Classic Edition. This, as I may have mentioned a few times before, is mainly due to growing up without the income necessary to allow me to own both a Nintendo and a SEGA console; however, I have been a fan of the franchise regardless and have always wanted to play more games from the series. After having a great time with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018), a fantastically well-crafted homage to the Castlevania franchise, I jumped at the chance to give Symphony of the Night a spin.

Alucard is on a mission to confront his father.

As I understand it, Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Konami, 1993) and the game opens with the final events of its predecessor, with acclaimed vampire hunter Richter Belmont taking on and defeating Count Dracula. Despite this supposedly forcing Dracula into a one-hundred-year slumber, the Count’s castle, Castlevania, reappears four years later and, with Richter missing, Dracula’s dhampir son, Alucard (who had previously battled his father in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989), alongside Richter’s ancestor, Trevor Belmont), heads into the monster-infested castle to destroy his father.

Without the right equipment, you won’t last long in Castlevania.

I remember Super Castlevania IV being a fun little romp; you explore a vibrant gothic landscape, upgrade your whip with easily-found power-ups, and battle enemies and bosses that naturally increase in difficulty. Symphony of the Night, however, is a steep learning curve to the uninitiated; it doesn’t take long to get a handle on the basics but you really need to be paying attention to your surroundings and what every weapon and skill does so you can proceed further and further into Castlevania. The voice acting is classic cheese but the music is atmospheric and fitting to the environment; more importantly, the gameplay and controls are tight and responsive. There are very few cheap deaths in this game; no bottomless pits or instant kill traps here. If you get killed, it’s probably your own damn fault as you waded in unprepared or took on a boss or swarm of enemies with low health or the wrong items equipped, making the game a test of your actual gaming skills rather than an exercise in frustration.

Death strips Alucard of all his weapons.

Alucard begins the game fully powered up and ready to take on the forces of evil but quickly encounters Dracula’s chief underling, the Grim Reaper, who strips Alucard of all his items and reduces the player down to simple punches. Alucard breaks from the franchise’s tradition of featuring a whip-wielding protagonist and, instead, favours a sword and shield, which can be equipped to different hands (and buttons), though other weapons (including rods, which are similar to the whip) and items can be acquired and equipped as Alucard makes his way through Castlevania.

Alucard can become a bat, wolf, or mist to reach new areas.

Alucard can also pick up sub-weapons by breaking pots, vases, lamps, and other items; these range from throwing knives, to Holy Water, to protective Bibles, and even fancy lightning. Alucard can only hold one sub-weapon at a time, though, but, whenever he picks up a new sub-weapon, his existing sub-weapon drops to the floor for a short time so you can pick it back up if you don’t fancy trading out. Also similar to other Castlevania titles, Alucard can pick up money, hearts (which, in a move I’ve never understood, allow him to use his sub-weapon rather than replenish his health) and restore his health by picking up pot roasts and potions. Power-ups to increase Alucard’s health and heart count can also be found scattered throughout Castlevania, as can better weapons and equipment, though these are often protected by bosses or hidden away in areas that will require Alucard to obtain other abilities or transformations. Being a dhampir, Alucard has some nifty abilities that other series characters were probably lacking; he can dash away from enemies with a press of a button (but not forwards, which is a bit annoying), cast magic, double jump, breath underwater, and transform into a wolf, bat, or mist to reach new areas. However, most of these abilities will need to be found by use of copious amounts of back-tracking; for example, you may spot a new area up on the ceiling that you cannot reach with Alucard’s standard jump, so you’ll have to acquire the bat or mist transformation to get up there and explore new areas.

Be prepared to face some messed-up enemies…

Symphony of the Night features a lot of RPG elements to its action-orientated gameplay; defeating enemies and bosses gains Alucard experience points and, with enough points, he will level up and his stats (attack, defence, and so forth) will improve. In addition to equipping weapons and shields to do more damage or reduce enemy attacks, Alucard can also equip armour, jewellery, and other items to boost his stats or for other perks. Item management is key here as some weapons require two hands to wield, some deal or defend against specific element attacks and will thus be better suited to certain bosses, and some weapon and shield combinations confer Alucard with very helpful buffs (such as the shield delivering massive damage while simultaneously restoring Alucard’s health). Alongside saving (which can only be done in designated save rooms scattered through Castlevania), exploring Castlevania is a chore in itself; the castle is massive, stretching vertically and horizontally, and the game never holds your hand once in trying to navigate through its maze-like rooms. You can visit a librarian to purchase items and a map but you’ll still need to visit every room and squeeze through every nook and cranny if you want to find the best items, skills, and weapons. As Alucard explores Castlevania, he encounters many nightmarish foes, from zombies and skeletons to monstrous gargoyles, possessed books, and broom-riding witches, all of which can pose a significant threat as the player must equip a healing item in place of a weapon in order to use it and such items are scarce.

Symphony of the Night has some massive boss battles.

Luckily, Alucard can also acquire familiars who will follow him around and provide assistance; the faerie will heal Alucard without the need to assign an item (though it can be easy to burn through your inventory this way) and the demon will attack enemies and press switches you cannot reach. These are extremely useful but also quite limited; it might be because I wasn’t quite sure how to use the familiars but it seemed like they wouldn’t attack every enemy or heal me as often as I would like, making them a little unreliable. Alucard also has to face some massive bosses, including a minotaur, a mummy, and a succubus, the gigantic, lightning-wielding Galamoth, and even evil doppelgängers of himself and characters from Castlevania III. Some of the bosses, like the Gaibon, Slogra, and Werewolf, even appear later in the game as regular enemies (though Alucard should be strong enough to wipe the floor with them by that point) and the majority of the boss battles require some level of strategy in order to get around their attack patterns.

Richter’s turned to the dark side…or has he?

While exploring Castlevania, Alucard comes across Maria Renard, who is searching the castle for Richter; however, when Alucard finds Richter, he is revealed to be plotting Dracula’s return in order to give his life meaning. The battle against Richter can quickly go sideways unless Alucard obtains the Holy Glasses from Maria (which can only be found by getting the Gold and Silver Rings from opposite ends of the castle and using a sub-weapon to activate a clock…because of course); the glasses allow the player to see a mysterious orb controlling Richter and destroying this will free him from the evil influence of the wizard Shaft. Shaft then taunts Alucard and goads him into following him further and it was at this point that I prepared myself for the final confrontation…only to be transported to an exact replica of Castlevania…only upside-down and filled with tougher enemies! The Reverse Castle caught me completely off-guard and added maybe another weekend to my playthrough; it seemed as though every time I seemed to be making progress and getting closer to the end, Symphony of the Night threw another curve ball at me that expanded the map and the narrative further and the Reverse Castle was no exception. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, especially as the Reverse Castle’s enemies often appear in large groups and strange combinations that force the player to flee more often than not.

Play as Richter for a more traditional Castlevania experience.

Alucard must battle five sub-bosses in the Reverse Castle to acquire Dracula’s body parts, which is the only way to unlock the final confrontation against both Shaft and the Count himself. However, the Reverse Castle is also home to some false sub-bosses, who instead drop power-ups for Alucard that you will need in order to succeed. If, like me, you missed a bunch of ability power-ups and transformations before entering the Reverse Castle, you’ll also have to backtrack to the standard castle in order to be able to swim in the upside-down water or damage enemies with your mist attack, two skills that are essential to safely navigating the Reverse Castle. In terms of replay value, Symphony of the Night features a huge map to explore and the chances are high that, even when you reach the final battle with Dracula, you won’t have explored all 200.6% of the game. If you’re playing the Xbox 360 version, there are obviously a few Achievements to get along the way (the 200.6% thing is one of them) and you can even play as Richter if you enter “RICHTER” as your player name, which makes the game both harder and more like Super Castlevania IV as you now control a whip-wielding vampire hunter. There’s also a bestiary to complete by encountering every enemy and boss in the game but the game favours extending its playtime considerably through the Reverse Castle, rather than any significant post-game features.

Dracula presents a tough challenge…unless you know what you’re doing.

In the end, I really enjoyed Symphony of the Night; it was tough but in a way that challenged me to be a better player. It’s annoying that Alucard’s shield doesn’t seem to block every enemy attack and that he can’t dash forwards but these are minor complaints (honestly, I hardly ever even used the shield so it’s a mute point, really). The music is great, the graphics, sprites, and backgrounds are all really well-drawn and heavily detailed, and the gameplay mechanics are solid. The RPG elements are just right for me; you don’t have to do a lot of arduous bullshit to upgrade specific stats or whatever. Alucard simply gets stronger and stronger as he levels-up and equipping the right items and equipment will buff him up further. As only the second Castlevania title I’ve ever played from start to finish, Symphony of the Night was a great experience and actually has me hungering for more from Konami’s franchise. Luckily, they have me covered as the Castlevania Anniversary Collection (ibid, 2019) is now available on Xbox One so I guess I know what I’ll be aiming to take on next…

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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