Castlevania 2
Simon's Quest

James: Castlevania 2 is the one that's known as the "oddball" of the original NES series, because of how different it is from the first and third Castlevania games. Whereas 1 and 3 are straightforward action games, Castlevania 2 is a non-linear adventure game with multiple branching paths. Once again, you are in the boots of Simon Belmont, vampire hunter from Castlvania 1, and although you defeated Count Dracula in that game's story, you now carry his curse. To break his curse, you must find his five missing body parts and take them to Dracula's Castle to burn them, but time is of the essence.

One thing about Castlevania 2 is that it's a game people either love or hate. Many people love the graphics, music, RPG elements, and freedom of exploration.Others, however, cite that the puzzles are very difficult to solve on your own, and the game's enemies and bosses provide very little challenge. I'm somewhere in between those two trains of thought. I like this game, but once you know what to do, it's easy to blow through it without a hitch. And before you know what to do, some abstract puzzle could easily stump you forever until you either look up what to do or someone tells you the answer. I had a bit of an advantage because my older sister played this game before me, and I think she got some clues from Nintendo Power magazine for the puzzles.

To give you an example of how abstract Castlevania 2's puzzles are, there are certain areas where you have to kneel for several seconds with a specific item selected. There are only some very, very vague clues in the game that tell you only vaguely how and where to do this, and finding those clues is about as difficult as solving the puzzle without them. (I'm reminded of that "waiting behind the waterfall" part in Earthbound that I complained about in our previous review.)

But let's look at the other side of the coin for a moment. If Castlevania 2's puzzles weren't so difficult to solve, you'd finish the game far too quickly. The enemies aren't all that difficult to deal with, and neither are the bosses. There's an item called the "Laurel" that you can buy that gives you temporary invincibility, and these can be used anytime, anywhere, even when fighting the final boss. Maybe part of the thinking behind Castlevania 2 was to give you a different kind of challenge than the first game; a thinking challenge rather than an action one. And it's nice to see some puzzles that don't just involve pushing blocks or cutting something down with a sword. I also think, to be fair, that although the enemies aren't all that challenging, the game is paced well. As in most RPG-like games, you can increase your experience level by fighting lots of enemies. If you increase one level per mansion that you complete, you should be just about ready to handle the enemies around and inside the next mansion. Of course, the game is non-linear, so figuring out which mansion to topple next, is part of the challenge. You will also need to find and/or buy weapon and item upgrades to stand a chance. Theoretically, you don't need all of the upgrades to beat the game, but they do make it much easier.

Overall, I'd say Castlevania 2 is a good game that's a lot of fun to play, but it's not necessarily challenging, and you probably will need to look up a FAQ to complete it. The music and graphics are also pretty damn good, some of the best on the NES. I also like the style and artwork of the enemies and backgrounds. It's a game that won't necessarily make you a better person for having played it, but it won't hurt, either. Do you have any thoughts, my small purple friend?

Junus: Yes, I do, and I guess I can honestly say that in the short history of our reviewing career, I pretty much agree with everything you've said. I do think that sometimes people whine a bit too much about this game's puzzles. Does it really kill you to look up a FAQ once in awhile? People do it for other games all the time, but this is the one that always seems to receive the most flak for it. Gimme a break! And although the game is easy in comparison to Castlevania 1 and 3, I can think of plenty of games that are far easier. Though I admit the final boss is a pathetic joke. The first time I got to him, I was taken by surprise and wiped out, but I don't think I've ever lost to him since. Maybe Konami was just trying to surprise people with that boss. After all, the goal of the game is to take Dracula's parts to his castle and burn them, and Dracula is already supposed to be dead. Nowhere is it mentioned that you'll have to actually fight him again. So maybe it's supposed to be more of a "Surprise!" thing than a true boss fight.

James: True, but they can still surprise you and provide a decent boss fight. And it's not like we shouldn't be expected to figure out that we're not going to actually fight Dracula at the end. This is a Castlevania game, after all. And how many games can you think of that end without a final boss fight? That's be really anti-climactic. But you also can't say "don't use laurels" to make it harder, because he's easy even without them.

Junus: I don't think it's too far-fetched to think we might be surprised, because Dracula's Castle is devoid of enemies. And although some might say that's another lame challenge-less decision, that actually had a really strange effect on me. I was really creeped out by how eerily empty that place was. Challenge is great and all, but sometimes things can be strongly memorable for other reasons, and that's a good thing, too, imo.

James: Yeah, and I think it's difficult to hit on something that will be that memorable for reasons that aren't directly related to gameplay, but Konami had a knack for it, especially in the NES era. Actually, it seemed like a lot of NES-era companies did, but that's another discussion for another time. I also think that exploring the mansions is part of what makes Castlevania 2 so much fun. They're huge buildings with multiple paths that are fun to explore. Some of them can only be conquered once you figure out their secrets, such as paths obscured by breakable or false blocks. False blocks (or walk-through walls) sometimes annoy me in games, but here they didn't, because I thought it was so cool when I finally discovered them. I think, in one case, I saw an enemy go right through a wall, and I realized that they're not normally supposed to do that...

Junus: I think I got knocked through one of the fake walls accidentally by an enemy and that's how I figured them out. I do agree that the mansions are fun to navigate. I think it would've been better if all of them had boss fights, though. It's a bit anti-climactic, because you feel like you've completed a "level" of the game, but there's no boss. And even where there is a boss, they're too easy.

James: Too easy, but I still think Vampira looks awesome! She gave me the freakin' creeps when I was younger. Maybe, again, it's that "surprise" factor you discussed earlier. Maybe Konami wanted gamers to feel surprised at seeing those bosses because you hadn't seen any in the mansions before.

Junus: Vampira is scary-looking. So are a lot of other things, like those graveyards on the way to Dracula's Castle. Really, I think Konami did a great job with the graphics and atmosphere of this game.

James: That, I agree with. Going back to the element of surprise...It does seem like the game tries to "surprise" you a lot. It's almost like a Shadowgate type of thing: When you hit upon the correct solution to a puzzle, some crazy thing will happen, such as the stairs appearing below the lake, or that whirlwind. Even though it may take away a bit of the replay value when you already know what to do, in some ways it's fun to always be reminded of the first time you figured that puzzle out and saw the solution go into effect.

Junus: Yeah, the whirlwind thing is kind of funny. I don't know why NES game designers liked putting whirlwinds that transport you around in their games (like in The Legend of Zelda, too). I also think there are some fun and challenging parts in the outdoor areas of the game, too. Those places where you have to jump across the water on the moving blocks took me a long time to master.

James: I still don't have those parts truly "mastered" (LOL!) I always lose several lives there. I think the trick is when the blocks are far apart, you have to leap when the one you're standing on is going up, and if they're close together, leap when it's going down. Otherwise, your jump comes up short in the former, and you overshoot in the latter.

Junus: There's also the matter of the day-night exploration. When it's night time, the enemies because twice as strong and you can't access anything in the towns. That's a really innovative feature that adds to both the gameplay and the atmosphere. I think this is the first game I've played that had day-night exploration.

James: Yeah, that was a nice touch. The passage of time also determines the ending you get, which adds to the game's replay value. Once you've finished it, you can play again to try for a better ending. (There are three total.)

Junus: I almost always get the "middle" ending where Simon dies. Oh well...

James: Castlevania 2 is certainly a game I like to take out every now and then and play through. Usually, I forget a few things about it, because of how non-linear the world is, so each time I play it, I have to figure some things out all over again, which means it doesn't get boring on replays. I think that Castlevania 2 succeeds on so many levels, that it's easy to overlook its flaws. I give it a total of 3 stars out of 4.

Junus: I think I can pretty much agree with you there, compadre. It's not the greatest game ever made, and not my favorite of the Castlevania games, either, but it's good enough that it deserves the attention it gets. 3 out of 4 stars from me, too.

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