RETRO REVIEW: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

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Castlevania II | Box Art
Title Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
Developer Konami
Publisher Konami
Release Date JP: August 28, 1987
NA: December 1, 1988
EU: April 27, 1990
Genre Action-Adventure
Platform NES, Wii, 3DS, Wii U
Age Rating ESRB: E

Remember the debut of the amazing Castlevania on the NES? I’m sure you all do! Then do you also remember its sequel? I’m sure some of you don’t want to! Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest marks a moment as the first black sheep of the series. Its infamy is well-known across the Internet and needs no explanation (I’ll provide some anyways along the way). While it may be considered a disappointment, is it really a bad game overall?

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest | Starting Screen

Where do we begin? The biggest change in Simon’s Quest that will be obvious to everyone who played the first game is the change of genre. No longer is it the linear platforming arcade romp that was the original game. It is now a side-scrolling action-adventure game, similar to that of Metroid and Zelda II: Adventure of Link (I call this game Zeldavania). The object of the game is to rid yourself of a curse by finding the scattered body parts of Dracula throughout Transylvania. The body parts were scattered when Simon Belmont last defeated Dracula, but in defeating Dracula, Simon was cursed with Dracula’s final breath. So now he must resurrect Dracula and defeat him once more.

With only the original poorly-made instruction manual to use for reference, you have absolutely no idea what a lot of items do, where they are or even how the formula of this game even works. I’ve completed this game several times with prior knowledge of the cryptic hidden stuff that’s required to know to complete this game (without ripping my hair out). For this review though, I am going to give you the fledgling experience so I can objectively portray to you the frustration behind this game. Castlevania II is just simply baffling without the usage of Nintendo Power, watching an Angry Video Game Nerd review or a simple walkthrough. There’s five body parts in this game, which means there are five different castles to go through.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest | What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse

So, after you idiotically decide to go left in the first town and get the crap kicked out of you, you go right. Here, you see the solid whip action from the original Castlevania has not changed. Periodically though, the infamous text box pops up throughout your adventure: “WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE”. After a tedious transition, you’ll find that this means it is night time, and during night time enemies are harder. It’s a very cool concept to have day-and-night transitions throughout the game, but it’s kind of a pain to deal with at awkward random moments. It can even happen abruptly when you’re trying to make that awkward platforming jump (which STILL is not fixed from the original game) and you’re left hanging in mid-air while it turns from day to night (or vice versa). It does make an exciting experience when towns are closed at night which makes you have to survive until the “MORNING SUN HAS VANQUISHED THE HORRIBLE NIGHT” so you can head inside of a church and heal. It’s also a great mechanic to use to your advantage that whenever you are inside buildings, time stops. Of course, that may mean that you would never want to actually go inside of a castle during the night and have easier enemies during the day.

Another interesting thing to note is the experience system. It’s a great idea to build an RPG-like experience, but the implementation is flawed. For starters, you don’t actually get experience points for killing the enemies, only when you actually grab the hearts the enemies drop. That means there can be moments where you kill several enemies in a row but don’t earn any points for it because Mr. RNG said “no hearts for you”! Speaking of hearts in this game, they represent not only your ammunition (for certain sub-weapons) but now your currency. Whose great idea was it to have your currency dictate weapon usage as well? That’s only the beginning of the lazy design. The leveling system is slightly broken and caps you pretty quickly, so don’t think grinding to make things easier will work. Your attack power does not even increase from the leveling, only your health does with a slight defense increase. To increase your attack power, you need to actually buy new whips, because otherwise you’ll find enemies that will require, four, six, eight or even up to sixteen hits to kill! If it takes any more than two hits to kill an enemy, you should probably not continue in that direction. Equip yourself properly.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest | Platforming

Shout out if you’ve had “A Horrible Night To Have a Curse” in mid-jump.

Everything in the above paragraph is completely topped off by what I explain next: You have three lives, and every time you die you, respawn at the last safest spot you were (which can still be literally right next to an enemy or spikes, so you take damage on instant revival). When you run out of lives, you still respawn as explained earlier, only one problem: you lose all experience points towards the next level and all of your hearts. Now, while I love some mild roguelike nature in my games (nothing like the game Baroque though please), for some of you out there, this will make things not very fun.

This will build up inside castles. When you’re in castles, you need to buy an Oak Stake to pierce the magic shield (or so it seems to look like one) and grab the body part. That sounds easy, but for one, the Oak Stake is all part of the padding of the layout of these castles. These castles are very lazily designed. Being there’s only five of these and three of them have no boss in them (and the two bosses you can fight can be skipped completely), the padded design seems to match up with the intent. Having randomly transparent blocks is just all sorts of fun, and having to jump at every wall to see if it’s transparent is also great. You need holy water — oh, what fun it is if you didn’t grab holy water before you entered a castle! — to test the fakeness of blocks and for those who don’t know any better, once you figure this out you’ll throw holy water all over the place out of paranoia. These transparent blocks come pretty frequently throughout the castle, and falling through can mean something as mild as falling down one floor or having to do the entire castle all over again just because you were negligent to the Swiss-cheese surfaces.

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About Louis Polite

Louis is a youthful but old-school gamer from New Jersey who is partially of Japanese descent and he's totally frilly! He's been gaming for practically as long as he's been alive with a early-on fascination for Kid Icarus, with his other favorite franchises being Klonoa, the Tales series, Sonic The Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. He's a total hipster for Nintendo as well appreciating cult classics like Earthbound and Eternal Darkness. His favorite genre is JRPGs, which is an obvious inspiration why he joined the campaign of Operation Rainfall at it's launch. He's a gamer who demands quality and charm out of his games because if he doesn't get it he will let it be known.

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