Tag Archives: Castlevania

Late to the Party: Castlevania (1986)

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Konami this week released its Castlevania Anniversary Collection, containing eight of the earliest games in the series. I guess this would be a good time for me to write about what I thought of the original 1986 Castlevania game for the NES, which I played for the first time last fall. Playing and discussing it with fans begs the question of whether you had to have been there at the time to really appreciate this game. Personally, in 2019, find it to be just alright. Continue reading

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15 Years Of Game Boy Advance: Personal Memories

GBA

According to my search function I haven’t gone on at length about the Game Boy Advance on this blog yet. I guess the system’s 15th anniversary is a good time. I’m not gonna do any huge retrospective, just talk a bit about my own memories with the system and maybe some of its overall significance. Continue reading

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Is Mobile All-Bad For Konami (And Metal Gear)?

Konami sees profit growth of 160

I guess you can call this a “devil’s advocate” post regarding Konami’s shift as of late. I’m about as disappointed as anyone else hearing how Hideo Kojima has left and how the company has decided to prioritize mobile and pachinko games. On one level though Iv’e chosen to think practically about it, and on another level recent reports few are talking about cast Konami’s turn in a positive light. Continue reading

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Super Metroid Should Be Nintendo’s Next 3DS Remake

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While playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which has taken up all my gaming time for the last couple weeks, it was brought to my attention that Nintendo should definitely give the same treatment to Super Metroid. ALBW is basically A Link to the Past 2 right (that’s what its Japanese title translates to)? Why not Super Metroid 2?

Nintendo’s been in the habit of remaking its classics on 3DS and Metroid probably makes the most sense as another candidate. This is true both looking at the 3DS itself and where the Metroid franchise is right now.

Metroid is stuck in Nintendo’s doghouse alongside Star Fox and F-Zero as franchises that can’t guarantee the sales numbers of Mario, Pokémon, Mario Kart, or even Animal Crossing. The disappointing Metroid Other M didn’t help things either. Someone at Nintendo is probably mulling over what to do with the franchise. The best course of action if you ask me is probably another 2D entry for the 3DS.

Aside from being Nintendo’s strongest platform right now, the 3DS has supported entries of a lot of the company’s less major intellectual properties like Mario & Luigi and Fire Emblem, and sales on the 3DS saved the latter franchise from cancellation. The Metroid Prime series also kind of ran its course, and with Other M’s performance nobody really knows what to do with 3D Metroid on consoles right now. 2D on handhelds however is still reliable. I could just be saying this though because I’m mad Nintendo hasn’t done a 2D Metroid since Zero Mission on the Game Boy Advance almost a decade ago.

I just don’t see why they didn’t make one on the original DS seeing how well the Castlevania games were doing on that platform. Put the map and Samus’s suit interface on the bottom screen and you’ve got a nifty new control scheme for the franchise. It only makes more sense on the 3DS.

I think the reason Super Metroid in particular makes the most sense for the ALBW treatment is because of its similar structure — it’s another game about traversing an open environment while collecting better equipment. The one important difference is that it’s side-scrolling. Nintendo could recycle the same world map like it did ALTTP’s but rearrange the items and room locks — essentially remix Super Metroid.  The graphics could be an even more interesting upgrade.

I understand the reason ALTTP fit the 3DS so well is because of the game’s focus on varying elevations seen from a top-down perspective. I’d imagine the effect for a side scrolling game would translate into moving things into the foreground or background — perhaps having doors that lead there, and thus to new environments. Why doesn’t Nintendo pull a Castlevania Symphony of the Night and add an inverted version of the world? There’s just so much potential there.

I guess Metroid II: The Return of Samus is another candidate for the same treatment (by the same token so is Link’s Awakening). If you ask me, I think Nintendo could get Metroid Prime working on the 3DS. The in-visor view would be nice on the 3D screen, and the Gamecube games are already designed to use only one analog stick. There are really a lot of games that could work well on the 3DS though.

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Late to the Party: Castlevania Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night turned 15 a little while ago and I’d just recently finished Shadow Complex for the first time, so I thought it’d be nice to finally knock this one out. Playing it from my inverted viewpoint of the series, I can say this game definitely holds up. Even with a few big modern games in my face I still found myself want to play this one. It feels timeless for the most part, even that’s due to some technicalities.

My first Castlevania game was Circle of the Moon at the GBA’s launch in 2001 – in fact that was my first “Metroidvania” game, having never touched a Metroid game until Prime and Fusion came out a year later. Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow however are probably some of my favorite Nintendo handheld games of recent years with their surprisingly refined design. I never got affordable access to Symphony until the PlayStation version came out on PSN a while back, so I’m only just now seeing why the Sorrow games feel so refined. Even today Symphony feels like a shockingly deep game.

Circle of the Moon, and now Symphony being the earliest Castlevania games I’ve played, I have no concept of the transition from the older games to the Metroid-inspired entries. I can only imagine the revelation series fans felt in 1997 when they discovered they were playing as a half-vampire with traditional vampiric powers like transforming into a bat or fog, and then having to actively explore the castle like Super Metroid three years earlier.

From my perspective, Symphony feelslike a new addition to the GBA and DS games, even in terms of graphics, and a very good one at that. The current Castlevania formula has been called “dependably good” – a franchise that has fallen on a perfected formula, so much so that the original years-old blueprint holds up.

I wanna say the main reason Symphony holds up so well is the Metroidvania subgenre really hasn’t advanced beyond it. The subsequent Castlevania and Metroid games on Nintendo handhelds merely manage to be as good in terms of tech, level design, and depth. Looking back I would say Dawn of Sorrow lives up to Symphony without necessarily surpassing it on an objective level (fans will always have their favorites). Shadow Complex merely evokes the formula with its own tweaks instead of providing its “next level.” Even the 3D Metroid Prime stands alone as its own sub franchise. It might be better though that these games stand out as so unique they don’t become obsolete.

The one thing in Symphony that is however undoubtedly superior to its successors is its audio. Being a CD-ROM game, its arranged music and voice acting would unavoidably have an edge over the still-great audio of the handheld games. Even if the voice acting is pretty painful at times (very much of the era), I found myself downloading the soundtrack pretty soon after starting the game.

What does feel oldschool about Symphony though – in a pleasant way, is how it let’s me discover stuff. Yahtzee on Zero Punctuation – who in his review is also a first-time player, seemed to complain that the game refused to spoon-feed itself to him, or be forward about much of anything, and that’s something I miss in games. In the case of Symphony it makes a technically small game feel big, with secrets you have to uncover.

Firstly, the whole concept of the game is to explore and discover more rooms in the castle. The game just telling you where to go like everything does today would probably ruin that. The big example is the secret of the clock room – probably the central mystery of the game, not to mention the fact that you can seemingly beat the game, get an ending with credits, and assume that’s it while actually having missed half the its content.

Dawn of Sorrow pulls this too and I thought it was cool in 2005, but I guess Symphony is where the idea came from. Having played Dawn is probably why I felt like Symphony’s first ending was the “crap” ending. What I didn’t see coming was the appearance of an upside-down version of the entire castle I’d just beaten, even after 15 years. It’s like “wait, I get THIS much more game to play?!” The “anti-castle” as I’ve called it, feels halfway between a lovingly designed new game plus and the actual second half of the story.

There’s also the way Symphony presents its gameplay mechanics. A big one for me was the library card. I’d collected around a dozen of them wondering what the hell they did, and finally said “holy crap” upon using one to find myself transported back to the merchant in the library. Any game today would just outright tell you “use the library card to visit the merchant”, but Symphony lets you wonder and discover on your own.

This kind of backfired a bit too though. I resisted GameFAQs while playing Symphony and I think that was the right decision – enriching each discovery I made on my own, but there were things I just wouldn’t have figured out without a random forum comment. I didn’t even know I could cast spells until the second-to-last boss. I completely missed the ability to survive water for most of the game, and might never have discovered a crucial underwater pathway. Apparently there are people who’ve been playing this game for 15 years and never figured out you could swim wile transformed into a wolf. There are still a handful of doors I haven’t figured out how to unlock yet.

I can see why fans would keep coming back to this game for 15 years. It is very much made for players to discover new things each time they play it, whether that be the secrets of its two castles or its tastefully refined gameplay. It also stands timeless as arguably the pinnacle of a design formula.

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Late to the Party: Shadow Complex

As of this typing I think I’m most of the way through Shadow Complex, which I bought for $5 shortly after first buying an Xbox in 2010. Compared to most of what I’ve played this generation, downloadable or not, I’m kind of shocked at how much design went into this game.

I think everyone aware of Shadow Complex understands it’s an unabashed homage to Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If there’s a reason why you don’t see very many of those types of games, it’s because they require a semblance of actual level design – very tight level design in fact, more than exists in most of today’s AAA games.

Right now I’m at the part of the game where Shadow Complex has let me re-enter all the areas to find any remaining upgrades before likely continuing onto the endgame, and just pouring over the map at all the question marks representing hidden items is mind-boggling. I’ve already spent enough time on this game to finish the campaign of your average shooter these days, and I could probably spend just as much time again trying to get 100% map and item completion. Remember, I spent $5 on this console game.  The full price is $10.

Even games like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed with their massive worlds, miss that feeling of having to boost through these two rooms in order to reach this hidden one over here that you can only reach at this specific time. It’s just not the same as randomly finding the 33rd out of 100 seemingly randomly-placed orbs, both for the gamer and probably the designer. Even Batman Arkham Asylum didn’t feel nearly as intricate as Shadow Complex does.

That said, Shadow Complex feels A LOT like Metroid. Not just in level design, but it borrows a lot of that game’s weapons and mechanics too. Castlevania – from which Shadow Complex might have borrowed its leveling system, at least has its own entire set of weapons and abilities. The one unique thing I do feel in Shadow Complex is that it has probably the most tactical combat I’ve encountered in a 2D game. I like being able to play it more methodically than Meroid, smartly positioning myself and using each environment to the best advantage against enemies, especially on Hardcore mode which very often requires it.

The only place where I think Shadow Complex feels “typical” of today is its story and presentation. It kinda feels like “what if they made Gears of War or Uncharted 18 years ago?” I mean, the protagonist is basically Nathan Drake, and he’s running through grey hallways in the Unreal 3 engine shooting up mooks to stop a military conspiracy. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t read much into Orson-Scott Card.

I feel like considering the guy who headed up this game idolizes Super Metroid so much, it misses that game’s atmospheric element. Arguably the most amazing thing about Super Metroid is how subtly it was able to tell a narrative without words – only through its environment and on-screen events, in 1994, but I’m not gonna damn Shadow Complex for using cut scenes. Another thing though is the differentiation between areas. I kinda had a hard time telling when I’d switched to a new area in this game, whereas Metroid gave each one a distinct air, and Castlevania displays an area’s name whenever you enter it.

It’s probably unfair to measure Shadow Complex to the giant that is Super Metroid however, despite successfully cribbing so much from it. The fact that we can even get this kind of game shows that good things are coming out of today’s gaming economy.

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