Also available on Famicom Disk System; 3DS, Wii, and Wii U via Virtual Console; and Windows
Often with new IPs, developers will try to change up the formula with the second game in a series given there isn't yet an established "norm" for the franchise yet. We saw that with The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros (at least in the West), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and in terms of game mechanics, Mass Effect and The Witcher. This is also the case with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. With the sequel to the fantastic Castlevania, Konami decided to take the Zelda II approach and replace the first game's iconic action-adventure style with a more RPG-esque format. Gamers around my age who spent time on the internet about 10 years ago, I'm sure, are familiar with the Angry Video Game Nerd review of Castlevania II, but is it really as bad as James Rolfe made it out to be? No...but the game isn't great.
Castlevania II takes place seven years after the events of the first game. Although Simon Belmont defeated Dracula, as he died, Dracula placed a curse on Simon that would send him to an early grave unless he revived the vampire. Simon's quest is to collect the five parts of Dracula's body that have been hidden throughout Transylvania and burn them, destroying the vampire's power and lifting the curse from him. The story, I think, is actually pretty cool, and I'm (almost) always a fan of direct sequels rather than chronologically far removed or unrelated sequels, so it's got that going for it, as well.
What kills the game for me are some of the choice of mechanics. The game features a day-to-night cycle, something that I generally think is pretty cool, but the way they do the transition from day to night gets irksome. Daytime lasts from 6 am until 6 pm (18:00), and night, obviously, lasts from 6 pm until 6 am. Every second of real time is four minutes of in-game time, so a full 24 hour day takes six real world minutes. During the day, townfolk are out and about in the towns, but at night, monsters appear in towns, the monsters out in the world are twice as strong, and you can't enter any town buildings. The annoying part of this day and night cycle is that every time it turns to night, you're greeted with an unskippable six or seven second message that says "What a horrible night to have a curse," and every time it turns to day, you're greeted with an equally long and unskippable message that says "The morning sun have vanquished the horrible night."
In addition to the various towns and field parts of the world, the game has six dungeons - five mansions, each containing one of Dracula's body parts, as well as the ruins of Dracula's castle. These dungeons are, for the most part, fairly well designed, although there are some false blocks that you can fall through if you don't know they're there, wasting a lot of time, that I found to be extremely annoying although not insurmountable. When you die, you respawn pretty much where you were when you died, and when you lose all of your lives, you get game over, but it gives you a password that lets you pick up where you left off. Honestly, the game's biggest problem is that it's just too damn obscure at times, and it's easy to get lost as all of the towns look extremely similar. Some of the game's hints are pretty straight forward and easy to understand, but some of them could use a little clarification. "Give this one thing to this one dude in the graveyard." Okay, well, there are like three graveyards in the game spanning both far ends of the map. It's not easily made entirely clear which town you're in. Even in real life, towns usually have several signs with the town's name on it, and that's especially true in most video games. I might be nitpicking here, but it bugged me.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest isn't a terrible game, but it's not a particularly good game either. It's kind of just...average....and that's a shame because it really had a lot of potential. There's no one glaring flaw in the game but rather a "death by a thousand cuts" sort of weakness; there are a lot of small issues I have with it. Most of the game is a generally enjoyable experience, but there are definitely a number of areas that I felt could have been improved, namely the day/night transitions, some platforming sections, and the NPC's direction hints in the towns. If you're a huge Castlevania fan, then I'd say to give it a play, but if you're not a die-hard fan, I'd say skip this one. It's definitely the weak link in the early Castlevania games.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.