Castlevania-thon 2014 – Dracula X

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Richter Belmont iconI had never played the SNES version of Castlevania: Dracula X until it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console earlier this month. I knew it wasn’t going to be as good as Rondo of Blood, but I wanted to check it out anyway and see how it stacks up as its own game.

I suppose the strangest thing that stood out to me is that, in some ways, it feels a little more like a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins game than a Castlevania game. Enemies are placed in really inconvenient places, and there’s a little bit of trial-and-error involved in learning how to deal with them. But then once you know how, it’s not really a problem, so I can’t say it’s unfair (for the most part). The game also tends to punish you for careless jumping, so movement needs to be very methodical. Heck, even the map screen looks more like a GnG game than Castlevania.

My biggest criticism, however, is that parts of the game feel just a little lazy, or at least uninspired. For example, in most Castlevania games, there’s an unofficial minigame where you try to pose the main character in a cool position just as the screen freezes when you collect the orb at the end of each stage. However, collecting the orb in Dracula X causes the screen to immediately fade to black. (I still like to back flip through the orb for good measure.) This isn’t a big deal or anything, but it’s such a consistent tradition in the classic games that its absence is conspicuous, and there’s really no reason the developers couldn’t have included it.


Also, the backgrounds look nice enough, and a couple of stages even have some nice special effects, but overall, they don’t quite pop. Compared to games like Rondo of Blood or Super Castlevania IV, both of which are filled with setpieces, Dracula X is pretty standard “walk forward and whip things.”

The music, however, is excellent, continuing the tradition that even the weak Castlevania games have good soundtracks. Even compared to the CD audio of the Rondo of Blood, the SNES does an impressive job of recreating the tracks.


And at the end of the day, despite my misgivings, I have to admit that I don’t think it’s a bad game. Even if the level design is not the greatest, the core mechanics are as solid as ever. The simple act of traversing the stages and whipping enemies still manages to be fun in and of itself. It’s not going to become my go-to Castlevania or anything, but it was oddly satisfying.

Next, I’m going back to the very beginning: the NES version of Castlevania. I haven’t decided if I’m going to set any specific goals for it, or just do a straight run-through. I once got very close to doing a no-death run, so it might be within my ability to go the distance with that. I can also try a no-holy-water run, but I think that might actually be harder.

Arcade Mania – Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest (1986)

October 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Icon - Joust 2The very first thing I posted on this blog was an Arcade Mania article for the original Joust. It’s been over three years since then, so it’s about time I covered the sequel!

Released in 1986, Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest is pretty much everything you would expect in a sequel. It has the same basic gameplay as in the original, but with many new twists added. Instead of having only one stage, Joust 2 has several that change between waves. There are new enemy types, including a boss fight with a giant “black knight.” Bonuses can be acquired by landing on buttons that appear on the ground. You also have the ability to transform your ostrich into a Pegasus at any time with the touch of a button, although it makes your character much heavier and more difficult to handle.

Of course, the graphics and sound have been upgraded, as well. While the graphics are still fairly simple, the stage layouts are much more varied. Some of the artwork was inspired by artist M.C. Escher, who was known for creating illusory images. This leads to gimmicks like enemy ostriches spawning out of the shadows of the mountains in the background. There are also some voice samples in the game that add a nice touch.

Screenshot - Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest

Image source:

Unlike the original game, Joust 2 make use of a vertically-oriented monitor. Personally, I don’t care much for this, as it makes the play field seem very claustrophobic. Combined with the much more complex level design, it makes Joust 2 a far more difficult game than its predecessor.

Still, it has a certain charm to it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the original, and so it’s an extremely rare arcade game. I’ve certainly never come across it in the wild, and in fact, I’m not sure I ever even knew it existed until it was included on the original Midway Arcade Treasures compilation for the GameCube, PS2 and original Xbox. The only other times it has been re-released were on Midway Arcade Origins for the PS3 and Xbox 360 and Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 for the PS1.

It’s an interesting curiosity, at the least, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the original.

Castlevania-thon 2014 – The Saga is Concluded (sort of)

October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Richter Belmont iconThis whole “Castlevania-thon” thing started taking shape two years ago when I decided to play through all the Castlevania games I own in order of the official timeline. My effort in October 2012 was really only halfhearted, though, as I didn’t put too much effort into actually getting through the games. Still, I managed to complete five of them, including Dracula’s Curse, Adventure Rebirth, the original Castlevania, Simon’s Quest and Harmony of Dissonance. Last year, I charged through Super Castlevania IV (which I wasn’t able to play in 2012), Rondo of Blood, Order of Ecclesia, Circle of the Moon (not canonically part of the timeline, but whatever), Bloodlines, Portrait of Ruin and Aria of Sorrow. Not bad considering that the “metroidvanias” are much longer than the classic linear games. But I didn’t have time last year to finish the final game in the timeline: Dawn of Sorrow.

Well, now it’s finished, and my two-year journey is compete.

It’s been several years since I last played Dawn of Sorrow, but I really enjoyed giving it another run-through. Usually in revisiting these games for the Castlevania-thon, I try to do something I haven’t done before. For example, last year, I played through Order of Ecclesia in Albus Mode. For Dawn of Sorrow, I started a New Game+ on Hard Mode, and that made the game quite challenging in the later areas. Also, I was surprised to see that I had not gotten 100 percent of the souls. I thought I had done that, but I guess I was thinking of Aria of Sorrow. I was only missing three, so it was pretty easy to finish that off.

Screenshot - Castlevania: Dawn of Sorror

It’s always really satisfying to play through Koji Igarashi’s Castlevania games. For all the criticism they may get for recycling assets and following the same basic formula, they really are fun, solid games with lots of cool little details. It’s interesting that despite being distinctly different from the classic linear games in many respects, they still feel very much like Castlevania, both in atmosphere and in gameplay. Iga really “got it.”

And now, it begins again. I’ll be moving on to Castlevania: Dracula X on the Wii U Virtual Console. I’ve never played it before, so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Castlevania-thon 2014 Begins

October 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Richter Belmont iconIt’s that time of year again, and once more, I will attempt to play as much Castlevania as I can this month. It might be a little more challenging this time, as I have more distractions. Hyrule Warriors just came out, and I expect to be playing that a lot. Plus, there’s some PC games I’m working on. Still, I definitely have some good reasons to play Castlevania, as well. (For example, it’s Castlevania.)

For the past couple of years, I’ve been playing through all of the games I own in order of the official timeline (shoehorning in some of the non-canonical ones). This year, I only have one left: Dawn of Sorrow. Once I complete that, I figured I would start over, except this time, I would play them in order of their release dates. It should be interesting to see how the franchise evolved over the years both in technology and design.

However, as it turns out, Castlevania: Dracula X is being released on the Wii U Virtual Console this week, and I’ve never played it, so I plan on downloading it. I know it’s not considered anywhere near as good as Rondo of Blood (which I already have on the original Wii Virtual Console), but I’m going to get it anyway because I’m a nerd!

Castlevania: Dracula X screenshot

So, the plan is to finish Dawn of Sorrow, then play Dracula X, and then move on to the original NES version of Castlevania, and so on.

I was pretty burned out on Castlevania by the end of last October, but I’m ready for another round! Maybe I can pace myself a little better this year.

The Games That Got Away

September 19, 2014 4 comments

ryohazuki_iconOver the years, there have been a lot of video games that I’ve really wanted to play, but for one reason or another, wasn’t able to. Fortunately, in many cases, my chance came along eventually, even if it took years or decades. However, there are still those few games that manage to elude me. So, in the spirit of airing my grievances, here is a short, painful list of some of the more notable games that have gotten away from me.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night


Being that I’m a big fan of the Castlevania series, both the classic and metroidvania eras, missing Symphony of the Night is one of my great gaming shames. Not only is it considered one of the best Castlevania games, but also one of the best video games ever made, period.

Really, it all boils down to me primarily owning Nintendo consoles, and oddly enough, Symphony never appeared on any Nintendo system. That’s kind of strange when you think about it, considering how prominent the series usually is with Nintendo. But so be it, and that leaves me out in the bitter, dark cold.

But if Rondo of Blood could make it to the Wii Virtual Console, then perhaps one day, Konami will see fit to bring Symphony to a Nintendo platform as well.

Shenmue II


This is an even more painful inclusion on this list. I’m a self-proclaimed Shenmue fanboy, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite games.

Now, imagine this: Shenmue II was promised to Dreamcast owners for nearly a year after the first one came out. And then just one month before its scheduled release, it’s canceled so that it can be an Xbox exclusive (and delayed for another year on top of that). Oh, but only in North America. Japan and Europe still got the Dreamcast version on schedule.

At the time, I was pretty bitter about the whole thing, and I wasn’t about to buy a whole new console from something that was supposed to be on one I already owned. And I wasn’t aware that certain retailers were actually importing the European Dreamcast version to sell in America, so I missed my opportunity.

Today, however, I think Shenmue would actually sell me a console. If a Shenmue collection were ever released (or dare I say, Shenmue III), I would try to find a way to play it.

SaGa (series)


I’ve refrained from including Japan-only releases, because games I want to see localized would be a different list. The SaGa series, though, is a little of both. The games that have been localized have rarely appeared on systems I own, and the ones that did usually stayed in Japan. As of now, the only game in the SaGa series that I’ve played is Final Fantasy Legend II on the original Game Boy. I held my breath with eager anticipation that at least the Nintendo DS remake would make it over, but unfortunately, that’s about the time that Square Enix decided to get picky with their localizations.

So, why am I interested in the series if I’ve had so little experience with it? I guess I kinda like RPGs that are just a little off-beat. Plus, I am a big fan of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series, which was made by the same development team and is similarly quirky.

As a series, SaGa seems to be dormant right now, but there are occasional stirrings. Still, I won’t hold my breath.

Various Shoot’em-ups


I’m just going to make this a catch-all category for all the 2D shmups that have decided to stay out of my arm’s reach for the past couple of decades. As an R-Type fan, I would’ve loved to get my hands on Delta and Final, and Thunder Force V always looked really cool to me. The Gradius Collection was only released on the PSP, so I couldn’t play the only localized version of Gradius Gaiden. There are others as well.

Shmups in general are a bit rare these days, and it’s kinda sad that even the big franchises of the ’80s and ’90s are all but dead. The classics do show up from time to time on digital download services, but as far as Nintendo platforms go, it’s unlikely I’ll see anything that ever appeared on the Saturn or PlayStation.


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