Game – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
Release Date – December 1, 1988
Platform – NES
Developer/Publisher – Konami/Konami
The Castlevania series has always been one of my favorites. The idea of going toe-to-toe with one of the most badass villains in history is just too epic to pass up. The original Castlevania game, which was ported to the NES in 1987, is one of my favorite games of all time, with this second entry in the series not too far behind. (Just look at the box art!)
Simon’s Quest came to North America in 1988 and, unlike its predecessor, introduces more of an RPG element to its typical action-platformer roots. It feels quite similar to what The Legend of Zelda did for its second installment, adding in towns with NPCs that you interact with and buildings you can enter, some of which hold their own secrets. Your health meter will also increase after collecting a set amount of hearts.
You control the (in)famous vampire hunter Simon Belmont on a mission to undo a curse that was placed on him by Dracula prior to the Prince of Darkness being struck down in the first game. To do that, Simon needs to collect five of Dracula’s body parts and bring them to the dilapidated halls of the vampire’s old castle. This leads to a quick resurrection followed by an even quicker execution, given that you have adequately prepared yourself throughout your journey.
Like the first Castlevania, Simon is equipped with a leather whip, which can be upgraded multiple times during the course of the game, and a variety of secondary weapons. These items range from holy water and daggers to diamonds(!) and vary greatly in their effectiveness. I found myself sticking with the holy water for the majority of my run and never really felt the need to mix it up much. Be forewarned, however, that some of your items require the use of hearts collected from defeated enemies. These hearts double as currency in the game and should not be wasted, unless of course you are one of the four people in the world that enjoy grinding to ensure your continued progress.
Enemies, outside of the three bosses, should fall with one or two hits from your whip, so long as you are upgrading it at the proper pace. If you find yourself hacking away at an enemy more than three or four times you may want to think about trying to locate your whip’s latest enhancement. I appreciate how the game brings in many of the same baddies that you encountered in the first title, including skeletons, fishmen, mummies, and everyone’s favorite (or not) – the medusa heads!
There is a day and night dynamic in the game that helps to drive home the fact that you are in a cursed land. When the sun is out enemies are weaker and most towns are bustling with its inhabitants. Once the evening approaches the bad guys get stronger and the townsfolk are replaced by some unfriendly zombies. Nighttime also brings with it increased rewards, with fallen enemies meting out a greater number of hearts.
Even at nearly thirty years old the controls still feel good here. I didn’t once feel like I died without it being my own fault. There are, of course, some tricky platforming sections that will require some fairly precise timing on your part, but it’s nothing that should give anybody too much trouble.
What may drive most players unfamiliar with the game up the wall is actually knowing where to go and what to do. Villagers in the different cities will give you vague clues, but you may find yourself frustrated due to the lack of direction.
If you’re looking for a little nostalgia you could do far worse than Simon’s Quest. The gameplay is still solid nearly three decades on and it’s hard to feel much cooler than when you’re taking the fight right at the Grim Reaper and Dracula. Just be sure to have a guide handy for when you (most likely) are unable to decipher the riddles of this world.