I’ve learned that being wistful isn’t always such a bad thing.
There’s always a lot of worry that nostalgia can cloud your opinions on a game, and in a lot of cases that’s probably a true statement. But…why should anyone care? Since when were memories such a bad thing? I do a lot of association with videogames; I can tell you a lot about what I was doing or what kind of person I was based on what I was playing at the time. That’s probably not something you’d go bragging about on a resume or anything, but it gives me comfort none-the-less and you shouldn’t really take that away from anyone.
After tackling Metroid a few months back, I’ve kind of waded into this gray pool of understanding when it comes to classic videogames. I get that good feeling as nostalgia washes over me, but I can also understand what does and doesn’t work in a game. The difference is that just because something wasn’t designed very well doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. If you like it…you like it, no matter what the internet at large has to say.
Case in point – I finished Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the first time. It’s one of the first games I ever rented for the NES; a stalwart reminder of the days of yore. It has an iconic hero, catchy music and a world design that would later become a blueprint for later Castlevania’s down the road.
It’s also a pretty poorly built game.
Your goal in the game, as titular hero Simon, is to gather up the macabre body parts of Dracula from these outlying mansions to ah…resuscitate the evil count so you could kill him again. Because you gotta make sure he’s…still dead, or something? Bah, disregard the logistics of Simon’s quest and just know that it blows the static level design of the original game open for a more freeform and liberating experience.
Unfortunately, the scope of what Konami was trying to do didn’t quite get translated as well in its execution. You kind of meander across the countryside, seeking clues as to what to do next from unsuspecting citizens of the various towns that litter Transylvania. Most of the time…they’re straight up lying to and misdirecting you. And when they are being sincere? The grammar and writing is so bad that it doesn’t make sense anyways.
If you’re going to play Simon’s Quest, you should do so with a guide. There’s no shame in it, really.
When you do finally get a handle on how Castlevania II flows, you then begin to realize that the challenge of your adventure comes from figuring out where to go rather than what’s in between you and your destination. It’s a cakewalk, really.
All your foes, from mummies to mermen and everything in between just kind of…walk towards you. Maybe even menacingly so, for full effect and all. They don’t jump or throw things or have some kind of a pattern for you to solve. They just shamble back and forth until you whip them in the prerequisite style until they fall apart and leave a heart. There are only three bosses, and two of them you can literally just walk past on your way towards vampire body parts. If you want to fight them they give up better weapons, and you can usually win by attrition. Needless to say, the game looked more intimidating then it truly turned out to be.
But I wanted to beat the game because it’s one of those things that would make my inner ten-year-old proud. Have you ever had one of those dreams when you were a kid where you’d see your future self and realize how cool you had become compared to your geeky self then? It’s kind of like that, but in reverse – I tell my ten-year-old self that in the future, we kicked Dracula’s ass and actually beat Simon’s Quest. I’d like to think he’s be proud of me, but let’s be honest: we’re not all that different from each other in the end and I think he’d be a little bummed.
No matter! Even though Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is a bit busted, I think I had more fun playing it now than when I first popped it into my shiny new NES twenty-five years ago. The classic tunes and satisfaction that whipping werewolves gives brought me back; and as I got further that joy was met with me trying to understand what the developers were trying to do.
They were definitely aiming to have a bigger adventure. The mansions that you travel to feel very much like the standard levels from the original game, the developers just wanted to fill that in-between moments with a little intrigue and world discovery. Sadly, it’s so poorly communicated that I bet a lot of people gave up on it long before they even got to the first mansion. This makes me wonder if the simplicity of the enemies was intentional, as kind of a “gimme” or an apology for making it so obtuse. Barring having to turn your NES off, the game is very liberal with both lives and continues in that you start exactly where you died at as to not lose progress.
It’s definitely an interesting case study; enough so that I gathered everything and finished off Dracula for a second time, just for good measure. It did my heart some good; not just for seeing it through to the end but, to see something that was more ambitious than it was practical.
I’m glad to see that I’m finally able to meld wistfulness with a mind to understand; it’s making my trek through the classics not just bearable but enjoyable.