Tag Archives: belmont

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

BLOOD!If gaming is a language, then franchises must be dialects. And among dialects, of course there must be regional variances. And Castlevania: Bloodlines is, unfortunately, the regional dialect of Atlantis.

Gogglebob.com: come for the videogames, stay for the extremely strained metaphors.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game very near and dear to my heart. Back in my younger days, I was very much a Nintendo kid, but a Sega Genesis was available to me by about the midpoint of the 16-bit console wars. And, while I owned a mere three Genesis games, my dad granted me one Sega Genesis rental every two weeks. So, about twice a month, my ADD-addled brain got to experience a brand new videogame for a few days, and that whole new experience that was sure to make me scream, “Sega!”

…. Or I just rented Castlevania: Bloodlines again.

I’ve always been a Castlevania fan, and, frankly, I’ve always been a sucker for a game that I have to “defeat”. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea that I don’t have to “beat” or “100%” a videogame, and showing my love for a piece of art doesn’t mean I have to experience every last secret room or collectible. But back in my younger years? If there was a game that I thought was even marginally fun, and I didn’t beat it? Then what the hell was I even playing the game for!? Fish gotta swim, dogs gotta bark, Pokémon gotta track my sleep for some reason, and videogames gotta get beat, ya know? And, since Castlevania: Bloodlines was an enjoyable Castlevania game that I absolutely could not beat (on Normal difficulty), it meant that I had to retry that title over and over again until I finally conquered death itself (and Death). My young thumbs were still not developed enough to suffer through its insane final boss gauntlet, but I was going to try, dammit!

Swing is the thingAnd, if I’m looking at this title with some kind of wizened hindsight, I can probably admit that the other reason I kept coming back to Castlevania: Bloodlines was that it was simply a damn good game. It features the signature measured level design of previous Castlevania titles, and, while your protagonist often feels like he is being propelled by the same force that could eventually push a snail to cross a parkway, the majority of the title feels fair and appropriately scaled to Belmont (Morris) speeds. The dual heroes of the tale are different enough to feature their own unique (and fun) moves (spear vaulting is great for vertical areas, and whip swinging is… amusing to look at), but also similar enough that we don’t wind up with an X/Zero situation where one character is that much more of an advantage. And, as always in the Castlevania series (give or take a Gameboy adventure), the music is top notch, and the creepy crawlies that haunt the European countryside are numerous and inventive. And murderous. They’re always murderous.

So it’s kind of a shame that the majority of the Castlevania loving public forgot Castlevania: Bloodlines ever existed.

Possibly more than any other franchise, Castlevania has always been a very… what’s the complete opposite of progressive?… nostalgic franchise. When Bowser got seven Koopa Kids and a brand new butt stomp for Super Mario Bros. 3, Dracula was still using his same ol’ teleport/fireball pattern for Castlevania 3. When Mega Man X completely redefined everything that Mega Man ever was, Super Castlevania IV still had Simon trudging through Drac’s dilapidated hallway o’ zombies. This isn’t to say that Castlevania has never had an original bone in its obviously an angry skeleton-based body, but Castlevania has always reveled in its past since before it escaped the gravity of the NES.

DEATH!And (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this) there is nothing wrong with a little videogame nostalgia. Particularly in the 16 and 32-bit days, it seemed like games were rapidly attempting to burn their pasts on the altar of “cool” and “new”. But it was still cool to see old mainstays like Frankenstein(‘s Monster) or Medusa show up when many contemporary titles were trying to reinvent the wheel by detonating every nearby car (literally, in the case of Grand Theft Auto III).

And, while Castlevania: Bloodlines certainly pays tribute to the Castlevanias we all loved before (“Hi, Frankenstein! Hi, Medusa!”), for a long time, it seemed like appropriate acknowledgment was not paid to Bloodlines in kind. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is the uncontested turning point of the franchise, and, as a direct sequel, it owed much of its plot and iconography to Rondo of Blood and its PC Engine/SNES origins. It also was clearly influenced by much of the imagery of Super Castlevania (that’s where Death met his buddies!), and the Reverse Castle featured the pieces of Dracula of Castlevania 2 mixed with the iconic bosses of Castlevania 1. And, while it almost seems like a footnote at this point, let’s not forget that Alucard premiered in Castlevania 3, and wound up fighting his zombified allies. Truly, Castlevania Symphony of the Night was the culmination of all console Castlevanias that came before, and paid homage to all of those titles in fun and inventive ways.

Except Bloodlines. Nobody cared about Castlevania: Bloodlines.

This is not a glitchAnd, unfortunately, this created a sort of ripple effect in the fandom. While Symphony of the Night encouraged visiting old titles to see first appearances of Slogra & Gaibon, Phantom Bat, or Grant DangheNasty, there was no such drive for Bloodlines. And when future titles decided to bring back more past friends and foes, we saw Skull Knight of Castlevania 3, not Mecha Knight of Bloodlines. And when we finally saw some significant references to Bloodlines in Portrait of Ruin, it was to let us know that both of Bloodlines’ protagonists died inglorious deaths, and Eric’s lance would only return as an accessory for a ghost. A whole Castlevania game was lost, and when the entire experience was lost and forgotten from the virtual consoles and collections that accompanied the new digital era, nobody batted an eye. You could download Super Castlevania, Castlevania: Dracula X, and even Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines was wholly absent. And there were no conversations about the title, because, frankly, who cared? We got all the good Castlevanias, right? If Bloodlines was any good, it would be referenced heavily like those other titles. Symphony of the Night was the pinnacle. IGA wouldn’t steer us wrong.

But a miracle happened just recently. Castlevania: Bloodlines was released as part of the excellent Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Now, Bloodlines is able to stand tall next to its early Castlevania console brethren. Now, people are talking about Bloodlines, and many of them are talking about it for the first time. And they like it! They really, really like it! Because it’s a good game, and always has been! After a 25 year banishment from the gaming consciousness, Bloodlines has returned, and people are again speaking the language of magical lances and Gear Steamers. Bloodlines can once again take its proper place in the Castlevania pantheon, and rest easy knowing that now more people have seen its horrible Dracula and his disturbing crotch face.

DONT LOOK AT MEUltimately, I find this success story to be the best way to conclude this Game Preservation Week (“Week”). None of these games that have been discussed have to be gone forever. Like Castlevania: Bloodlines, we’re always just one collection or digital release (or mini console, apparently) from a title returning to the gaming consciousness. And let’s see some solid videogame archiving in the future, so another game isn’t lost to decades again. The future of gaming may be streaming, but let’s remember our past, our dead languages, and see how they can make our future better.

And then let’s whip some skeletons but good.

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

  • System: Sega Genesis. And now available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Sweet!
  • Number of Players: Two choices, but only one player. We’d have to wait for another forgotten Castlevania title to see some multiplayer Castlevania.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I rented Bloodlines from the local rental place so much, I eventually bought the cartridge when they were liquidating some of their “old” stock. That makes Bloodlines my fourth or fifth owned Sega Genesis game (the real money went to my beloved SNES).
  • Out of the Castle: Bloodlines follows John ‘n Eric as they battle around some of the more interesting mystical spots in Europe, like Atlantis or Pisa (?). This leads to some more interesting venues for our hunters to traverse, and maybe an excuse to battle a minotaur or two. And you get to fight World War I German war skeletons. That is so close to whipping undead Nazis!
  • RatzisFavorite Character: I lied earlier. Eric LeCarde makes this trip through Europe so much more manageable. His additional reach is a godsend, and the ability to vault straight into the skies… isn’t all the useful, actually, but it’s fun in exactly one room at Varsailles. Oh! And he has beautiful girl hair! I don’t see how that helps vampire slaying, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • A Little History: The big deal of Bloodlines is that it tries to tie the Castlevania mythos to Bram Stoker’s Dracula by claiming the vampire slayer Qunicey Morris (and thus his son and grandson) was actually a Belmont descendant. Who cares? What’s important is that Bloodlines seems to imply that Elizabeth Bartley started World War I as a cover for resurrecting Dracula. Now that’s something they don’t cover in history books!
  • Did you know? The Princess of Moss, the boss of The Versailles Palace stage, is a monster moth initially disguised as a woman. And that woman is apparently supposed to be Marie Antoinette, famous queen and cake-eater. Now, this is not to say that it is official Castlevania canon that Marie Antoinette was some manner of undead, immortal insect creature… but the opportunity is open for future Castlevania titles.
  • Would I play again: Now that I have it permanently loaded onto my portable Nintendo Switch? You’re damn skippy I’m going to play it again!

What’s next? Random ROB is back in action and has chosen… The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link! Are you sure that isn’t an Error, ROB? Oh well. Please look forward to it!

I hate this jerk.  He just... rains.

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

Billy!There have been a lot of reasons thrown around for why localized NES games were so unerringly difficult compared to their Japanese, easier cousins. Was it the fear of the American rental market gutting the profits of Japanese developers? Was it an effort to “improve” the game through greater difficulty? Was it a general disdain for Grant Danasty? In many cases, it is nearly impossible to ascertain the thinking involved, as many Japanese developers were just too exhausted from blowing into cartridges to remember what they did ten seconds back, left alone two decades ago. However, in one case, we know exactly why Konami made a host of changes between the Japanese Mad City and the American The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

It’s because 1989 Konami was a company filled with hate.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Mad City.

Beat ‘em Up: Faster, Stronger, Harder

What is even happening?First and most unforgivable sin: everything is so much more difficult in the beat ‘em up portions of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Konami didn’t just choose to strengthen the enemies through increased HP, double damage dealing blows, or increasing their average speed; no, Konami decided to enhance everything. How is Billy supposed to survive such a thing!? All of his opponents have become super monsters, and the only advantage the player has gained is… sometimes the bad guys now drop knives. That’s it! Billy was granted no additional strength, and everyone else in the bayou is sucking down triple powered steroids!

And the unfortunate corollary to this change is that it makes the game so much worse. A beat ‘em up is, at its core, a careful balance between general fun and nonstop tedium. There’s a reason even the best of the best of beat ‘em ups often have minigames splattered about the experience, and that’s because old school beat ‘em ups are boring as heck. It’s the same doof getting punched over and over, and even the most dedicated player is going to notice nothing new has happened for the last half hour. Double the HP of your average enemy (or every enemy), and it’s not only a challenge to keep Billy alive, but it’s a challenge to stay awake. Nobody needs to wade around in a bog for ten minutes punching an alligator, and we really don’t need another boss that takes so many hits that it doubles the length of the level.

Yes, more powerful enemies make the game “harder”, but, more importantly, they make the game unnecessarily longer.

Shoot ‘em Up: Better be a Crack Shot

Pew PewThe first stage (that you will never beat) is a beat ‘em up, but shortly thereafter is a shoot ‘em up stage. And it’s kind of neat! You have the option of using your controller as a mouse-like reticle, or you can actually use the classic NES Zapper to blast Bayou Billy’s bullies to bits. Yes, this game was produced in that crazy ten minute period when developers remembered that the NES had other control options, and we’ll all accept any excuse to whip out the ol’ Zapper again.

Unfortunately, the American version of the game found a way to make the entire experience 50% less fun. You have a limited number of bullets in both Mad City and TAoBB, but in TAoBB, you have half the bullets as Mad City. This means you have half the means of defending yourself (in typical shooting gallery style, you must repel attackers and objects with your amazing aim), and half the chances to survive. Naturally, you instantly lose if you run out of bullets, so for anyone that isn’t already very good at aiming (like the guy writing this article), the zapper goes from a fun novelty to a virtual impossibility. Or maybe you could just sit really close to the screen. Whatever the solution, the severely limited firepower transforms what could be a very fun minigame into an extremely stressful shoot out.

Okay, I suppose shoot outs should be stressful… but still!

Quiz Mode: Gone Forever

Mad City contained “quiz mode”, a short, multi-question, multiple choice quiz that tested your knowledge of Mad City. Bayou Billy dropped the quiz entirely. One could claim the test was eliminated because it had no impact on anything and was barely more fun than a math final… but at least it was there! And it was one of the few things you could “beat” without having to master proper gator-wrastlin’! Come on, Konami, let us Americans have some goofy fun!

Drive Mode: You will not survive

WeeeeeAnd now we get to raw, seething loathing. Bayou Billy starts in the Louisiana Bayou, but, at about the halfway point, Billy hops in a jeep and hightails it over to the big city/easy. This simple act translates into an Out Run-esque “racing” segment. Billy has to catch up with Godfather Gordon, and avoid a few planes, trees, and automobiles along the way. It’s a pretty straightforward race to the finish/avoid every obstacle car challenge.

However, things are just a smidgen more difficult for the American audience. Right off the bat, Mad City’s car health bar has been dropped, so, bad news, every last collision is an instant death. Sorry! Making matters worse, Billy is driving a big, fat American car for his the Western release, so the slightly wider bumper is a lot more likely to nudge into a fatal crash. And, because we’re never going green, Billy has less fuel, so if you were considering taking it slow to avoid all those gratuitous deaths, I’ve got some bad news for you.

In short, if you claim you were able to conquer the Bayou Billy driving stages on the original hardware, I am calling you a liar.

Annabelle Gets a Makeover

In Mad City, Annabelle, Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend, wears a long dress with no shoes. In TAoBB, she is sporting daisy dukes, a tank top, and heels. This… doesn’t impact anything, but it’s weird, right? The only woman in this entire franchise gets a different outfit, and every other character gets slight palette swaps, if that. Okay, it’s the least of the localization sins, but it’s still peculiar.

More Work, Less Reward

LoserAfter all that, assuming you can beat Godfather Gordon and his inexplicably buff twin nephews (or something) you will be treated to the ending of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Admittedly, this ending is actually pretty great (by NES standards) as it includes not only the resolution of the plot (Billy gets the girl!) but also a set of whacky credits that credit every random thug in the adventure like they’re actors playing a role (and that role is making your life miserable). Nobody is going to mistake this little interlude for the best ending on the NES (which is, obviously, the finale of Super Mario Bros. 2), but it at least acknowledges something happened.

But over in Japan, Billy can earn one of three different endings. Three! There’s the obvious “reunion” scene that appears in the American version, but there are also two joke endings: one that includes Billy being a jackass and refusing to touch Annabelle (because the player didn’t deign to shuffle Billy over to his “prize”), and one that is a fourth-wall breaking “comedy routine” that parodies the very concept of a happy ending. Neither ending is that exciting (and one is weirdly rapey), but, come on guys, at least give the greater prizes to the more difficult game!

More effort, less to show for it, and a game that goes from “innocuous” to “one of the most difficult games on the system”. Could there even be an explanation other than sheer hatred for Western gamers?

Here’s a game set in America, kids, now choke on it.

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and that’s that. No rerelease for the lucrative Bayou Billy license.
  • Number of players: It’s mostly a beat ‘em up without a second player, and that’s never good.
  • BelmondoFavorite Weapon: At least one thing Bayou Billy has going for it is that Billy can acquire a few different weapons from his opponents, like a rock or a gun. I think one is more effective than the other. Regardless, the whip is the best of the bunch, because it’s strong, has range, and doesn’t run out of bullets in six seconds. Bless you, 8-bit whips.
  • How hard is it? In the official Captain N canon, Bayou Billy is the only game that Kevin Keene has never beaten. He’s Captain N! He can beat all the games! What is going on!?!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I assumed “Bayou Billy” was some popular 80’s property (likely a movie) until… about a week ago. Crocodile Dundee was a real thing, right?
  • Did you know? There was a tie-in Bayou Billy comic book series, and, while it only ran for five issues, it did feature art by a young Amanda Conner, who would go on to be the best freaking combination artist/writer in the comics industry. Have you read her Power Girl series? Go do that now. It has a gorilla in it, you’ll like it.
  • Would I play again: I just described the game as pure hatred, do you think I’m going to jump back into that swamp again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bravely Second: End Layer! Let’s team up with a woman from the moon to fight for our beloved dimension! Please look forward to it!

Hugs!
HUGS!

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Here comes a special boyCastlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is likely the most ill-advised videogame in gaming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not made for sequels

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (no additional verbage) was a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 game meant to revitalize the Castlevania franchise. Koji Igarashi held the reins of the Castlevania universe for years, and, in that time, he produced exactly one (1) decent console Castlevania. Granted, it was one of the best games of all time, but every time Iga hit the consoles again, we wound up with something… less than stellar. The PS2 outings were rote and boring, and the Wii saw a Castlevania fighting game that was maybe the most bonkers bit of plotting in an already supremely bonkers franchise (Super Mega Death traveled through time so Maria could be jealous of Sypha’s rack). None of these games presented any sort of justification for Castlevania to exist on the “next gen” consoles, and, since portables have long been considered the ghetto of gaming, Konami was understandably concerned about its Castlevania franchise. If one of your top franchises was simply languishing in the portable market, how could you ever marry said franchise to successful slot machines?

Lords of Shadow was basically a gritty reboot for an almost accidentally gritty series. You’ve got a Belmont hero, but now he’s working for a very real and very present Christian church. You’ve got your old standbys like the werewolf, succubus, and Grim Reaper, but now they all have tragic backstories with (fantasy) logical origins (if you ascend to Heaven as an immaculate being, obviously your body stays behind and becomes a vampire slut). The environs are more Lord of the Rings (popular at the time), combat is more God of War (also popular at the time), and everything is a lot more bloody (always popular). Lords of Shadow does a lot to simultaneously distinguish itself as a fresh, new look at Castlevania and be, incidentally, an experience that is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the HD action game flock (of 2010 or so).

ScaryBut LoS did one remarkable thing: spoilers, but you were Dracula the whole time! Gasp! You were playing through the secret origins of this brand new Dracula, and now you’re the Lord of Darkness himself! And the final boss is Satan. Yes, that Satan! Dracula is kind of a good guy! Or something!

And the only problem is that that’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once.

The whole “you were the bad guy all along” thing is a great twist, but it doesn’t really lend itself to a franchise. It can work in many pieces of media, but for a videogame, you inhabit the protagonist, so the fresh new nasty boy either has to be the final boss of the next adventure (because killing off the previous protagonist in any lesser manner would be an insult to the first game), or said “villain” has to be supremely misunderstood. In fact, it seems like the Lords of Shadow staff realized this immediately, and tacked on a postlude that featured New Dracula awakening in modern times. Cool! He’ll be “misunderstood”, but Dracula in modern times is a fresh new direction for the Castlevania franchise! Maybe a sequel could work!

The sequel absolutely doesn’t work

Let's reflect on thisOkay, maybe the real sequel does actually work, but Castlevania: Chain of Memories absolutely does not.

So, first, in order for this whole game to work, we have to retcon in Gabrielle Belmont, star of Lords of Shadow, and his brand spanking new son who never got mentioned before this very moment. Okay, Gabrielle was a prophesized warrior that was incidentally being controlled by Patrick Stewart, so, sure, maybe the family bought into not telling Gabrielle “for his own good”, and, since the player exists behind Gabe’s eyes, we just weren’t privy to that information. Fine. But this also means the story has to start a maximum of twenty years (good hero’ing age) after Gabrielle became Dracula, and… is that going to work? Gabby kind of accidentally became Dracula, so is he going to settle into the whole “malevolent dictator” thing that quickly? And Lords of Shadow started in 1000 AD or so, so how does humanity even get to the modern era teased during the LoS finale if Dracula has been awake and active for the last millennium? So many questions!

But, okay, let’s move past that. Let’s just say that Dracula is simultaneously very quick to come into his powers, but very slow to actually do anything with his powers. And, hey, that’s basically the original canon, right? Oh, wait, no, there’s always a Belmont slapping down that Dracula before he can do anything. But we’ve got Belmonts here, though, right? Like, that’s the whole point of the “Gabrielle’s son” conceit, right? Sure, we’ve got (new, LoS) Trevor Belmont here, husband of Sypha, and he’s going to… Wait. Wasn’t the whole point of LoS that a Belmont became corrupted to become Dracula, so we’re not so different, you and I, and all that riot? So if we now have a whole crop of Belmonts… what was the point of this new franchise again? Castlevania, but with slightly larger trolls? I thought this was supposed to be new? This franchise really isn’t built for soldering on pieces of an already convoluted franchise. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a real live person wearing a cartoon princess dress, and that’s not a good look.

Same Trick, Two Games

ALUCARDIn Lords of Shadow, Gabrielle Belmont is eventually revealed to be Dracula.

In Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Trevor Belmont is eventually revealed to be Alucard.

There. Just saved you all twenty hours of “mystery”.

“Linear” is not a dirty word

Presumably in order to build tension for that all-important Alucard reveal, Mirror of Fate is played in a sort of reverse chronology. First you play as Simon Belmont, who is being helped by a mysterious white-haired ally. Then you play as said ally, Alucard, who is fighting Dracula, but he doesn’t quite remember why. And then, finally, you play as Trevor from twenty years earlier, who is eventually defeated by Dracula in order to be revived as Alucard. It’s all very clever and cute and mysterious assuming you didn’t guess that exact twist from the first trailer. And even if you managed to go into the game fresh, you’d have to have the intelligence of a fleaman to miss all the anvilicious clues being dropped every ten seconds. And, oh yeah, if you played the first game, you’d be expecting that exact twist, and why the hell would you be interested in such a tiresome sequel if you didn’t play the first game?

It's not really a spriteAnd, frankly, it is heartbreaking that the plot seems to be stuck with this en media res nonsense, as there are a good number of characters and events along the way that really benefit from linear understanding. There is very little benefit to a new player being confused by Simon’s “mysterious ally”, but there is emotional heft to be gleamed from Simon being assisted by his cursed ancestor. The Daemon (ugh) Lord was mutilated by Trevor, and then revived by arcane science to return and menace Alucard… but when you first encounter the mechanized monster during Alucard’s story, he’s just another unrecognizable, barely threatening boss. And it sure would be nice if we weren’t saddled with yet another immortal protagonist that is suffering from amnesia just as long as the plot demands!

A linear Mirror of Fate wouldn’t have solved all of the story’s problems, but it would have made a number of the generational plot beats wildly more effective. But, no, I guess it wouldn’t be a Lords of Shadow game if the gameplay didn’t end in a shocking (not shocking) revelation.

It’s a metroidvania without the exploration

Enough about this silly plot! How’s the gameplay?

Not great, Goggle Bob.

ZZZZAAAPLords of Shadow was an attempt to turn Castlevania into a new God of War-like franchise. And it was mostly successful! But for the portable version, the decision was made to return to the metroidvania-like format of the last decade’s worth of portable Castlevania titles. This was a clever move, and an obvious way to bring lapsed Castlevania fans back into the fold. Don’t worry, old fans, this franchise is still for you! Look, here’s a platinum-haired dhampir exploring a big ol’ castle just for you.

Except… everyone involved kind of forgot how a metroidvania game works.

First of all, this adventure was doomed from the start, as the three different characters in three different stories (and 2.5 different time periods) kind of preclude the traditional “one big castle/planet” of most metroidvanias. But it could still work! Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin both had “level” like areas, so it’s not completely alien to the genre. Oh! And the “generations” thing could lead to a lot of different, fun puzzles! Break a gateway in the past to allow for entry in the future! Drain the moat as Trevor so Simon doesn’t have to take a dip! It could be a thing of beauty!

But, no, it was not to be. Mirror of Fate put an emphasis on two things: plot and battles. We’ve already covered the plot ad nauseam, but be aware that no “time travel” shenanigans are allowed when we’re telling a very serious story about seriously inept Belmonts (you just have to kill one vampire! One!). And that leaves us with the combat, which is…. kind of sad.

Moving right alongThere’s a reason that the greatest heroes of 2-D just jump. There’s a reason previous Belmonts were limited to a whip and a few subweapons. There’s a reason that even the mightiest of blue bombers are limited to a life of pew pewing. 2-D combat can only be so interesting. When you have a limited field of movement, you have a limited set of abilities, and whip/dodge/jump only gets you so far. In many Castlevania games, this is masked by a great wealth of monsters from across time and space. In this Castlevania game… not so much. Lords of Shadow seems to put a premium on combat with recurring enemies in tight corridors, but, give or take a few interesting boss battles, it feels fairly flat. And when you hang a game on something that feels perfunctory, the entire game feels kind of boring.

And, when you get down to it, that’s the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Everything about it winds up being tedious and predictable. And hanging a flagship franchise on a game that is that boring is… ill-advised.

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

  • System: Nintendo 3DS initially, and then an HD version was released to follow Lords of Shadow 2. This is basically the same trajectory as a certain Kingdom Hearts game, which is never a good sign.
  • Number of Players: Technically four playable characters if you include the opening tutorial, but only one player at a time.
  • Favorite Monster: The Executioner is a wonderful bit of Mirror of Fate storytelling.

    Grrrr

    He’s not just a scary giant, he’s a scary giant with brain problems. Be sad for the hulking creature chopping your protagonist in twain.

  • Absolutely Favorite Part: So this game has fall damage. That’s terrible for a metroidvania. But! The fall damage scales to the height you’ve fallen, so a falling just a little over a body’s height will cause little tiny damage. This pairs wonderfully with any given character’s blood-curdling scream o’ death, which triggers no matter how the protagonist dies. This all adds up to an unstoppable shriek of agony every time your health is low and you miss the last step on a staircase… and I can get behind that.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Trevor is now the first son of Dracula and the new Alucard. Simon is a deadly barbarian that is the first Belmont to defeat Dracula (with a little help). Sypha… is an obedient and immediately dead housewife. Woo.
  • Did you know? It seriously bothers me that Trevor starts with a double jump, but Alucard, who is Trevor, has to earn the skill. It kinda bothers me how much this simple bit of gameplay bothers me.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Not ever. Bah! You make-a me so mad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken 3 for the Playstation! Let’s see who can become the King of the Iron Fist after most of the cast retires! Please look forward to it!

Youch

FGC #225 Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

Move alongCastlevania Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow revealed something important about the Castlevania Mythos: Dracula rules a castle of eclectic monsters because he stole the souls of every one of those beasts. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense, because, what, you think Dracula was paying Frankenstein to be eternally whipped to death by some barbarian dude? No, of course not, Dracula sees what he wants and takes it, whether that be souls or delicious cherry pop. End of the day, Dracula populated his abode with monsters from all over the place pretty much because he could, and I can’t blame a dude with a fabulous cape for wanting a few ectoplasmic entities floating about to add to the décor.

But then you have to contemplate: how did Dracula get all these wonderful toys?

Consider the zombies and skeletons that infest any given castle of chaos. These guys are obvious, right? Right from the start, nitwits with weapons slightly less effective than whips attempted to raid Dracula’s castle, and, whether they got past the first hallway or not, their collective tales ended in failure. Maybe it was the random bats (they’re indigenous), the basement full of mermen, or poor architectural upkeep leading to a number of staircase incidents, but, one way or another, Dracula probably had a plethora of human souls to toy with by the first time Trevor showed up. And why let a soul go to waste. Still got your skin? Go skulk around the entryway, you zombie. Feeling a little more boney? Then toss your infinity ribs at any invading vampire hunters. And if you don’t feel like being on the front lines, why not make Drac some curry? Special positions are still available for any lady zombies that have flesh and karate skills (and maybe a bone-based vacuum). And if your raid on Dracula’s castle was somehow a couple’s event, then feel free the haunt one of our many luxurious ballrooms. You’ll never want to leave!

OuchThen we start to get into the fun bits. Want to know why Dracula didn’t set up shop immediately after Legacy of Darkness (the game wherein Dracula rose to power through defeating the nefarious but generally nonthreatening Walter)? It’s because he went on a magnificent world tour! Whether you want a Medusa or just her head, you’ve gotta go to Greece. And while you’re there, why not grab a harpy or minotaur? Then it’s off to Mexico, because Quetzalcoatl ain’t gonna fly over to your castle just to hang out with fleamen. Balore and wargs love northern Europe, and Amalaric Snipers are really into the local goth scene. The Salem Witches probably come from somewhere, though I can’t immediately figure out where. Oh, and Mothman? There was an… incident involving a helpful peasant mishearing Dracula and providing directions to Pennsylvania. Got a random cryptid and an extra zombie soul out of that mistake.

A portion of Castlevania’s bestiary is clearly the result of Drac’s do-it-yourself, can-do attitude. Alura Une is the consequence of watering normal plants with blood? Great! Some of the walls of the castle have been bleeding lately, and it’s a shame to throw out good wall-blood. And while we’ve got the gardening equipment out, may as well get those skeletons to harvest screaming vegetables. And if some of the local slugs grow large enough to eat people, hey, bonus. Drac randomly stopping by a synagogue for a few weeks led to a few DIY golems, and any extra materials may be recycled into haunted tombstones. The haunted tables were just a happy accident. And that dang Quetzalcoatl seems to keep leaving his spare heads around the place, so let’s build those into chic pillars. An afternoon and a little superglue later, and you’ve got a lovely corner piece that incidentally is capable of incinerating your enemies. Hooray!

EwAnd then there are the more… interesting denizens of the castle. You know how Dracula always says he’ll return from the dead stronger than before? Well, he’s not talking about himself. Every trip to Hell is basically a scouting mission for our favorite vampire, and, despite the fact that he’s only there because he got his head whipped off (again!), the demons are dimly aware that Drac can get you a night or two off from eternal torment every century or so, so why not join up with the blood sucker? Giant pig monster with a cleaver? Come on down! Winged demons of all shapes and sizes? Get over here! We’re giving away free tridents, so if oversized metal forks are your thing, this is the castle for you! Cthulhu? Gas sha haftft u’a’ ha’a! And a locust summoning cricket destined to usher in the apocalypse? Man, what took you so long!?

And then Death just kinda brought Slogra and Gaibon to the party, and Dracula was like, “Yeah, sure, whatever. I didn’t know you had other friends, but it’s cool. It’s cool.”

GrossAnd, before you know it, Drac’s got a fully stocked castle. Mermen are happily swimming downstairs, skeletons are practicing their boomerang tossing, and some manner of long-legged owl is dominating a hallway or too. Vlad doesn’t even remember when the werewolves started showing up, but they seem to get along with the minotaurs well enough. The only hiccup seems to be that one zombie that is worryingly fond of his dog, but as long as he stays way the hell downstairs, Dracula is a happy vampire. It’s great when a plan comes together.

So good luck, Celia Fortner. I know you’re trying to get a whole new “Dark Lord” going with your candidates, but it’s pretty clear that centuries of development went into the original Dark Lord’s plan, and you can barely manage two jerks with bad haircuts. Did you think you could just dig up a devil foregemaster and be done with it? It’s not Soma that is going to wreck this evil plan, it’s a lack of dedication to the details that need to go into such an endeavor. Celia, do you have any idea how difficult it is to train a skeleton to serve food? Go back to your bush league, wannabe, and wait until Soma wants to go on his own globe spanning cruise. Then we might see some results.

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow: proving once again that it ain’t easy being Dracula.

FGC #225 Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

  • System: Nintendo DS and… is that it? I… think so?
  • Number of players: Oh, this one is two player! Kinda! Like, you can design your own “dungeon”, and then a second player can challenge that dungeon. And there’s a soul trading option! This game is basically as two-player as Pokémon.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: The entire reason I don’t “review” videogames is because of titles like this. I like Dawn of Sorrow, but not as much as Aria of Sorrow. Why? I can’t really tell you. ZAPMaybe it’s because a few of the areas (like the imprisoned tower, clocktower, and entire ending section) feel like “levels” and less like Metroid-y zones. That said, I still love this game, and some of its more… interesting residents have a certain edge over Tsuchinoko.
  • The Holy Trinity: Julius mode is amazing in this game, and the ability to switch between three characters in a manner similar to Castlevania 3 is the bee’s knees. Though it’s a shame that restoring health is a bear, and most of the bosses require some very dedicated memorization. That said, I guess that does make it an old-school Castlevania experience.
  • Favorite Soul: This time, I have to go with Gergoth and his palm-based laser. There’s just something pleasant about vaporizing Groot like it ain’t no thang.
  • Favorite Boss: Puppet Master wins for being one of the most singularly creepy bosses in Castlevania, and possessing an interesting gimmick that seems insurmountable at first, but becomes manageable with a little observation. Or maybe that was just me? I just know that I wound up dying a lot to that creature the first… seventeen times I fought it.
  • Yum!A moment for Dmitrii: The best part of this game is battling Dmitrii, the man with the mimic powers, and seeing just how badly he can screw up those abilities. Have you ever tried licking him? It works out well.
  • Speaking of Bosses: Is there a way to beat Abadon, the lord of locusts, without abusing various souls? Is there a “naked” solution? I usually just use a combination of bats and lasers until the bugs are all gone, but that feels vaguely like cheating.
  • Did you know? I believe the best way to beat the Iron Golems is utilizing the nunchakus. Nothing works better on a metal monster than a couple of chained pieces of wood.
  • Would I play again: Inevitably. I even kind of like the glyph sketching! I’m weird!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Monkey Ball for the Nintendo Gamecube! Break out the quarters, kiddies, it’s time to earn some vending machine monkeys! Please look forward to it!

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