Tag Archives: konami

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment & Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

This is gonna be weirdYou want a videogame crossover, you’ve got options. But apparently you can’t have all the options.

The Castlevania franchise is fairly unique, as, right from its third entry, its creators decided to introduce different time periods. Like Zelda, it was determined you could only tell the same story with the same hero so often (apparently twice), and it was time to move on to a different epoch with the same basic trappings for the next adventure. However, unlike in The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania seemed to revel in introducing completely new characters with every age, and (depending on the quest du jour) also introducing an additional supporting cast or secondary antagonists. Unfortunately, all of these “extra” characters were always disposable, as all Castlevania ever really needed was a Dracula and a hero that could menace bats. This meant that, by about the mid 2000s, there were a handful of really great characters across the Castlevania franchise that only ever had one or two chances to shine. Such a waste. Why can’t all of our Castlevania stars find a way to play together and get along?

So why don’t we have a Castlevania Crossover featuring all our favorites? And, if the first one doesn’t shake out, let’s do it again!

It started with Castlevania Judgment. At a time when nearly every Castlevania title was sentenced to the miniscule portable systems of the time, there was much excitement about the first “real” Castlevania title on the Nintendo Wii (the dominant console of the era). But then Castlevania Judgment was… not what anyone expected. Anyone.

Get 'emFirst of all, it was a fighting game. But that could work! Castlevania is a platforming franchise, but it’s also always been about little more than burly dudes with long hair fighting demons from Hell. And that’s, like, 90% of fighting games (the other 10% are just karate tournaments), so that is a good fit. And this was during a period when fighting games were generally pretty experimental, so, before fighting games settled back into just being online matches to mirror the arcade fights of days long gone, the time was right for an innovative fighting game based on action/platforming gameplay. And a fighting game would be ideal for the Castlevania heroes that, since Symphony of the Night, had gradually been accruing more and more “moves”. Alucard could utilize an entire army’s worth of weaponry, magical spells, and an inexplicable jump kick. He could put Guile’s lousy sonic boom to shame without even trying.

Unfortunately, Castlevania Judgment was (to put it charitably) a little too experimental. It was neither fish nor fowl: in trying to be a fighting game that aped the motions of an action/platformer, it created an environment where the two fighters didn’t really know if they should be dodging encroaching zombies or attempting to punch (whip?) their opponent. Combos are futile when you might be interrupted by an errant jumping fish, but dodge-rolling around the arena while Dracula just stands there drinking wine is equally ineffective. And the way the movesets were limited for “simple controls” (the calling card of a game designed for the assumed-to-be-casual audience of the Wii) wound up contributing to many fighters that were savagely unbalanced. Yes, I know Maria was always better than Richter in their debut title, but getting wrecked simply because one player chose a little girl and her owl in a fighting game is an entirely separate experience. There’s a skeleton of a good game here (ha! Topical Castlevania metaphor!), but it needed another game’s worth of tweaking to hatch an actual enjoyable, enduring experience out of this egg (are there any monsters that “hatch” in Castlevania? Bah. More of a Metroid thing).

Hi, DadBut there was one place where Castlevania Judgment excelled: plot. Wait, no, that’s a lie. The plot is a stupid excuse to pull various Castlevania characters from 1456 to 1942 to fight a Grim Reaper from 10,000 years in the future. It’s barely worth mentioning (which is really sad when there’s a skeleton at the end of time involved). But what’s great about this title is that all the various stars of Castlevania are all allowed to interact. Finally! In fact, it involves a number of heroes and heroines that were nearly totally mute in their initial appearances, so we can finally see what’s going on in Simon’s head. It’s not all just terrible nights to have a curse! And the crossover of Judgment allows for the insanity of great grandpa versus distant descendant, which allows for even more story fun. It may be little more than fanservice, but, for a fan of the franchise, Castlevania Judgment justifies itself through its cast’s interactions. It didn’t matter that the art style was a few too many bodies short of a Legion, what mattered was that this was Eric interacting with Grant, and that was pretty damn cool.

But, for a videogame, gameplay is key, so Judgment is simply remembered for being a complete flop of a Castlevania experiment. It was by no means the “Castlevania returns to consoles” that everyone wanted. It was some weirdo title featuring the cast of Death Note, not Castlevania HD. No, if we wanted that, we had to wait for the “real” Castlevania HD: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.

And that one was an odd duck, too.

Don't step on meSuperficially, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is nothing we haven’t seen before. Literally! C:HD is entirely assembled from Castlevania assets scrambled together from previous titles. It’s mostly just the IGA-vania titles (starting with Symphony), but there are also some significant Rondo and even 8-bit influences to be found here. And the gameplay, on a superficial level, is exactly the same the likes of Alucard or Shanoa have seen before: venture through a giant maze, stab some demons, collect a glut of treasure, and beat the damage-sponge of a boss. All very familiar, and, given this was at a time when we could rely on seeing a 2-D Castlevania title every other year or so, it was something that felt almost… extraneous.

But interpreting Castlevania: Harmony of Despair not as “this year’s recycled assets” but as a crossover culmination of the previous decade’s worth of Castlevania content paints a different picture. This is Metroidvania action in its purest form, which is something that is usually only available upon completing the latest Castlevania adventure. You don’t have to spend half of this title waiting to earn a double jump, or blow hours finding the right room that contains the right story flag to find the next area. This is just running, jumping, and exploring huge maps and battling worthy bosses. Exploration through unlocking has fallen by the wayside, yes, but what is left in its place is an uncontaminated Castlevania experience where you can just enjoy the innumerable of abilities of your chosen protagonist. If Castlevania is about man versus castle, then this is Castlevania to the Castlevaniaest power.

And the multiplayer options available to this title add a whole new dimension to the experience. You can cooperate! You can compete for treasure! You can select a character with a wildly different movement skill, and giggle as your ground-based buddy has to watch you fly through the sky on magnetic wings. There are a million ways to play with friends, and the “HD” of Harmony of Despair lends itself to a wonderful online experience where these enormous levels can easily house six active vampire killers. What we have here is not only a pure Castlevania experience, but a purely fun experience as well.

I am despairingBut there ain’t no plot. There’s no reason to do anything in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair past scoring points and clearing stages. You play C:HD for the same reason you play Madden or Tennis: just have fun with the game. And, while that is certainly a valid reason to play any videogame, it feels like a loss for the Castlevania franchise. Alucard likely would have a lot to say about pairing up with the reincarnated, pretty-boy version of his father, but C:HD doesn’t want to delve into that conversation. C:HD is about a magical book that contains magical heroes fighting a magical castle, and it’s nothing more than that. Everyone involved is just a 2-D simulation of their “real world” counterpart, and, while this is a crossover for every manner of sentient armor in the franchise, it is not a crossover for the iconic characters of Castlevania.

Which raises the question: which Castlevania Crossover wins? Castlevania Judgment eschewed typical Castlevania gameplay, but reveled in the personalities of its popular protagonists. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair was Castlevania gameplay taken to its most logical (and fun!) extreme, but reduced its iconic heroes to little more than different jumping stats. And the winner? Well, they both lost. Castlevania Judgment is regarded as an embarrassing diversion for the franchise that was never to be revisited again, and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair puttered out so completely it didn’t survive long enough to release its final planned DLC (Hammer! We could have had Hammer!). In both cases, both Castlevania Crossovers were disappointments to the curators of the franchise, and likely contributed in no small part to Castlevania rebooting and/or becoming a series of slot machines. Considering both Judgment and Harmony of Despair were epitomes of different aspects of the franchise, it’s rather depressing to see them both become epitaphs for an era.

But, hey, maybe watching the franchise die is appropriate for a pair of titles where you’re encouraged to kill Dracula about 17,000 different times. That dude can’t reincarnate forever!

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment

  • Get 'emSystem: Nintendo Wii. This means it is technically also playable on the WiiU, but it was never officially ported to any other system due to, ya know, the embarrassment.
  • Number of players: If they’re fighting, they’re coming in twos.
  • Favorite Fighter: There’s no doubt about it, Maria Renard is a beast. I don’t care if she’s a 15 year old acting like a six year old and is mostly doing her damage through a particularly superb owl, she’s simply the best. And in this game where everyone looks like they spent a little too much time at Hot Topic, I’m also very happy to see that much pink.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: One big problem a number of people had with Judgment is that it includes characters from time periods divorced from their initial, iconic introductions. Sypha is a fledgling sorceress that has never encountered Alucard, Maria is a petulant teenager obsessed with “maturity”, and Bloodlines’ Eric is a petulant brat. This is a far cry from how these heroes act in their source material. However, I’m all for it, as I am a firm believer that people change over the years, and, sure, the stoic and dedicated “Wind” may have been a bit of a pissant when he was a kid. Who wasn’t? For anyone curious, this is basically a reverse “Cranky Old Man Luke Skywalker” syndrome, and I’m okay with it.
  • Why is this happening: It turns out that the whole plot of Judgment is the result of the evil plans of Galamoth, the future tyrant dinosaur wizard that cannot deal with Dracula being more powerful than a tyrannosaurus. This means that, ultimately, this title is another spinoff of Kid Dracula.
  • What’s in a name: Judgment only has one “e” in it.
  • Superb OwlDid you know? Of the default, non-DLC, non-needs-another-game-to-unlock characters, only Alucard appears as playable in both Judgment and Harmony of Despair. Shanoa joins Judgment if you connect Order of Ecclesia, and Maria and Simon both were added to C:HD as DLC, but only Alucard is there in both from the beginning. And he’s not even a Belmont!
  • Would I play again: I have a certain macabre fascination with this title. I don’t hate it… but I’m not really anxious to play it again. I like thinking about it, though!

FGC #495 Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

  • System: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Playstation 3 version has local multiplayer, but the Xbox 360 version can be played on the Xbox One, so one might be more available than the other.
  • ZOOM!Number of players: Six. That… rarely happens.
  • Favorite Character: Shanoa if we’re talking about the default cast, but Yoko Belnades if we’re including DLC. What? I guess I enjoy dark magician girls.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: The “grinding” nature of Harmony of Despair and its rare boss drops is rather unpleasant. If you want the best gear, you’re going to repeat the same levels over and over, and there’s never anything fun about that. But then again, the whole point is to play these levels repeatedly to get better “scores”… so maybe this is a good thing?
  • But the DLC level that is just the entirely of Castlevania 1 as one complete map is the best, right? Oh, absolutely.
  • Love that castleDid you know? Even if he’s only 8-bit, with his double jump, slide, and collection of subweapons, Simon Belmont in Harmony of Despair is actually the closest he’ll ever be to his eventual incarnation in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Granted, he’s still mostly just copying Richter… but it works!
  • Would I play again: Man, it sure would be nice to get an online gang together to raid Dracula’s castle again. You definitely lose something when you’re playing this game alone, but just revisiting it for this article reminded me how fun the whole experience could be. I’m sure I’ll be stalking those halls again soon enough…

What’s next? Let’s see what happens when two entire games ram straight into each other. Please look forward to it!

This is what Konami wants

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

It's sticky
Beware the goo!

FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

Here comes Grant“Grant? Grant, my man, how are you? How’s the family? Good. Good. Look, I’m calling because I have a bit of an opportunity for you. You ready? You sitting down? Okay, great, look, I got the call from Konami, and they want you to star in the next Castlevania game. Yes, you! No no, look, I understand what you’re saying. Yes, there is technically a Belmont starring in this game. No, not Simon this time, it’s… let me see if I wrote this down… it’s Ralph? Is that right? Ralph Belmont. He’s supposed to be Simon’s grandfather or something. So, okay, yeah, you’re not the star, but you’re going to be one of the stars in the first ever Castlevania game featuring more than one vampire slayer. And you’re going to be one of the good ones, too! Like, without question, you’re going to be the first partner that can be recruited. What? Oh yeah, there are two other people involved, some wizard lady and a bat-dude. I think he’s supposed to be related to Dracula? No, don’t worry about it, he’s a standup guy. At least… I think he’s a guy. Half guy? Is that a thing? What? Yeah, sorry, I’m getting off track. So, yeah, you’re going to be the first ever person to team up with a Belmont to take on Dracula! You! Grant Danasty!

“No… Buddy, do you understand what I’m saying? You’re not going to get a whip. You, and only you, are going to have an unlimited cache of daggers. Yes, Ralph gets daggers, too, but you have infinity daggers. And not only that, but you know how the Belmont dude in those other games was all slow and everything? Well you get to jump around like Mario. I know! Kids love Mario! You’re going to be the Mario of Castlevania! Except with knives! And I guess you can use an axe, too, so that way you get a powerup power like everybody else. I mean, between you and me? That Dracula Kid only gets a cruddy stopwatch. You’ve got an axe! Like a dwarf! What? No, I’m not calling you short. I’m calling you strong! Castlevania 3: Starring Grant Danasty is going to be a totally different experience. I don’t see why anyone would use any of those other so-called heroes at all!

Bad guy!“Oh, but one teeny tiny admonition: You have to play a monster in your first appearance. The whole deal is, like, Dracula cursed you to be a monster in some clock tower, so you have to fight Ralph and climb around on walls and scream like you’re a big, bad guy. I think some prosthetics are involved. But it’s good! Like, sure, you have to act like a monster, but it’s all because you have some tragic backstory with a lost group of bandits that have been fighting against Dracula taking over the local countryside. Oh, and it all ties into your ending, too. The vampire guy just stands there and broods, but your finale sees you rebuilding the town and being remembered as a hero.

“So, trust me, man, you are going to love all of this. You’re going to be synonymous with Castlevania! Castlevania 3: Legacy of Grant! Tell me you’re down for this, and I’ll let Konami know they’ve got one acrobatic ace on Ralph’s team!”

—-

Get 'em“Grant, my main man, calling again because I’ve got some great news: you’re going to America, baby! Castlevania 3 got picked up for localization, so you’re going to be an international star! Burt Reynolds, Madonna, and now Grant Danasty! You are gold, baby!

“Just, you know, few caveats. Nothing, really, but I figure I should mention ‘em to you. Just as a courtesy thing. First of all, and this shouldn’t really impact you at all, but they’re changing a few graphics here and there. Some naked statues are a little less naked, some crosses are a little less cross-y… You know, those whacky Americans, they got all kinds of problems. And… uh… well, you know, same vein and all, they may have… well, I think the parlance is “nerfed” your appearance a little. You know how you had all those daggers? Well, now Grant is stuck with one single danger, and you’re not allowed to throw it. … Yeah, look, I understand what you’re saying, but you’re looking at this all wrong. You’re more of a challenge now! You know you completely wrecked the Japanese version with your ability to crawl through shortcuts and pelt that cyclops with your daggers, so now there’s a reason to use dopey ol’ Trevor. … Oh, yeah, they changed his name. ‘Ralph’ didn’t really resonate in the States… Oh, yeah, no, I hear you, but… Yes, Alucard gets to keep his fireballs. No, buddy, I don’t think that just because Alucard’s mobility is infinite and you have a fiddly jump to… Grant, seriously? Listen to me. You’re going to be great. They’re going to love you! Grant Danusty is going to be a household name. … Grant Danasty. Yes. What did I say? Sorry, slip of the tongue.

“Oh, one last thing. Apparently your backstory now is that you’re a pirate. It doesn’t impact anything, but I guess they wanted to explain the bandana? Hey, that was your fashion choice, don’t blame me. Besides, it’s not like anyone is going to remember some dumb biography from an instruction manual in twenty years. They’re going to remember Grant! The man that stabbed Dracula right in the face! I’ll call Konami right now and tell ‘em Grant Danusty is down! … Oh, sorry, I think I have a cold or something.”

“Grant, hey, I know it’s been… really? Seven years? Wow, where does the time go? Look, calling because I got you another gig in Castlevania! I know, right? They never reuse protagonists, but here we are! Grant is back, baby!

“… Well, okay, I’ve spoken to Castlevania’s new director, Iga or something, and… Well, okay, remember Alucard? I guess he made an impact on somebody, and now he’s getting his own game. … No, I’m sorry, the whole thing is supposed to take place like hundreds of years after Castlevania 3, so… Well, I guess in the story, you’re kind of… uh… dead. But don’t worry! I looked at your contract, and if Alucard appears in a game within a decade of CS3, then you have to, too! So I got you in!

Take that!“… Well, yeah, you’re not the hero. You can’t always be the star, Grant. It’s more of a cameo, really, but a gig is a gig, right? And your buddies Ralph… sorry, Trevor and Sypha will be there. It’s just a boss fight… Yes, you’re a boss monster again… Yeah, apparently you’re a zombie version of yourself… Yeah, look, just take the gig, man. Grant gets to be 32-bits, your fans get to see you all over again, and it’s going to be great. You don’t see Christopher Belmont getting these calls, do you? It’s a paycheck, buddy, just have some fun with your friends, don’t think too hard about it. At least you’ll get your daggers back!”

“Grant, my nasty boy, where have you been? Eleven years just flies by, right? Well, look, I’m calling you with some amazing news. They’re making a Castlevania fighting game, and it’s only going to include fourteen legends from across the whole franchise. And one of those legends? You guessed it, the one and only Grant Danasty. … Nope! You’re not a boss or a monster or anything. It’s just you, Grant, and you’re a playable character all over again! And your old buds are in the game, too, so if you want to see Alucard all… You’re not talking… Oh, Grant, come on, I know a sword to the face hurts, but you were supposed to be an evil zombie. You have to let it go.

“Although… uh… Speaking of things you’re going to have to let go, they decided to… expand your backstory a little bit for this one. No, you don’t have to worry about that pirate thing again, I don’t know why you keep bringing that up… No, apparently there is, like, time travel in this one, and the ‘you’ that is fighting is a Grant from after Castlevania 3, and after Trevor and Sypha get married. And… uh… If I’m reading this right, your whole deal is that you’re jealous that Trevor and Sypha are together, so you skipped their wedding and… What? Well, okay, yeah, I guess it kind of makes you sound like a ‘douchebag’, but you don’t need to use that kind of language. You fell for a girl while you went on an adventure, and that makes you relatable. What? No, it really doesn’t matter that you only ever shared a single screen back in the day, it’s what’s called a retcon. You had a thing for Sypha, she went for Trevor, and you’re fighting to impress her. Easy-peasy. You don’t have to change a bit.

“Oh… wait, there is one thing. I just got a fax of… Woof… Okay, apparently your costume is going to look like… uh…

Classy kind of guy

“No, you’re not a mummy monster. Why do you keep thinking someone is trying to make you a monster? It’s just… a stylistic choice. Happens all the time! You should see what they’ve got this Maria kid wearing. Trust me, you’re going to make out great with this Judgment thing! These fighting games always take off, and you’re on the ground floor! There’s going to be, like, medusa head DLC in three years, and you’re going to be part of the original crop. You are Castlevania all over again, Grant!”

“Grant. Grant, I know you’re listening. You have to stop calling me. It’s been almost ten years since that Judgment disaster. Konami… or what passes for Konami nowadays… They’re done with you, okay? It sucks, but it happens. And this new thing? The Netflix series? They’re not interested. Your “team” contract ran out a long time ago, and the writers here? They don’t care. I don’t know if it’s the whole pirate thing, or how there is already enough of the aristocracy versus the peasants thing going on, or maybe it’s just that “surly Trevor” subsumed your personality… but, Grant? You listening to me? You have to let it go. This is a new Castlevania, and it’s not for you.

Winner“Look, Grant are you?… Grant? Grant, you’re a good guy. Remember the good times! You were the top of the heap in Castlevania 3. You were right there at the beginning, you could kill a skeleton from a hundred meters, and you didn’t need a single heart to scuttle all over the world and make every level your playground. Things may have gone downhill from there, but you were top of the heap at the start, and people will remember that. Hey, I hear there’s a whole Classic Castlevania Collection being released, and it’s got the American and Japanese versions. Think about it, man, everybody is going to see your glory days all over again, no stupid Netflix show required. Netflix shmetflix, you’re the big man from Castlevania, Grant, and they’re crazy for not seeing it.

“Grant? You alright? … Yeah, okay, I’ll come over. Break open a wall, we’re gonna have a meat feast tonight. A toast to Grant Danusty, buddy!

“… What?”

FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System is your classic go-to, but it has recently resurfaced on Wii, WiiU, 3DS, and Switch/PS4 for compilations. Yes, I am pretty sure I purchased this game on every one of those systems.
  • Number of players: One vampire slayer at a time, please.
  • Favorite Slayer: Alucard. What? I like dhampirs.
  • Favorite Route: Whatever allows me to skip that falling block area. Considering I also want to pick up Alucard, that usually means swinging through his crypt, and then moving on to Castlevania’s inexplicable Fake Atlantis. Sorry I had to drown an entire city on the way to Dracula, guys, but that’s what you get for employing a loadbearing dragon.
  • Lookin' GoodFrom the peanut gallery: My better half objected to every time I switched characters, and commented “don’t make that horrible sound again.”
  • Goggle Bob Fact: My grandparents mailed me this game as a Christmas gift back when I was a wee Goggle Bob. Some part of me would have wanted to have my vacationing grandparents home for the holidays… but another part of me was very content to hunt vampires all day and night for weeks. Childhood: it’s a tradeoff.
  • So, did you beat it? I want to say this is a game I played 10,000 times as a kid, but never actually conquered until the innovation of save states. This is saddening, but have you ever actually fought Dracula III’s final form? It is a death-spewing monster the likes of which the franchise has rarely seen (and the hellish pits don’t help).
  • Did you know? The Grant Doppelgänger still uses constant throwing daggers, while Grant is left with his piddly stabbing stick in the American version. The computer cheats!
  • Would I play again: This is easily one of, if not my most, favorite Castlevania titles. I drift back to Castlevania 3 about once annually, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn! That’s three more dirty dwarves than we normally get! Please look forward to it!

Buds!

FGC #475 Contra 4

Get 'emSometimes a game isn’t the “best” in the franchise. Sometimes a game goes well beyond such an accolade. Sometimes a game is the “most” in the franchise. And, for the Contra franchise, Contra 4 is the most Contra that has ever existed.

When considering the most a franchise has ever been, you immediately realize that some franchises will literally never have a “most” entry. Final Fantasy, for instance, wildly bounces around different narratives and gameplay styles within its own releases. By the time we hit Final Fantasy 7, for instance, you could say its techno-magic world was already trite within the franchise (see FF6) or a crazy deviation from the franchise’s origins (see FF1). That gulf has only widened with time, so your “best” Final Fantasy has equal odds on containing a Ramuh that is a wizened old lightning wizard or some manner of buff centaur. They’re both valid, but also equally impossible to quantify as the definition of a feature within a franchise. Mario games are similar, as it’s very difficult to see Donkey Kong existing in even the same universe as Super Mario Odyssey (and not just because Bowser got bored and literally rebooted the universe). You’ve always got your goombas and your princesses and whatnot, but the simple act of jumping varies incredibly whether or not there are four players or black holes about. How can you say what is the most Mario when the only connecting tissue in his universe is a pair of blue overalls?

But sometimes the more iterative games are even worse. Mega Man had a very straight line through the NES era, and, even when a Mega Man title is released today, it is still very much like its forbearers. However, it seems every Mega Man title adds some new wrinkle to the formula, whether that be something like slides or armor made from dogs (well, one dog). And, while you can still subjectively choose a “best” Mega Man, the entire franchise doesn’t seem to include one title that is simply the finest of literally everything that has come before it. You won’t earn that accolade by adding gears or a dash to the preexisting gameplay. And, ultimately, that is how we define what a “most” game must be: a game that takes everything from the previous entries, cuts off the crusts, and forms an enchanting sandwich filled with only the absolute best parts.

And Contra 4 is that sandwich. And it is delicious.

… Even if it is stuffed with an overabundance of alien larvae.

Creepy CrawlyIf you hadn’t played Contra (1) in a while (which, considering Contra 4 was released in celebration of Contra’s 20th anniversary, was very likely for many people), you might be forgiven for assuming Contra 4 was some kind of remake or reimagining. Many of the familiar trappings of Contra are right there from the beginning (like a certain laser core wall or a dragon gate at the top of a waterfall [its name is Gromaides, you buffoon]), and levels do have a tendency to switch from radical 2-D to tolerable 3-D hallway-based fortresses. And there’s a giant, pulsating heart at the (an) end, too! But then you might notice there are a few items from Super Contra (3) in there, too, like a ruined cityscape ruled by an enormous alien, or a final alien monster that needs to be brain-blasted. And isn’t that giant robot straight out of Contra: Hard Corps? Black Viper from Operation C? A mountain of corpses from Shattered Soldier? Is that whole ruined city the one from Contra Force, a game absolutely no one has ever played? Holy cow, this isn’t a remake! This is everything that has ever appeared in a 2-D Contra! It’s maximum Contra!

And it’s not just about the setting, bosses, and strangely high number of gross bugs scuttling about: Contra 4 is also about condensing the Contra gameplay to its most recognizable form. The grappling hook feels like the only thing we haven’t seen before in 2-D Contra, and it vaguely feels like something that was added more for managing the dual screens of the DS. But aside from that addition? There is literally nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Two weapons for runnin’ n’ gunnin’, a jump for alien vaulting, and your always trusty ability to duck (eat it, Mega Man) is all you need to complete this adventure. And the weapons are all basic Contra mainstays, like the laser, machine gun, or that whaddyacallit thingy that blows up real good. Grenade launcher? Crusher? Something like that. But even though everything here is familiar, it’s also its best possible self. You will not be straddled with the crappy laser of the NES version, this laser gun is the best it has ever been (and we will hear nothing of classic versions). And Spread? Your opponents have seemingly been arranged in ideal spread formations, so Spread has never felt so… right. ZAPAnd that’s how Contra 4 feels in a nutshell: there are so many situations and abilities involved that, while it’s all been done before, it is done so perfectly here that, when you hit your stride, it feels amazing. The fact that later levels are gated behind limited lives and continues is not an accident: it is a way of telling the player that the ideal way to play Contra 4 is to play it while coasting on the high of a death-defying run.

This article could just be a list of the ways Contra 4 references other Contra games. This could be a list of the ways Contra 4 refines the Contra experience that has come before. I could even do my best to note how upgrading weapons starts out impossible, and quickly becomes second nature. But, when you get right down to it, everything about that would be entirely perfunctory. In much the same way Contra 4 is the most Contra, there is no real way to explain how Contra 4 works beyond just saying “go play Contra 4”. It is Contra. It is every Contra. It’s all the good of the franchise wrapped up in one perfect little cartridge.

Contra 4 may subjectively be the best Contra game, but it is certainly objectively the most Contra game that has ever existed.

FGC #475 Contra 4

  • System: Nintendo DS. This is the only issue, as not only is the game tied to an extinct system, it is also made flawlessly for said extinct system. There was no way the dual screen-based stages were ever going to work in a WiiU tablet/television situation, and it barely works (thanks to screen dimensions) on the 3DS. And now either option barely exists anyway! Sorry, everyone I just told to play Contra 4!
  • Number of players: I’m going to assume that it’s two, but I’ve never played this game with a buddy. Maybe the two player mode isn’t great? Maybe it’s wholly perfect, too? Don’t know. Don’t care.
  • Damn bugsFavorite Character: I know it’s Wayforward being Wayforward with its female characters, but I appreciate Sheena Etranzi, the heroine of Hard Corps, appearing in Contra 4. She’s, what, the only female character in the franchise that isn’t at least partially a robot/bionoid? Is that right? Even if she winds up being “the hot blonde” on the roster, she’s still representing 51% of humanity like a champ.
  • Super Code: You can enter the Konami code to obtain some extra lives (which are rather essential when you’re starting out in this death-coaster), but code entry requires screen tapping in that familiar pattern to earn your cheat. This is simultaneously very cute and very annoying.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I would like to stretch this article to insane lengths so I have more room for screenshots, but… that apparently isn’t happening. Damn!
  • Did you know? The boss of the city zone, Crustacean Cruiser, is eerily reminiscent of a similar giant bug boss in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Ohme. Given that giant slug is one of my favorite fights in both franchises, I’m going to allow this random, universe-shattering homage.
  • Would I play again: This is the best Contra and one of the best Nintendo DS games available. It’s just a damned shame that the Nintendo DS isn’t so viable anymore… But I will find a way to play it all again! I swear!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 9! Speaking of games that try to encompass everything that has come before, here’s the adventure of our second-favorite Saiyan in fantasy land! Please look forward to it!

The eyes have it