GSQ5: Step into the shadows of the hell house

I hear tell there’s a new Castlevania game out this week. This is interesting, because I think it will be the first Castlevania I won’t be buying at launch since… Bloodlines, I guess? And that was because I didn’t own a Genesis. Lords of Shadow seems like a perfectly competent game, but it’s a long way from the things I liked about the original Castlevania to the God of War-inspired stop-and-brawl combat of Lords.

Even when it’s dabbled in non-linearity, the Castlevania series has always had a powerful sense of forward momentum to it. Simon and his kin may move slowly, but they’re constantly pressing ahead. The 3D entries of the series always lose that inertial force, and Lords looks to be no different. I played through the bulk of this old, old Castlevania a few weeks ago at Muteki Mario — I made it to Death, barely lost when I chucked some triple boomerangs in the wrong direction, and thereafter decided to focus on socializing rather than gaming — and what struck me most about the game was its rhythm. Played correctly, the classic Castlevanias have an amazing rhythm to them, a graceful syncopation of marching, jumping, and attacking.

It’s been ages since anyone’s made a Castlevania game with that feel, but I think that when a developer manages to capture the walk-jump-whip flow of the NES games, I’ll take an interest in the series again. In the meantime, have a read of this here article and relive the glory days.

26 thoughts on “GSQ5: Step into the shadows of the hell house

  1. Cheers to you, Castlevania: the first NES game I ever played with a tangible sense of atmosphere.

    Great, write-up, too – despite being a few hours into Lords of Shadow, I’ll probably fire up the original game on VC for a quick nip of that addictive hippity-hop triple-boomerang magic.

  2. I fondly remember the day I popped in a Castlevania cartridge and realized that the game and all of its pre-Rondo brethren were tedious little slugs.

    Perhaps I just dislike the original Castlevania because I mistook that cloud against the moon for a blimp, and there was no such blimp in the game.

  3. Holy crap, I never noticed the “numbers” on the clock in that last screenshot. Talk about attention to detail.

  4. WOW, perfect timing with the launch of the GT retrospective on Castlevania. It’s definetely worth checking out, the first part is on the NES Castlevania games.

  5. Man, I love Castlevania–and it still holds up for me today. It encapsulates everything I love about platformers. But I have to put in a little plea here for it’s somewhat unloved sequel–to this day, Simon’s Quest is one of my fondest NES memories. Yes, I know it was inscrutable and poorly translated, but at the time, that just turned it in to sort of a meta-challenge where you had to survey your friends to find out just what the heck the red crystal did. I’d also like to note that I still pronounce the “Deborah” in “Deborah Cliffs” as “de-BORE-uh” because that’s the way my friend Damian said it, and he had the strategy guide.

  6. Aria of Sorrow was a good game, and Order of Eclesia is amazing. But they keep the metroidvania gameplay. What’s good, but no even close to the first games. I hope one day I’ll see a Castlevania game so amazing like Rondo of Blood, with the animated scenes, lot of choices, and bosses that can’t be beated by previous griding. It would be perfect.

  7. I never played too far into the first Castlevania, because it was too goddamn hard. I recently played the demo of of the captain Picard installment, and I’ll have to agree with pareesh on this one, it seems familiar.

  8. Actually, drafting this post made me realize a major reason I didn’t like Order of Ecclesia — its game flow is awful, even more un-Castlevania-like than Lords of Shadow. Even the weakest enemy soaks up so much damage that you spend way too much time just standing in place, wailing away at skeletons. There’s no rhythm to it. Weirdly, that was rarely a problem with Iga’s other games.

  9. I decided to buy this one on eBay instead of that new thing that just came out. I kind of utterly loathe God of War and Devil May Cry-style games – I can’t understand why they’re the de facto standard for melee action games these days due to them being completely awful, mashy, QTE laden pieces of crap – and Castlevania is still pretty great. Pretty sure I made the right choice here.

  10. @parish: And it’s even worse because those damage sponges are much more capable of tearing you apart than you are them. I sorta liked the sadistic difficulty, but I still dread those grave diggers so much. OoE’s difficulty curb is like like having a game where you control a lone stormtrooper taking on an entire army of Jedi.

    As for classic Castlevania, I’ve never been good at it, but I still enjoy it quite a lot. The Rigormortis, err, Belmont clan’s limitations certainly make things interesting, even though the best I’ve done is make it past Frankenstein’s monster and his annoying Igor fleaman once.

  11. You did have to swap to more effective weapons. I think the problem was making the mooks impervious to all but one of the base forms of attack, unlike the preceding games, where you could still do normal damage more often than not with the weapon damage types that weren’t strong against them (i. e. slashing weapons would still do regular damage against armored mooks).

  12. Yes, I know about weapon affinities, but that kind of thing barely worked in a slower game like Vagrant Story and doesn’t do anything to alleviate the fluidity issues it imposes in a faster-paced game like Ecclesia. It also doesn’t help that so much of the early game is spent without the proper tools, so you’re stuck (for example) wielding piercing-type weapons against skeletons. So tedious.

  13. Similarly, the omnidirectional whip from Super CV4 went against the reasoning for the slow, methodical pacing of the classic games: it reduced what were dangerous enemies that required a steady approach and careful tactics to surmount to rote moving targets, since most enemies couldn’t get around it. And without that challenge, what was an otherwise necessarily slow and steady approach lost that meaning and often became a pointlessly slow lurch. Which is simply to say it missed the point there.

  14. Missed your response up until now. In OoE, slash (which included pierce) weapons did normal damage to skeletons. (I don’t remember how much.) The banshee was the first one to be impervious to strike attacks (but then they were also impervious to slash). The first hammer glyph was found in the first forest, which wasn’t really too far into the game, but yeah, that it couldn’t come any sooner could be irritating. Aside from that, I already admitted that they didn’t need to give low level mooks resistance to slash and/or strike.

  15. Outside of the crab boss in OoE, I didn’t find the game to be all that difficult or slow-paced. Maybe I’m just weird like that.

    I’m VERY intrigued by Lords of Shadow, but I don’t know that I can bring myself to buy it immediately. I’ve still got a massive backlog, one that now includes Shantae, and I’d rather finish that off first. I also have a new laptop, so I can catch up on some PC gaming. And by “catch up”, I mean try them to see how well they run and never play them again. :P

  16. I make no quality judgments with what I’m about to say, since I haven’t played the new Castlevania, but isn’t this one of those games that no one asked for? It’s BioShock 2 Syndrome: the game could be good, even great, but it’s hard to get excited about it all the same. I feel like Konami has no clue what to do with the Castlevania property so they grasp at every straw, from a fighting game to a character action game to that bizarre downloadable multiplayer thing.

  17. cartman- What? Super Castlevania IV was fantastic, and that extra amount of control made it so much better. It’s easily 10x the game Order Of Ecclesia was, if not more.

  18. Ecclesia’s not really hard outside of the bosses, it’s just boring. Mash mash mash mash evade mash evade mash mash, then on to the next insignificant foe and repeat.

  19. @Refa: Oh, I wasn’t denying that SCVIV was fantastic on other fronts. The broken whip just made it an anticlimactic crawl at times, which is sort of a betrayal of old-school Castlevania, and along with the complete linearity, tends to make the “best/definitive game of the series” praise that it still gets kind of hyperbolic.

  20. I loved the original Castlevania; it really captured my imagination as a youth.

    Order of Ecclesia was a great game in my mind, but I can understand your criticisms. I don’t necessarily feel that combat was slower, but it did have a different rhythm to it, one that could feel cumbersome on the cramped DS button arrangement. Switching glyphs and altering between both attack buttons lacked the simple fluidity of previous entries.

    A lot of people complain about Ecclesia’s difficulty level. Part of the trouble here is in the way the previous game’s prepared you for it, and how the game was itself a terrible coach. Even if you played every metriodvania-esque castlevania before this one, you’d have an extremely difficult, frustrating time of it without having subjected yourself to something more difficult. From the very beginning the boss patterns are just more difficult to pin-point than anything this series has thrown at us; it’s like a 90 degree difficulty curve come boss time.

    As a point of comparison, the first 6-7 bosses of Aria of Sorrow follow the exact same attack pattern, long delayed pause followed by an attack, with 0 deviation on foruma. Simple stuff. Later bosses get progressively more difficult but there’s a gradual curve. The basic enemies taught you to look for this, as they followed the same sort of rules. In Ecclesia, everything is much more organic; the bosses were sent from the future and know your weaknesses. When an action / adventure game is this difficult in spots, weapon choices should be chosen based on personal preference and comfort level rather than arbitrary infinities, especially if switching weapons is as unintuitive is it is here.

    Despite all that I did enjoy the game a great deal, especially how utterly challenging some of the bosses felt. Still, I can understand why it felt frustrating to some people.

  21. People insulting SCV4? That’s by far the best of the pre-SOTN CVs. If I’m gonna be the slowest, stiffiest platform character ever with a worst vertical leap than most professional sumo wrestlers(at least until Braid shows up), at least give me an 8-way whip for God’s sake. Plus it has vastly superior graphics and level design(Wheeee Mode 7 stage!) and is a respectable length.

    And OoE is the best Metroidvania since SotN,but that’s an argument for another day(a day I don’t know to rush to work in oh…30 minutes)

  22. @Jeremy: Since when was I insulting SCV4? That would be me outright saying that it sucks. Not to mention that while your character in the old games tends to be “slow and stiff”, it’s done deliberately to make sure you approach each enemy with caution before you close in for the attack; the 8-directional whip removes that, and makes the slowness of your character downright pointless, only serving to slow down the overall pace. And the overall length is a bit on the overkill side; Dracula’s Curse and Rondo of Blood had the right idea by splitting stages between different paths making for playthroughs of just the right length, while also boasting more stages overall. Anyways, that’s enough of that.

  23. For the record, the best Metroidvania since Symphony was Aria Of Sorrow (well, close call with its sequel).

  24. Aria of Sorrow is the second best since OoE. Dawn of Sorrow is the generally worse version of AoS in almost every way, sadly.

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