Here at Nintendo Life we do our best to keep you entertained with a diverse range of news, reviews, features, podcasts and music shows. We've been missing one thing, though: a Nintendo Life Book Club. There's a lot of game-based literature out there, so we thought that the bookworms out there would like to chill out with a novel when gaming becomes too much. Opening the doors and playing host in the first meeting of this new club is reviewer Philip J. Reed, better known as @Chicken_Brutus.
A horrifying fiction
Well, it's Castlevania Week here at Nintendo Life, and being a fan of the series myself, I was wondering how to celebrate it. Play through a few of my favourite games, perhaps? No, too obvious. Write a heartfelt article about how effective the original game was at bringing limitless worlds of dread to life with primitive hardware and soundscapes? Nah. Eviscerating a crappy novelization of the second game while starting an all-new book club?
In the early 1990s, a man then known as F.X. Nine (and now known as Seth Godin, though he’d rather you didn’t remind him of any of this) released a series of novels under the Worlds of Power banner. They were written by different authors, but they all bore the name F.X. Nine on their covers.
Each book focused on a different NES game, and often quite popular ones. This was obviously a great idea, because kids all over the world asked themselves only one question while playing those classic games: “wouldn’t this be much better as a non-interactive, disjointed, illogical narrative that I could sit quietly and read alone?”
F.X. Nine heard their pleas loud and clear, and brought down from the mountain 10 sacred video game novelizations, one of which was Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which I will look at today.
The book opens with a brief teaser of Chapter 13, which is, presumably, intended to make you want to read the rest of the book:
It was an eyeball.
A flying eyeball! [...]
“I see you!” said the eyeball.
Just to reiterate, this is intended to make you want to read the rest of the book.
The actual opening lines of the story fare little better:
It looked as though Count Dracula was going to win the battle.
“I will drink your spirit like cherry pop!” said the count, flapping his cape and showing his fangs. “Yes, Simon Belmont! You will become one of my children of the night!”
No points for guessing what word our author, one Christopher Howell, subbed out for “spirit.”
This raises an interesting point, actually. The Worlds of Power books notoriously whitewashed the games they novelized, removing violent or frightening elements lest they corrupt the young readers who have already encountered this stuff in their respective games and were thus, obviously, corrupted already.
But how do you solve a problem like Dracula? Dracula is basically a walking and talking element of fear and violence. And unlike Dr. Wily, for instance, Dracula is a legitimate cultural touchstone. People know him — and know an awful lot about him — without ever having necessarily read the original novel or seen any of the adaptations. Even the youngest schoolchild knows he drinks blood, so why is it rendered as “spirit” here? Who is that meant to protect, exactly?
It turns out that the fight we’re witnessing is the end of the first Castlevania game. No, literally... it’s the end of the actual game. The novel opens on the hero of this story, a fourteen-year-old boy named Tim, trying to beat Castlevania before going to school one morning.
Tim put down the joystick. “Ah, gee, Mom. I almost got Count Dracula again!”
Anyway, yes, much as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” features surprisingly little Dracula, the novelization of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest features very little Simon. He’s there, but our hero is Tim, because, hey, haven’t you always wished that Castlevania was actually about annoying, candy-obsessed misfit children who make bad puns and get in the way of their heroes?
Tim successfully makes it to school on time — which I’m sure had you all on the edge of your seats — and he is quickly confronted by a bully named Burt. The bully is upset because his girlfriend, Carol Jance, apparently asked Tim where she could get “discount rates on video game cartridges.” Even worse, Tim, that dog, told her.
Fortunately for Tim, he forgot to go number two before he left the house, and that saves him from getting beaten up.
“Look, Burt. I was just headed into the boys’ room. Can we discuss this when I’m finished?”
Burt glared at him. “Yeah. I guess so. Don’t want you to have any accidents while I’m pulverizing you!”
While in the bathroom, Tim meets Simon Belmont, because hey, why not. That’s not even the weird thing about this scene. The weird thing about this scene is that despite Worlds of Power’s insistence that the book’s content be totally violence free, F.X. Nine saw nothing wrong with Tim meeting a strange adult man, dressed head to toe in leather, hanging out in the boy’s bathroom at a junior high school.
Of course, maybe we’re just reading too much into this. Maybe we...
“Come. Grab my whip, Timothy Bradley.”
Never mind. We’re reading into this exactly enough.
To Tim’s credit, he’s at least skeptical that this is actually Simon Belmont. To his greater discredit, though, he still lets the stranger take him to a bar!
Here’s how Tim ultimately determines that Simon is who he says he is:
“Okay, suppose there really is a Castlevania, and you really are Simon Belmont. What’s your girlfriend’s name, huh? Answer me that?”
“Why, Linda Entwhistle, of course.”
“Hmm. You’ve done your research. Okay, tell me then, Mr. Simon Belmont...”
Yes, he’s done his research. He’s done so much research that he knows Simon never had a girlfriend and he could say anything he wanted here. Tim, ever the paragon of good sense, accepts any answer other than “I don’t know” as proof positive, and the two whisk off to Castlevania.
Yes, “Castlevania.” Even though the game takes place in Transylvania. Wow, you’ve done your research, Christopher Howell!
It turns out the Simon wishes to bring Tim to Castlevania because...
...um ...well, Howell never really figured out why Simon would need Tim in Castlevania, so we don’t actually find out. There’s a lot of boilerplate palaver about bravery and being the chosen one and so on, but since a representative scene involves Tim tripping over his shoelaces, making a bad pun about being “head over heels” and then eating chocolate while Simon does all the work, these half-hearted explanations don’t exactly fit.