Game Review

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Hughes

What a horrible night to play this game

Sequels of the present day are almost an inevitability; a safe way for a developer to earn some extra revenue by expanding their previous game, slightly tweaking gameplay nuances and throwing in additional levels and enemies. However, in the late '80s, things were different – sequels could vary wildly from their predecessors, unrecognisable aside from a title and some key characters. Super Mario Bros. paved the way for Super Mario Bros. 2, a title that (in the West, anyway, but we all know that story), despite being the redheaded stepchild of the series, is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. The Legend of Zelda was succeeded by Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, an instalment thick with RPG tropes and an entirely different playstyle. Castlevania followed suit in that its sequel, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, bares very little resemblance to either the original Castlevania or the fantastic Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.

The unfortunate distinction, however, is that Castlevania’s second instalment — unlike that of Mario or Zelda — fails in almost every regard.

Simon’s Quest begins innocuously enough, retaining the distinctive weighty jump and whip mechanics seen in the first title and combining them with a large, multi-tiered environment. Simon’s Quest mostly eschews the focus on challenging platforming segments in lieu of a non-linear pseudo-RPG – acceptable in theory, but huge flaws in its execution render the entire experience a frustrating slog, mired in poor design choices and questionable level design. When the first character the player encounters informs Simon (in a PAINFULLY slowly scrolling text-box) that the “FIRST THING TO DO IN THIS TOWN IS BUY A WHITE CRYSTAL”, the confusion and tedium begins to set in. What is a white crystal? What does it do? Do I really need it right away? Where can I buy one? These are all valid questions, but not queries the game feels it necessary to answer, either at this juncture or at any point later. This is just the tip of the iceberg for Castlevania II's needlessly confusing lack of conveyance.

Items are purchased using hearts, spoils that occasionally appear from felled enemies – the use of the word ‘occasionally’ here is very intentional, because recovering enough hearts to purchase even the most basic items is a tiresome grind of constantly defeating the same predictable foes over and over. These enemies become more resilient at nightfall, taking on average twice the number of blows to topple. This would be dull enough in its own right, but the transition between night and day is so mind-numbingly boring the thought of grinding for hearts is enough to fill even the most patient player with dread. The game’s iconic protracted text-box leisurely informs the player ‘WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE’ before fading to black and switching the colour pallet to a more subdued tone, taking around ten seconds each time. This happens fairly regularly and is unskippable – why the designers felt it prudent to constantly interrupt the player rather than have the time of day change during level transitions is beyond reasoning, but renders the game irritating and tedious as a result.

The goal of Castlevania II : Simon’s Quest is to retrieve the five body parts of Dracula to revive and defeat him, undoing a curse the wily vampire (apparently) placed on Simon at the conclusion of the previous game. As a justification to traverse the impressively expansive world, solving puzzles and conquering dungeons this is passable, but the esoteric riddles and obfuscating translation of Simon’s Quest make completion of the game nigh impossible without a walk-through. For instance, a denizen of a neighbouring town helpfully advises the player to "HIT DEBORAH CLIFF WITH YOUR HEAD TO MAKE A HOLE"; apparently this is not an invitation of violence towards a woman named Debbie, but a recommendation to ‘crouch down at a dead-end for several seconds whilst holding a red crystal to be picked up by a tornado’. Discerning the correct course of action from the game’s laughably bad (and often fallacious) dialogue is borderline impossible, and perhaps the only thing more confusing than the game’s script is how it got through quality assurance in the first place.

Graphically Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is passable; sprites and environments fairly detailed, although both are often drab and muddy in places, an unfortunate inversion of the previous game's refreshing use of colour. The music is a mixed bag, boasting the introduction of the excellent 'Bloody Tears' theme as the daytime motif — now a staple of the series' excellent musical repertoire — but also harbouring some of the series' most grating tunes. It's all moot, anyway; fantastic presentation would not have been enough to save Simon's Quest from its many shortcomings, but the effort that is sorely lacking here would have been appreciated nonetheless.


Beyond the game’s gruellingly slow pace and terrible misdirection, there’s very little to shout about here. Castlevania II retains the same control scheme as its predecessor without any of the tight, clever level design crafted to take advantage of it. Combat is entirely comprised of mashing the B button until oncoming foes are defeated, sometimes taking 10 or more blows, whilst stages are littered with ‘fake’ blocks inserted to give the player a cheap death. It’s frustrating, unrewarding, tedious and badly designed. Credit where it is due to Konami for trying something different with Castlevania II, but a failure in almost every regard. Avoid this shambling mess and stick with any of the other superior whip-slinging Castlevania adventures.

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User Comments (35)



ricklongo said:

Wait, wasn't there another review for this game up here just a couple of days ago? Different score, too.



Spoony_Tech said:

I'm glad they reviewed both versions. I for one never had a problem with this game and enjoyed it as a kid. What version I will pick up depends on if I want it on the go or not.



ejamer said:

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest had some ambitious ideas that failed in execution. In some cases the problems are poor design, in others it's due to limited hardware.

The game is still playable... but is definitely obtuse in many places. I'd be happy to play again, but it's tough to recommend Simon's Quest to people who (a) haven't already experienced the game, or (b) aren't hardcore retro gamers, used to the type of challenges the game presents.



Stu13 said:

I think the reviewer may have misspoke. What he meant to say was, 'This is the best game. Regardless of system or genre, the BEST game. Buy it now. Buy two copies.'



shigulicious said:

I love the side scrolling Castlevanias. As much as I try to like this game, I cannot. Hopefully we will see Castlevania 3 in the eshop soon. It's one of my favorite NES games and still holds up well. But 2? I tried to play it a few years back before selling my NES collection and it felt so broken.



dirtywalrus said:

I loved this game as a kid. There were a lot of points where I was stuck, but it was rewarding to finally figure it out.

Oh well. Kids are stupid.



JamminOnThe1 said:

I'd give it a 7. Still fun to play today. I'll be playing this game until my eyebrows grow back!



JJtheTexan said:

Different reviewer; different scores.

Incidentally, the tag line "What a horrible night to play this game" was used by IGN in their scathing review of the 3DS title Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate



Mystemo said:

I think the gameplay itself is great (well, maybe not the platforms that you can fall trough), it's just a tad too cryptic.



Agent721 said:

This game is not that hard. I beat it as a kid, while renting it over two weekends in the 80s. No net, no nothing. I beat it again last weekend in less than six hours. Zelda II is much harder...Ultima Exodus is much is Faxanadu. The NES was known for hard games, but Castlevania II is not one of them. Confusing? Yes. Difficult? I would have to argue no. You want hard? Try to beat RC Pro that's hard.



soma said:

Terrible review, this is a fantastic game. Yeah it can be confusing, there are a few things that will be impossible to figure out for yourself, but for other things there are hidden tips you can find destroying walls and floors around the world that are very helpful.
Figuring things out is part of the fun, and you can figure out most of the game except for one or two things, just check gamefaqs and problem solved. And now with the possibility to save your states it should be a LOT easier.



unrandomsam said:

@Agent721 The second playthrough of the first Castlevania is hard. I wouldn't say there is any part of Zelda 2 I found more difficult. (Trying it just using a savestate after each stage and it is miles harder than the first playthrough).



bezerker99 said:

The AVGN has ruined this game's legacy. It's not as bad as everyone claims. I beat it back in 1988. It should be a piece of cake now with this nifty invention called the internet.



KnightRider666 said:

So much hate from the Nintendolife staff for this game. We all know this game deserves at least a 7 or better.



KeeperBvK said:

"We all know"?
First, there is no "knowing" in terms of what a game deserves, but just opinions. Second, how about reading some of the comments here before projection your opinion on everybody else? This is obviously a game some people love and some people hate. So an average score (as are 5 and 6) is just right.



grumblegrumble said:

I think the review for this game is quite harsh. The music, the gameplay, the fake hints, the loose bricks, it's all part of a very awesome game, imho. I would give this a 8/10, with one of those points for the music alone



khululy said:

I find the 6 ( maybe a 7) more justified as this game is not as terrible as the night that is the night that is a terrible night to have a curse is.
But as for an entry title into the castlevania series...I would not reccomend this but give them the GBA/DS ones instead.
and it's definitly no Rondo of Blood or Super Castlevania IV.



sleepinglion said:

Yes, this score seems too low... it's a well-done game even if you take off the nostalgia glasses. Now 'Might Bomb Jack'... there's a new VC release I don't suspect to see a high score for.

Oh, I got a polite e-mail from NOA customer service today. I had written them asking about the SMB3 hold-up in North America. The rep was extremely polite but told me they haven't been given any official explanation as to the game's delay, either. I wonder if they're allowed to even change the toilet paper at NOA without asking Japan first!



MrGawain said:

I think this was one of the first games I ever completed (along with Megaman 2). I was only 8 or so, and for the NES, it was the first 'story' as such I had completed. It didn't have levels! The one bit that really bothered me was having to kneel down and drop that white orb, and if you did it in the wrong you had to go back and input the ridiculously long password again to get back to your save point. But at the time it was (for an 8 year old) revolutionary.

I can imagine it hasn't aged well though.



speedyboris said:

It's actually not a horrible game, but I still don't know what they were thinking by having the game freeze in place every five minutes to announce it's getting dark and vice versa. It's really vexing to be in a groove when, without warning, the dialog box appears (even worse, you can't skip it).



mushroomer said:

I played it as a child when it first came out. I loved it. Loved the music at the time.. The music from the towns was so adventurous and created a creepy mood. I think if you judge it according to today's standards, yes, its 5/10 but at the time, i would have given it a 8/10.



Gashole said:

I used to trust Nintendolife with having reviews that were right on the money. Now different reviewers look at the same game, effecting the score greatly. This got a 6 before for the Wii U Virtual Console, and now a 5. Worst of all is Mario Bros.



art_kevinc said:

I dont see how this gets such a low review. I find it one of the best castlevania games I ever played after Symphony of the Night.

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