When E3 was happening back in June it was, as usual, a very exciting time for us gamers, and we here are slimgamer.com were lucky enough to have a presence there in the form of 2 of our writers, Justin and Hayes, if you haven’t checked out their articles from E3 or indeed our podcast on the fallout of E3 go and check them out now!!
As well as all the big announcements of all the big games at E3 such as the cash cows that are Call of Duty and Battlefield, alongside great looking games like Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell and the excellent looking Watchdogs. There was also an announcement for the follow up game for perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked games of the last 5 years – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
So I thought what better way to open up the new feature on slimgamer.com, Pixel Perfect, than to take a look back at the wonders of Castlevania. So sit back, relax, maybe get a cup of tea and a biscuit and enjoy.
Castlevania was first released in Japan by Konami not under the name Castlevania but under a different name, and that name was Demon Castle Dracula, which doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue but it does at least give you an idea of what the game is about. It also wasn’t (like a lot of people think) first released on the NES either, it was actually released in Japan on the Famicom system and was fairly successful over in the east, so it was inevitable, even then, that it would eventually get a European/USA release. Which is exactly what happened in 1987 when it was released on the NES.
Castlevania received much press on release due to the Gothic nature of the game, in fact it was the first game of it’s kind to feature Gothic themes as opposed to the more cartoony themes of other, more similar games such as Capcom’s Ghouls and Ghosts, which probably only helped to solidify it’s spot as one of Konami’s flagship series.
The very first Castlevania game saw you playing as Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter and descendant of the Belmont clan who travels to Dracula’s demonic castle, and fights his way through it in an attempt to take down Dracula and the castle.
However, the first Castlevania game was fairly linear in it’s gameplay, as a lot of games were back then (actually, every game I can think of) and it wasn’t until Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest when the series took a more familiar feel and introduced a non linear open ended game similar in fact to the Metroid games of the past leading people to dub the game Metroidvania or Castlevoid. It also had a world map leaving players free to explore and backtrack through levels (a feature which would later find it’s way into every Castlevania game), you could also purchase supplies and weapon upgrades throughout the course of the game giving it a kind of RPG feel.
Of course as Castlevania became more and more popular, Konami released more games in the series (as you would expect) including the likes of Castlevania: Bloodlines on the Sega Megadrive and Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge on the Nintendo Gameboy which is a game I spent a lot of time playing when I was younger, in fact I only had 2 games on my Gameboy, one of which was Tetris – that came with the Gameboy, and Castlevania which despite only having a relatively short play time was very enjoyable.
However it wasn’t until Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (which happens to be my personal favourite) released on the Sony Playstation in 1997 and later the Sega Saturn in 1998 that the series took a major turning point. And even though you didn’t play as a Belmont, (instead you took the role of a vampire hunter named Alucard), except right at the beginning of the game in a prologue, was a fantastic game!! Keeping it’s side-scrolling 2D graphics which the series was famous for and adding a fantastic soundtrack and more RPG elements including collectible weapons, armour and hidden orbs which allowed you to transform into different forms so you could access the hidden areas so you could at least try to get the inverted castle and 100% the game – a feat I am still trying to do. Even after all these year and many attempts, It’s a game I still go back to and play every few months, and each time I try and get the inverted castle and fail, but I love it and you have to remember that the game is huge!! even by today’s standards, but 13 years ago unless you were playing Final Fantasy, games were just not that big!
Symphony Of The Night probably was one of the best games available on the Playstation and is a game still loved today by fans and new comers alike. In fact people that play the game for the first time seem to fall in love with it almost instantly! (in fact I recently showed a friend of mine the game, he’d never played it before, he’s now a huge fan and can’t stop playing it!).
There were many more Castlevania games after SOTN available on many different platforms but most of them were ultimately forgettable and not very good it has to be said. It would be a fairly long time until a new great Castlevania game would release, and that game was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Castlevania: LOS was a complete reboot of the much loved franchise. Produced by Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame it was a game that actually caught me by surprise, not least because it was never announced as a Castlevania game, it was simply announced as Lords of Shadow so as not to upstage the other Castlevania release at the time, Castlevania Judgement which was a [rubbish] 3D fighting game available on the Wii.
In Castlevania: LOS you played as Gabriel Belmont through 50 levels (yes, the game is huge) as he tries to find a way to bring back his deceased wife, who was murdered by one of the members of the Brotherhood of Light – an elite group of holy knights who protect and defend innocent people from supernatural creatures – as a result, her soul cannot leave and is trapped in limbo, realising what is at stake, she guides Gabriel through the world to complete his destiny and save the world. Along the way Gabriel, voiced by Robert Carlyle (Full Monty, The World Is Not Enough) meets many other characters including the oldest living member of The Brotherhood of Light, Zobek, voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart (Do I need to tell you who Patrick Stewart is?) who also narrates the game and therefore makes it worth buying immediately!
The combat was fairly predictable hack and slash style akin to the likes of Devil May Cry, but instead of a sword you had a Combat Cross, which was fully upgradeable and had up to 50 combos available for you to buy and unlock as you went through the course of the game. The Combat Cross wasn’t just used for combat though, it was also used to help you traverse your way through the levels, using it like a grappling hook in a sort of new Tomb Raider style allowing you to make it over large gaps etc. It was also used to solve some puzzles, as you upgraded your weapon it allowed you to backtrack through previous levels and access previously unavailable areas effectively giving you a good reason to go back and play through the game again. This is a game I’ve had for about a year and I still play it, and although I’ve completed the story, I still haven’t managed to 100% the game.
Speaking of puzzles, Castlevania was always known for it’s puzzles and they didn’t disappoint in LOS either, as some of them were pretty challenging really requiring you to think about it and probably making you stuck for a little while. But as with most puzzles, take a step back, and just think about it and you generally work it out.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow remains (for me at least) one of the best, if not the best Castlevania game to date and Konami did a great job of updating the franchise while at the same time tipping it’s proverbial hat to the original games.
Sadly though, it still remains as one of the most under rated games available, as it seems that not many people have played it, but those who have love it and say what a great game it is (me included). Even if you haven’t played the original games, I urge you to go out immediately and buy the game. And like I mentioned earlier, it has Sir Patrick Stewart in it, as both a character in the game and narrator which makes it instantly worth buying.
It remains to be seen of course just how good Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate 2 is going to be, but going by recent form, and the E3 trailer, I’m expecting it to be an amazing game! Look out for it when it releases at some point in 2013.