Tag Archives: Konami

Castlevania: Bloodlines Review

In its early years, Castlevania was synonymous with Nintendo. With the exception of Mega Man, Castlevania was probably the most revered third-party franchise on the NES. In 1997, the series would move on to Sony’s consoles with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which not only revamped the entire franchise, but remains one of the greatest video games of all time.

Somewhere in between the NES era and Symphony of the Night, however, was an oddity of the series: a Castlevania title on the Sega Genesis! This lone Genesis entry is Castlevania: Bloodlines. Though Bloodlines has received praise over the years, it’s largely overshadowed by its Super NES counterpart, Super Castlevania IV.

Most people still consider Super Castlevania IV to be the series’ best pre-Symphony title, which means that both Bloodlines and the “other” SNES entry, Dracula X, are often in its 16-bit shadow. Personally speaking, I find Dracula X holds up better than Super Castlevania IV due to more fluid controls. Perhaps I’m just destined for unpopular opinions, but I also find Bloodlines to be a more enjoyable game today than its more famous SNES alternative.

In Bloodlines, Dracula is (of course) on the verge of being resurrected once again, this time by the hands of his own niece, who plans on reviving her vampiric uncle by causing mass bloodshed, which she initiates by starting World War I. A distant descendant of the Belmont family, John Morris, seeks to stop the resurrection by making his way through Europe, slaying monsters along the way. Morris is aided in his quest by Eric Lecarde, who seeks to cure his girlfriend of vampirism, after Dracula’s niece cursed her.

What separates Bloodlines from most of its predecessors is that players can play as the two different heroes. Morris is equipped with a whip, giving the game a more traditional Castlevania feel, while Lecarde uses his trusty spear, to change up the gameplay.

Not only do the two heroes have different weapons, but some of the levels include different paths depending on which character is chosen. Further character-specific exploration is performed through Morris’ whip, which can be used to swing past gaps, while Lecarde can perform a high jump with his spear.

The game works like the other traditional Castlevanias, with players simply making their way through the stages to defeat the bosses at the end. But being able to experience the game in two different ways was a nice, unique touch for the series.

Another highlight of Bloodlines is that – much like in Dracula X – the basic sense of control feels more polished than Super Castlevania IV. You can now jump while going up and down stairs, so you don’t feel so vulnerable to attack or awkward to control. The jumping itself also feels a bit smoother, though it’s still a shame you can’t change trajectory mid-jump (sure, it’s more realistic, but not exactly ideal in a game with this much platforming).

On the downside, both Morris and Lecarde suffer from the series’ infamous knockback when hit, meaning that most of your deaths will occur by being sent down a pit after being hit by an enemy. Though on the bright side, when you fall down on a more vertical level after ascending for a while, you’ll just fall back to a previous section, whereas in Super Castlevania IV such areas would suddenly become bottomless chasms after they left the screen.

The level design is a real treat, with many stages taking advantage of the 16-bit hardware in fun and unique ways. One section of the second stage, for example, sees the bottom half of the screen covered in water, with the action on the upper half being reflected in it. Meanwhile, the game’s third boss torments the heroes by spinning the tower they’re standing on, which makes for a great visual effect.

The stages are all well designed and creative, and the hordes of monsters to be found in each mean there’s plenty of action to be had in each of them. Unfortunately, at only six stages, the game is even shorter than Dracula X. Granted, quality is always more important than quantity, but you can’t help but wish there were a little more to the adventure at hand.

Still, Castlevania: Bloodlines remains a stellar installment in the storied series. The gameplay is fun and smooth, and made just a little more varied with the addition of a second character. The graphics are still impressive, with plenty of inventive visual tricks spread throughout. And like any worthwhile Castlevania game, Bloodlines has a memorable soundtrack.

It’s simple Castlevania action. But sometimes, that’s all you need.

 

8.0

Super Bomberman R Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It’s been a long time coming, but Bomberman is finally back! Once developer Hudson Soft – creators of the Bomberman franchise – were purchased by Konami, the series took an extended hiatus. Konami was so quiet in regards to Bomberman, in fact, that many wondered if we’d ever see the beloved multiplayer series again.

Thankfully, such fears can be put to rest, as Konami’s first original Bomberman game arrived as a launch title on the Nintendo Switch, in the form of Super Bomberman R. But is Bomberman better than ever, or does his return prove to be a little rusty?

It may as well be said now, Super Bomberman R is very much the Bomberman you know and love. Though it may not be the best of the traditional Bomberman titles (that honor would go to Saturn Bomberman), it is a welcoming return to the series that may also serve as a fitting introduction to the classic Bomberman gameplay for new players.

Just as the case is with most titles in the series, Super Bomberman R sets players in single-screen arenas, where they have to blow up blocks and other obstacles to make their way through. Along the way, they can pick up power-ups that allow you to plant multiple bombs at once, increase the length of the explosions, allow you to throw your bombs, and so forth.

The gameplay – being identical to the majority of Bomberman titles – is fun, though its over-familiarity may make the Bomberman initiated feel underwhelmed if they were looking for anything more than a simple return for the series after years of absence.

The game has two primary modes: Story and Battle.

Story Mode sees one or two players progress through a series of single-screen levels, where they must simply get to the exit to move on. Though they must first activate the exit by meeting a certain requirement (usually it’s defeating every enemy, but you may also need to escort characters to a designated spot, collect keys, or simply survive for a set amount of time). Each world consists of eight such levels, followed by two boss fights.

The first boss fight always pits players against one of the Five Dastardly Bombers, who each have their own unique bomb type. You only have to hit them with a single bomb, but their AI is quite crafty, and at times can feel like you’re up against a human player, making for some intense encounters.

The second boss of each world is much larger, and involves one of the Dastardly Bombers piloting a large robot or other vehicle. Unfortunately, these bosses aren’t nearly as fun, primarily because they quickly become tedious. Each boss has their own pattern, which never really changes during the fight, and having to expose their weak point only to hit them with one or two explosions before the process starts over quickly grows monotonous.

One notable complaint to be had with the story mode is the perspective. While not bad for the most part, the perspective during the story mode is at a slant, which can become difficult in certain stages where there are higher and lower grounds to traverse, as it can be tough to discern when which plain certain objects and enemies are on.

This perspective issue is also noticeable during the aforementioned giant boss fights. Oftentimes, the bosses are so large that they take up most of the screen, making it difficult to see your character as they disappear under the mechanical bosses. What’s worse, you may often get killed by accidentally touching part of the boss when you can’t even see where your character is.

All this is a non-issue in battle mode, however, as the camera is fixed in the series’ usual top-down style. Battle mode is where you’ll be spending most of your time with the game, as you can battle other players locally or online in deathmatches which are as fun as ever. Super Bomberman R doesn’t do anything new with the Bomberman multiplayer formula, but after years of a Bomberman-less gaming landscape, it is good to have it back.

In the end, Super Bomberman R may not be one of the greatest entries in the series due to its lack of innovation to the classic formula and some camera issues and tedious bosses in its story mode, but it does provide that classic Bomberman gameplay that it sure to bring a good deal of fun in multiplayer sessions, whether battling various foes online or teaming with a friend in story mode. Combine that with some pretty gorgeous visuals and catchy music, and you have another healthy reminder of why this series was so memorable to begin with.

If you’re a Bomberman veteran, you’ll feel right at home with Super Bomberman R. If you’re new to the series, it serves as a good introduction to what the franchise has to offer. Either way, it’s great to have Bomberman back.

 

7.0

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Review

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

The ‘Metroidvania’ subgenre of platformer was birthed by Super Metroid and turned into a full-fledged genre with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Strangely, most of the subsequent entries in the Castlevania series that follow in Symphony’s footsteps have more or less been exclusive to handhelds. But that only really means that handhelds have been seeing quality Castlevania releases. This was especially the case with the Gameboy Advance, which saw the release of three such Castlevania titles. The third of those GBA games, Aria of Sorrow, is widely acknowledged as one of the best game’s in the system’s library, and one of the best entries in the entire series. It’s well-deserved praise. In the twelve years since its 2003 release, Aria of Sorrow hasn’t lost a step.

 

In a change of pace, Aria of Sorrow’s story doesn’t take place in the past, but in the future of 2035. Dracula, as it turns out, had been soundly defeated by the Belmonts and Alucard in the year 1999, with his soul and castle being banished in an alternate realm within an eclipse.

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowSoma Cruz is an exchange student in Japan, and as he and his friend Mina are about to visit a shrine, it suddenly becomes a gateway into the eclipse, and the two find themselves in Dracula’s castle. A prophecy that tells of Dracula’s reincarnation inheriting the vampire lord’s powers has a number of characters – both good and evil – searching the castle’s chambers to either prevent or fulfill the prophecy.

Players take control of Soma, who has gained newfound power in this other world. Much like in Symphony of the Night, the player starts off with very little to their arsenal, but they progressively gain new powers and abilities that both make Soma stronger in battle and open up new areas of the castle.

The gameplay is incredibly smooth, with combat and platforming feeling simple and fluid. New weapons, armor and accessories can be found in secret rooms, by defeating enemies, or bought by a man named Hammer, who sets up shop in the castle early in the adventure.

Additionally, Soma gains experience points every time he defeats enemies, and can level up after gaining a set amount of experience points. This gives the game an RPG sense of depth, similar to Symphony of the Night.

Aria of Sorrow admittedly plays really close to Symphony’s playbook (though that’s certainly no sin), with many of the castle’s locations almost feeling carried over from the Playstation classic, albeit with a different layout. What sets Aria of Sorrow apart and gives it its own identity, however, is its introduction of the Tactical Soul system.

The Tactical Soul system allows Soma to steal the souls of defeated monsters, which grant Soma new abilities. Enemies often have to be farmed before you can claim a soul, but the fact that every enemy gives you a new power gives the game an insane amount of depth and variety.

Souls come in four forms: Bullet, Guardian, Enchant and Ability. Bullet souls work as a replacement for the series’ secondary weapons, and are mostly ranged attacks like throwing knives or shooting lightning from your hands. Each use of a Bullet Soul uses magic points, which are replenished with collectible hearts (or potions). Guardian Souls are continuous moves that eat up magic points until deactivated, like transforming into different forms or summoning minions. Enchant souls are always in effect when equipped, and thus don’t require magic points. Abilities granted from Enchant souls can range from mere stat boosting to walking on water. Finally, Ability souls are usually found after boss fights, and give Soma abilities that are necessary to delve deeper into the castle. Unlike the other types, they are always active and never need to be equipped (though the player can turn their effects off if they choose).

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowIt really is a simple addition to the series, but one that has a powerful effect on the game’s content and longevity. It’s as addictive as collecting Pokemon. And much like Pokemon, the game’s original GBA release gave players the ability to link up to trade souls, because chances are you won’t be able to grab them all in a single playthrough. Unfortunately, like so many linking features before it, the trading aspect of the game is absent in the Wii U Virtual Console release.

The game also looks great, and somehow seems to have made the transition from GBA to Wii U better than most, visually speaking. Sure, Soma’s character model lacks defining features, but that’s forgivable when taking into account the screen the game was originally made for. The game’s art direction and animations also hold up really well. As is a recurring element of the series, Aria of Sorrow features a stellar soundtrack, though it might not quite stack up to the series’ finest scores.

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowIf you enjoy Metroidvania titles even the slightest bit, you owe it to yourself to play Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. It may have been compacted for a handheld, but it exudes as much depth and content as its console counterparts. The gameplay is great, and the Tactical Soul system pretty much means you can change things up in nearly countless ways. The graphics and sound have aged nicely, and several unlockable modes, multiple endings and even the ability to play as a secret character means that the game will outlast the ten or so hours you’ll put into the standard quest.

Does Aria of Sorrow match the brilliance of Symphony of the Night? Not quite. But it comes a lot closer than it has any right to. That it should be compared so frequently with such an esteemed predecessor is quite a statement in itself.

 

9.0

Castlevania: Dracula X Review

Castlevania: Dracula X

Castlevania: Dracula X is an interesting entry in the Castlevania canon. This Super Nintendo installment was originally to be the western release of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which was released exclusively in Japan on the PC Engine. Though Dracula X shares similar graphics and an identical plot to Rondo of Blood, it boasts drastic differences in its level design, structure and even some gameplay elements. This has lead the game to have a somewhat divisive effect on the Castlevania fanbase, though on its own merits it stands as a great entry in the acclaimed series.

Dracula X falls under the traditional Castlevania gameplay (this game being the direct precursor to Symphony of the Night and the introduction of “Metroidvania”). You take control of Richter Belmont, a descendant of Simon Belmont who (as is family tradition) is on a quest to slay the evil Count Dracula, and in the process rescue his love interest Annette and her sister Maria.

Castlevania: Dracula XRichter uses a whip like Simon and Trevor before him. Though it initially might seem disappointing that Richter cannot swing his whip in every direction like Simon could in Super Castlevania IV (the more popular SNES entry), he makes up for it with an overall better sense of control. Richter’s jumps are less stiff and more controllable, he doesn’t get knocked back nearly as far as his predecessors when hit, and (mercifully) he has a much better sense of control when going up and down stairs.

Along with the whip, Richter can also find the usual secondary items: the throwing knife, holy water, crucifix, the axe, and the stopwatch, which all require collectible hearts to be used. This time, however, each secondary weapon also comes with a screen-wide special attack, which can come in handy in areas chock-full of enemies, but require a whopping fifteen hearts for every use.

Castlevania: Dracula XThe levels are progressed linearly, with Richter moving to the next stage whenever a boss is defeated or when other requirements are met. You’ll play through a total of seven levels on any given playthrough, but there are nine levels total, with alternate fourth and fifth stages available. The number of alternate stages is reduced from the original Rondo of Blood, but they still add a sense of variety to the game. And given that Annette and Maria are held captive in different levels, you’ll have to know how to find them if you want the best ending.

The paths to some of the alternate levels can be a bit tricky, which might be off-putting to some, since you’ll have to either input a password or start the game over to get back to that point if you missed your opportunity to go down a certain path (you can end up in the fourth level that doesn’t house a damsel in distress simply by falling into a pit in one of the rooms in the third level, which is incredibly easy to do as you’re bombarded by floating medusa heads and dragon skulls). But if you can put up with the trial-and-error approach, it’s rewarding to find the different ways to play through the game.

At only seven levels in a playthrough, Dracula X is admittedly short, but the game’s high difficulty makes it feel a lot bigger. The enemies can get tough, with some of them being able to take Richter out in a few quick hits. The platforming  can also be challenging, but thankfully due to the levels themselves and not Richter’s movements. And you may throw your hands in the air when you can finally make it to a boss without dying, only for the boss to send you to a game over in a very short amount of time.

As difficult as the game is, it never gets particularly frustrating. The healing items are still a bit too infrequent, but checkpoints appear more often than in previous games in the series. And while the levels can be a little lengthy, they aren’t so large as to make it a chore every time you get a game over and have to start them over.

Castlevania: Dracula XAnother highlight of the game are the graphics. The game doesn’t utilize the same Mode 7 effects that Super Castlevania IV did (no rotating rooms this time), but it still looks gorgeous even today. The sprites are vivid and detailed, and the animations are surprisingly smooth, even for a SNES game. But even the great artwork is secondary to the absolutely incredible soundtrack. Hands down, this is one of the best soundtracks in both the Castlevania and SNES library, and that is saying a whole lot. I could go on and on about the soundtrack alone, but I digress.

There’s a whole lot to love about Castlevania: Dracula X, but there are some drawbacks to this version of Richter’s quest. As stated, there are less alternate levels than in Rondo of Blood, so you may feel you’re only getting a chunk of the adventure. Similarly, Maria was an unlockable character in the original game, and became playable after you rescued her, but that isn’t the case here. Finding the alternate routes, while understandably challenging, can sometimes be needlessly difficult (seriously, those pits). You also kind of wish Richter had some more unique moves and that the game used as many visual effects as Super Castlevania IV.

Still, even with these shortcomings and half-realized elements, Castlevania: Dracula X is still a great game for any fan of the series or 16-bit games. This may not be a popular opinion, but between this and Super Castlevania IV, I find Dracula X to be the better aged game. It has the same kind of fun, but with a vastly superior sense of control, a tighter, more challenging quest, and one amazing music track after another.

 

8.0

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse Review

Castlevania 3

 

The third entry in the Castlevania series, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse brought things full circle. The RPG adventure setup of Castlevania II was undone in favor of returning to the level-based action platforming of the original title. But Castlevania III has enough tricks up its sleeve to prevent it from feeling like a step backwards, even if some of the aged mechanics of its predecessors still remain.

As stated, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse uses a similar setup to the original game, but story-wise it serves as a prequel, taking place hundreds of years before the original Castlevania, with Simon Belmont’s ancestor Trevor taking the title role.

Castlevania 3Trevor’s controls will feel instantly familiar to anyone who played through Simon’s adventures. A whip is still this Belmont’s weapon of choice, and once again players can pick up secondary weapons, which require collectible hearts to be used. The combat works just fine, though unfortunately the stiff jumping and awkward stair climbing mechanics are still present, which can make a number of segments more frustrating than they should be.

Many of the same Castlevania enemies return along with some new ones. Thankfully, the enemy patterns feel more balanced this time around, and when you do get bombarded with enemies, their patterns seem less random than in the first game, making the combat feel more fair and fun.

Before you think this just sounds like a more polished version of the original game, Castlevania III introduced some notable innovations to the series.

The first  big change is the game’s more nonlinear structure. While Trevor will usually venture to the next stage upon defeating a boss enemy, some levels with feature a branching path afterwards, leaving the player to decide where Trevor’s quest will go from there. You’ll never see every level in a single playthrough, so you’re given good incentive to play the game again and take different paths. Depending on your choices, you can even affect the game’s ending.

The other notable addition is the inclusion of multiple playable characters. Three new allies join Trevor Belmont, and bring some variety to the gameplay.

Castlevania 3Grant, a pirate-like figure, can cling on walls and ceilings and also has the most fluid jumping mechanics, as he’s able to change his direction midair. However, is weapon is a simple, tiny dagger, meaning he’s not ideal for combat.

Sypha is a witch, and can find magic spells similar to how Trevor finds secondary weapons. Her spells make her one of the better combat characters, despite her slow movement and her standard weapon lacking Trevor’s strength and reach.

Alucard, the son of Dracula who would be the star of Symphony of the Night, debuted in the series here. Though he’s not nearly as powerful as he’d become in Symphony, his fireball attack boasts a great range, and he has the ability to change into a bat.

Each of these characters are optional party members, but they make the game all the more fun with what they bring to the table. Unfortunately, at any given time you can only have Trevor and one additional character, so don’t expect to mix things up with Alucard and Grant.

The level design has also been improved, with longer, more expansive levels that should challenge even veteran players. The overall layouts of levels also feel more thought-out and intricate. There’s a good sense of both variety and consistency in combat and platforming.

Castlevania 3It is still a bit of a downer that life-replenishing meat is still a pretty rare occurrence, because the game can prove to be pretty difficult. And since a game over means you’ll have to start a level from the very beginning, you wish that just a few more healing items could have been sprinkled throughout the game.

Castlevania III also looks cleaner than its predecessors. The character graphics and animations look nicer, and as a whole it’s one of the better looking NES titles. And per the norm for the series, Castlevania III includes a memorable musical score that will surely get stuck in your head in the best way.

As a whole, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse remains a great game in most respects, but some of the controls and certain elements in the game may feel a bit dated. It’s an NES classic, if maybe not a timeless one.

 

7.5

Super Castlevania IV Review

Super Castlevania IV

Castlevania is one of the most storied franchises in all of gaming. Renowned for its intricate action and grim atmosphere, the sidescrolling series would eventually reach new heights when it combined Metroid-style exploration and RPG elements into the mix with the classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But before Symphony helped create the “Metroidvania” sub-genre, Castlevania’s most acclaimed entry was Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES, which many still hail as the best “traditional” Castlevania to date. In many ways, Super Castlevania IV lives up to the legacy its built in all these years since its original release. But in some areas, the game shows a bit of age.

 

Storywise, the game is a remake of the original Castlevania, with Simon Belmont venturing to defeat the evil count Dracula, after the vampire lord has resurrected from a previous defeat 100 years prior. But other then the simple plot, the game is entirely original from the previous games in the series, with new levels and gameplay mechanics that built on its predecessors and brought the series up to date for the 16-bit era.

The game takes place over eleven stages, and like any old school action game, the goal is to simply make it to the end of a stage and defeat its boss to progress further.

Super Castlevania IVSimon Belmont is equipped with a whip that can lash out in eight directions. The whip can also be used to swing across chasms in various points in the game. It can even be swung to shield Simon from projectiles. Additionally, secondary items such as throwing axes and boomerang-like crucifixes can be found throughout the stages, and require ‘hearts’ (think Magic Points with the collectibility of Mario’s coins) in order to be used.

The combat is undoubtedly the best aspect of the gameplay, as whipping down hordes of monsters becomes a thrilling experience.

Unfortunately, there are some areas in gameplay that haven’t aged particularly well. The most notable of which being the jumping, which feels both slow and stiff. Granted, Castlevania is based more on action than platforming, but theres enough jumping from one object to the next to make the clunky jumping become a major problem at some points in the game.

Super Castlevania IVAnother problem – strange as this may sound – comes from walking up and down stairs. When Simon sets one foot on the first step of a staircase, he becomes “glued” to the steps, unable to jump, which leaves him vulnerable to enemy attacks. The sense of control when Simon is walking on a staircase just feels awkward.

The extensive knockback that Simon receives from enemies also becomes a bit of a problem, and you may get more game overs from Simon being knocked back into a pit than from losing all your health. Notably, vertical-based segments become a particular pain, since previous platforms disappear once they fall out of the screen’s focus, so one hit from an enemy often sends Simon plummeting to his doom.

The game as a whole can get pretty difficult. At the best of times this is due to the game’s wonderful level design (with every level feeling distinct from one another), and at its worst due to the aforementioned stiff mechanics. There are some segments that should be reasonably difficult, but they are often made downright frustrating by the awkward control.

While the controls often damper the experience, the adventure as a whole is still memorable, and more than worth a look for fans of classic action games. The level designs are creative, sometimes even genius, as the game took advantage of the SNES’ capabilities of scaling and rotation in inventive ways.

Super Castlevania IVThe game still looks great, and sounds even better. The character designs are detailed, and the graphics are appropriately gloomy, with even the title screen setting up its dreary atmosphere. The soundtrack is a highlight in both the Castlevania series and the SNES library, which is no small feat, considering the hefty soundtracks to be found in both categories.

There’s certainly a lot to love about Super Castlevania IV: Its hard to imagine its presentation could get any better for its time, the combat is fun, the boss fights are memorable in a “difficult but fair” kind of way, and the level design is a constant delight. The downside is that as great as the overall game is, Simon’s slow and often awkward sense of control can hinder the fun. The overall package is something to behold, but Simon himself seems to have aged in the years since the game’s initial release.

Super Castlevania IV is an epic, eerie quest. But it lacks the timelessness and seemingly perfect execution of design that Symphony of the Night boasts. A classic for its time that’s deserving of a revisit, if maybe not a timeless classic in its own right.

 

7.5