Under Reconstruction – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

As I’m posting this around midnight on All Hallows’ Eve, the witching hour as it were, it feels only fitting that I’m reviving a series I’ve not seen for a couple years. What better treat for Halloween than one last revival for the year? While Sum of Its Parts may have been more fitting given the day, Under Reconstruction always felt like an interesting concept. Taking a look at the odd one-offs, the quirky experiments and the black sheep games in popular series and reimagining them in a way that would improve their standing, while maintaining their unique identities in the process. I guess it would be scarier if I just decided they should be reworked to completely represent the rest of their franchises, but where’s the fun in that?

As I’ve only written one of these articles before, I’ll be making some changes from the previous article. Quite simply, I went far, far too in-depth in the last article, which may have contributed to my abandonment of the concept. Looking back at the previous article, I was clearly going for of a mini-design document style, which decisively hurt the flow of the entire thing at times, forcing it to be confined to sections and sub-headers. This time around, Under Reconstruction will be going for more of a “broad strokes” format, effectively going for the gist of what I’d want to see in a remake of the game in question. Hopefully, that’ll make this more viable as a recurring series, which honestly, was the original point of the first article. So, if you’re expecting another set of in-depth treatises on how to remake an old video game few people remember and fewer people liked, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with this one. As for anyone else still reading this, let’s continue.

If you haven’t already guessed from the title, this article is going to be focusing on the second Castlevania game, Simon’s Quest. While Simon’s Quest is generally considered among the weaker entries in the series, due in no small part to a parody review video from one James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe, its place of importance within the Castlevania franchise is still unquestionable. While the original Castlevania was essentially an arcade-era platformer in the same vein as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Simon’s Quest took a far more exploratory approach to its games – best resembling Nintendo’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Due to this shift in priorities, some consider it to be something of an “ur-Metroidvania”, the style of gameplay associated with Symphony of the Night – which in turn, is considered by many to be the best game in the series. Of course, SotN and SQ handle exploration in almost entirely different ways, but by now, the connection has been made. Simon’s Quest isn’t the worst game in the series by any means, but it suffers from its mechanics – to the extent where the following game simply refined the mechanics of the original game and the series would follow on this path until the 32-bit era. Considering we’ve seen several remakes and reimaginings of the first game, why not give the second a chance to shine, especially given the fact that platform-adventure games in general have become substantially more refined?

Gameplay

The best games I can think of that took inspiration from Simon’s Quest would have to be the first two Shantae games from WayForward. As such, they seem like a good place to look for inspiration when refining mechanics for the remake. For starters, throw out the lives system. It was an odd mechanic in general, especially considering the fact that the only way to replenish them was through getting a Game Over. Most of the platformers that focused on exploration that came out after SQ had done away with the lives system, so it only makes sense that a remake would do the same. Having said that, I would keep the pitfalls in the game, as they emphasize the platforming elements in the game – just have them do about as much damage as an enemy instead of costing a life (you know, because they won’t exist anymore). Having said that, any Simon’s Quest remake should bring back the day/night mechanics, but do a straight fluid transition between the times of day, rather than doing it with a textbox and a slow-paced transition every single time. The original Shantae also made use of the day/night mechanics and handled them perfectly: just a quick palette and music swap. I’d suggest incorporating the classic texts for the first night and day transitions respectively, but make them background elements: don’t interrupt the flow of gameplay.

Simon’s Quest had a simple leveling system in it, and frankly, I’d just bring this back unchanged. Keeping the level cap at six and allowing for significant stat boosts based on experience points would be an interesting concept – effectively bridging the gap between the sometimes-ridiculous RPG-style leveling associated with the Metroidvanias, while still rewarding players for facing down enemies unlike the Classicvanias. Keeping the amount of experience points that can be earned in specific areas is another element I’d keep from the original NES version, simply because it would force progression. Likewise, the way the game handled equipment – including upgrades for existing weapons – is also well done. Granted, in this case, I’d suggest allowing players to shift back to weaker versions of the powered-up weapons, for the sake of adding some measure of optional difficulty. I’d also suggest adding both the Axe and the Cross Boomerang to Simon’s arsenal of sub-weapons, not only because their absence struck me as odd, but because they could allow for new obstacles and gameplay mechanics. Simon’s Quest also had multiple endings, based on how quickly the game was beaten. I’d definitely keep those mechanics: considering the fact that the game is said to be a prototype of the future Metroidvanias of the series, it would only make sense to include something that rewards quick completions, consider that’s a hallmark of the sub-genre‘s namesake.

The game world itself, on the other hand, needs to be significantly overhauled. The only thing I’d consider worth keeping from the original release would be the literal setting, which sufficiently depicted the kind of countryside and towns one might expect to exist alongside a literal demon castle. While researching for this article, I looked up a full map of the game’s overworld, and it’s literally a straight line. Some verticality and branching paths would be appreciated, especially considering how much of a role these elements would play in future games in the series. In a game like this, non-linearity seems like it should be the focus and as such, keeping the linear design of the original overworld seems like a mistake, especially considering the fact that the game managed to take a non-linear approach in the first place. The various areas were lined up in a random order, forcing playing to backtrack between both ends of the map to progress. Adding additional paths and shortcuts could make things much more interesting from a gameplay perspective.

Then there’s the case of the Mansions, which effectively acted as “action stages” or dungeons within the game. Each housed a specific relic of Dracula’s and they ended up being the parts of the game that best resembled the first game in terms of gameplay. However, they would generally focus more on cryptic puzzles rather than platforming gameplay, something I’d probably change if the game were remade for modern audiences. The best examples of how I’d like to see an SQ remake handle the Mansions would be the mini-dungeons in a later Castlevania game, Portrait of Ruin. The segmented areas in Aliens: Infestation are another good example of what I’d like to see. To put it simply, each mansion would essentially be a miniature Metroidvania map, roughly the size of a single area in the major Metroidvania-style Castlevanias. Another point about the original Simon’s Quest that was disappointing would have to be the lack of bosses. There were only 3 bosses in the game: Death, Carmilla and Dracula himself – and they were all fairly underwhelming. Given the fact that there are so many iconic bosses in the Castlevania series, it would be easy enough to pick some additional bosses for the game. Likewise, I’d suggest expanding on the existing bosses as well – it’s not like there aren’t several other incarnations of those three to draw inspiration from. Speaking of expansion, increasing the number of mansions overall would probably be a good idea: it’s not like the Prince of Darkness only had 4 body parts and a ring. Expanding the mansions to 8 would probably be a good number thus allowing for a much more ornate game world in general. Better yet, these new mansions could easily justify my proposed redesign of the overworld – these new Mansions could be hidden along alternate paths from the standard straight-line design of the original game, thus allowing this new version of Simon’s Quest to feel more like an expansion than a total reimagining. I’d also suggest giving each mansion a theme to focus on, which would allow for more cohesive level designs. I’m not talking about silly things like “make one Egyptian-themed”, but giving each mansion a unique obstacle to center its design around would probably make things was more interesting.

Finally, we come to the game’s towns. Perhaps the most unique element Simon’s Quest introduced to the Castlevania series – as the concept wouldn’t be revisited until 2008’s Order of Ecclesia. In the original version, players would be able to buy items and talk to the townsfolk for information, which wouldn’t always be true …or coherent, for that matter. When accounting for modern game design, using the towns as save points and areas to heal seems obvious. I’d consider also using them as warp points, allowing players to travel to areas they’ve previously visited with no issues, but that’s strictly my preference: backtracking can be a nightmare, especially when the game map is literally a straight line. As for the townsfolk, I’d keep things cryptic and allow some of them to lie, like in the original game. Just please make sure that their speech isn’t translated into gibberish this time around. Hell, maybe add in some sidequests between towns, that could help to expand the game’s world even further. Again, I’d look to the second and third Shantae games for inspiration when reimagining the towns. Giving different layouts and themes to each town would be helpful, but at the same time, keep the vertical layouts in the new version. Likewise, I’d also say to maintain the various obstacles – both the pitfalls and the zombie attacks at nightfall – in the new version, it definitely mixes things up.

Presentation

Of course, when it comes to remaking a game, gameplay is only half the equation. Presentation is also important. A subtle balance must be achieved: the game must simultaneously appear new to draw in those who played the original game, while at the same time maintaining enough key elements from the source material to be recognizable as an actual remake, rather than an outright reimagining with nothing in common with the original. At the same time, the game also has to be able to draw in those not familiar with the previous release, effectively making sure that it can appeal to those familiar with later iterations of the series or even those completely unfamiliar with the franchise in question. It’s a precarious balance that is too difficult to really look into clinically, but I’ll do my best to keep it in mind when discussing the aesthetical content of the game.

For starters, we have the game’s story. After defeating Dracula in the events of Castlevania – which have been told a million ways a million different times – Simon Belmont retires to a simple and peaceful life for the next seven years. However, upon his death, the Prince of Darkness placed a curse on the young vampire hunter, cursing him to an early grave unless the lord of vampires was resurrected at Belmont’s own hand. To make matters worse, Dracula’s minions are once again terrorizing Transylvania, leaving mayhem in their wake. As such, Simon gathers his legendary whip – the Vampire Killer – once more. He begins a quest to revive the dark lord, only to kill him again, ending his reign of terror once and for all. …Or for the next hundred years, whichever comes first. There’s really little that needs to be added to make SQ’s backstory work, all the framework is already there. At best, I’d probably suggest making references to all the different incarnations of Simon’s original adventure throughout the game. After all, the original Castlevania’s story had been touched upon in a multitude of different ways – hell, one version even had Dracula abduct Simon’s bride on their wedding day – so it would be somewhat interesting to hear of the various legends of the storied vampire hunter as told by various townsfolk, relying solely on hearsay, rumors and tall tales.

I’m usually pretty flexible when it comes to graphics in games. It has been awhile since we’ve seen a game done in the 32-bit SotN Castlevania pixel art style and given how well that allow the graphics of the original Simon’s Quest to translate into a more modern environment, that would probably be ideal. If they use Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth as a design guide, the game could end up looking gorgeous. Hand-drawn 2D, similar to the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, could be an interesting take as well, though that would probably be prohibitively expensive. In all seriousness, 3D graphics in a 2.5D game would probably be the most cost-effective choice, but it would probably harm some of the game’s readability, unless Konami (or whatever developer they’d put in charge of such a project) takes extra care to make the game look gorgeous and decipherable at the same time. While everything was properly visible in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, the character designs looked a bit weird at times. Hopefully, if a SQ remake went the same route, we’d get something much more visually appealing, while making sure not to sacrifice clarity in the process.

I’d have to say that my personal favorite aspect of Simon’s Quest would be the game’s soundtrack. With that in mind, I’d keep all of the compositions from the original game in a remake – which Konami outright avoided with Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth. I would, however, love to see Konami take songs from other Castlevania games and incorporate them into a remade soundtrack – especially if they go with more obscure tracks like in ReBirth. Original compositions would be nice too, but considering it’s a remake, I’d definitely prefer going with other classic songs. Choosing a musical style is a bit more difficult: my ideal pick would be symphonic metal, similar to the Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack, allowing for both an orchestral sound that would fit with the game’s setting, as well as a strong melodic component. Of course, I’d love to hear a new chiptune arrangement of the soundtrack as well, but I’d be happy if they just included the original NES and Famicom Disk System versions, as well as older iterations of any new tracks, as bonuses. They should definitely implement the ability to swap out different versions of each song, sort of like how DXC let you customize which songs played in which stages during gameplay.

Finally, we come to the project’s scale. Ideally, we’d be looking at this as a downloadable game – with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price between $10 and 20 at launch. Nothing too extravagant, after all, this is meant to be a faithful adaptation of a game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The best game I can use as an example of what I’d expect out of a Simon’s Quest remake would probably be 2013’s Ducktales Remastered: Capcom and WayForward took the basic format and layout of the original game, expanded on it – both lengthening existing stages and adding entirely new ones – tightened up the controls and provided updated visual and audio. If Konami did something similar with a Castlevania II remake, it would probably end up being a winner. Traditional Castlevanias fell to the wayside in the wake of the Lords of Shadow series and we’re still waiting on Bloodstained, Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s spiritual successor. Metroid-likes and Castlevania tribute games are a pretty profitable niche among indie games, so it would only make sense for Konami themselves to capitalize on a void they created.

This brings the second entry in the Under Reconstruction series to an end. The new format leaves a few gaps in the overall design document aspect of the article, but I think that ends up working to its advantage. After all, it leaves a lot more to the imagination. Personally, I had fun writing this, so hopefully I’ll be able to think of more topics for more of these in the future. More importantly, what do you think? Would you like to see a remake of Simon’s Quest? Do you think the changes I suggested are too extreme or not extreme enough? Sound off in the comments below.

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The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

Christmas has pretty much always been my favorite holiday, especially when I was a child. I was a greedy little boy while I was growing up: one of my favorite holiday traditions was always writing up my list to Santa on my computer. Sure, some years I’d get overzealous and start thinking about it as early as August, but I’d always have a lot of fun just writing the list itself. I’d always try to sort things in the order I wanted them, but that was actually part of the fun for me: one week I’d really want some action figures, the next some new video game caught my eye. The downside to starting a list that early is that as time goes on, new items catch your eye. Even the greed of a child has its limits, so I would often have to pare down my list, trimming the items I could “do without”. (Gotta love child logic, am I right?) In a sense, I think those PC ports lists I wrote for a long time were the evolution of that favored Yule tradition, but eventually I got tired of doing them. Too much wishing, not enough getting. I’ve taken a hiatus on them and now, it’s been over a year. Instead of making an entirely new one, why not look over my previous works and analyze them a little? This year, I’ll be recounting my 5 favorite success stories, my top 10 most wanted and the game on each list I’d consider the most important (excluding those on the aforementioned lists) plus a brand-new one for good measure!

Before we get started (fittingly enough, with my favorite success stories), I’d like to start with some recent successes as well. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released on PS4 earlier this month and it will also be hitting both the Xbox One and Steam in March. Meanwhile, Garou: Mark of the Wolves was also recently released on PlayStation consoles via CodeMystics, but surprise, surprise: an entirely different port hit Steam soon after, from the good folks at DotEmu. In fact, it was such a surprise, I actually had to change a list entry because of it. The DotEmu port is less fancy than the CodeMystics port, but apparently, not only does the Steam version have a more solid netcode, but it’s also getting immediate bugfixes to iron out some of its bizarre glitches. Funny how that works. I expected that to be the last bit of news I got on the PC end of things, but I was wrong: The Legend of Dark Witch 2, another game I’d been salivating over the prospect of seeing a PC port is announced to be hitting Steam sometime during “Q4 2016”. One last big surprise for me.

You’ll also remember that this past April, I did an “April Fools’ Day” article, revolving around 10 PC games I’d like to see receive console ports. Well, like many of my jokes, this one ended up biting me in the ass. During the PlayStation Experience, Ys Origin (the only PC-exclusive Ys game) was announced to be hitting both PlayStation 4 and, amazingly enough, the Vita on February 21, 2017 with the port being handled by the good people over at DotEmu who are utilizing XSEED’s English translation and coming up with original French, Italian, German and Spanish translations as well. (As an aside, DotEmu’s also bringing a favorite of mine – the NeoGeo classic Windjammers – to the same platforms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a PC port down the line!) You’d think that would be enough, but the world wasn’t done having fun at my expense: soon after, it was revealed that the indie platformer Kero Blaster would also be coming to the PS4, thanks to its publisher Playism. They’ll also be bringing Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight to PS4, though release windows for both titles have not been announced. Continue reading

Remaking History

Originally, this article was going to be my own personal take on an earlier piece from KI, where he detailed various sequels he’d like to see for games that have long been ignored or forgotten. Truth be told, I’ve got a similar hunger to see some old games resurface myself. Of course, while I was brainstorming that topic (and don’t worry, my take on that idea will resurface at some point down the line) I eventually decided that it would be more interesting to think up games I’d like to see remade. After all, remakes and sequels are pretty similar when it comes to video games.

I’ve said this in the past, video games are unique in the sense that sequels typically improve on their predecessors. The same can honestly be said with remakes: video game remakes typically improve on the source material, where most other forms of media have a much lower success rate. Unfortunately, video games fall into a similar trap as other forms of media. Commonly if a game is remade, it’s generally already a popular (and by extension, good) game. It’s somewhat pointless to try to reinvent the wheel. Games like Maverick Hunter X and Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles weren’t improvements over the originals. On the other hand, you’ve got remakes like Metroid: Zero Mission and MegaMan Powered Up, which were definite improvements over the games they were based on.

For the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen 5 games which I believe deserve to be remade. Maybe people will disagree that they need remakes, maybe some of you will even think these games are just lost causes altogether. The other thing these games all have in common is that they come from either established franchises or development teams that eventually redeemed themselves after each respective misstep. I’ll be discussing each game’s faults, strengths and how I personally would handle a remake for each game, though the order in which the first two aspects are discussed may vary between entries. The importance of each element will determine which takes precedence in the discussion.

Mother (1) [a.k.a. “Earthbound Zero”] – Nintendo Famicom/Game Boy Advance

The Problems

Just as a bit of a disclaimer, I’ve never actually played the original Mother. I requested that a friend of mine play through it, mainly because after playing through Earthbound on my own, I was curious about the game’s roots. In spite of having no hands-on experience with the title, I can tell that it is definitely a very flawed game. The problems I have with the original Mother can be summarized in a single sentence: it’s an NES-era Japanese RPG. The NES was a part of the last video game generation where the abomination that is random battling could be blamed on hardware limitations. Likewise, while its sequels played around with unique gameplay mechanics that matched the franchise’s off-beat tone, the original Mother feels incredibly generic by comparison.

The Potential

On the other hand, Mother 1 actually gives us a unique opportunity. Shigesato Itoi, the mastermind behind the Mother trilogy, has stated that he has no intention to make a fourth game in the franchise. Considering how Mother 3 ended, it’s safe to say that there may be nothing left to explore in the future of the games’ storyline. However, the Earthbound fanbase is extremely passionate about seeing a new entry in the series. Meanwhile, Earthbound and Mother 3 don’t actually really need remakes: they’re perfectly fine in their current state. That leaves us with the original Mother, a flawed, but still very interesting game. Remaking the original Mother could allow Nintendo a chance to give the fanboys what they want, while avoiding any potential backlash in making a new game without Mr. Itoi’s involvement. It’s also important to keep in mind that Mother has only been released in Japan. I may have ragged on The Dracula X Chronicles earlier (despite the fact that I actually like that game), but there’s one thing that it objectively improved upon its predecessor: the number of regions it was released in. Sure, Nintendo’s supposedly sitting on that complete, unreleased English translation of the original Famicom game, but why just release that when you could do something with much more style?

My Proposal

I think a remake of Mother 1 would work best as a downloadable game for the Wii U. I’d actually prefer it if they kept the story about the same as the original, making as few alterations to the Famicom game’s scenario as possible. I’d say the gameplay should probably emulate Earthbound more than Mother 3, just due to its place in the timeline. Represent enemy encounters on the world map, use the odometer-style HP system, all that good stuff. Graphically, I’d like the game to resemble those clay models used for the Mother series’ concept art. It’s such an interesting aesthetic and Nintendo’s already attempting something similar with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.

Street Fighter (1) [a.k.a. “Fighting Street”] – Arcade/NEC TurboGrafx CD

The Problems

People say I go way too easy on the original Street Fighter, due to the fact that my first experience with the game was with the even worse PC port. While I don’t think that SF1 is as bad as everyone else says, I must admit it’s an incredibly flawed game. It suffers both from being a late-80’s era arcade game and one of the earliest examples of a modern fighting game. The game suffers from both stiff controls and gameplay, which coupled with the traditional “unfair” difficulty typical of “quarter muncher” arcade games, made the experience even less enjoyable.  While introducing special moves was a pretty cool idea, the lack of playable characters (just Ryu and “Player 2”, later renamed Ken) also hurt the game’s appeal, especially when compared to later fighting games.

The Potential

Of course, Street Fighter’s potential is obvious to anyone who’s ever played its sequels or Final Fight. Once the initial kinks had been worked out, Street Fighter’s core ideas led its successors to become some of the most important fighting games of all time, even to this day. Besides that, SF1 also had some fan favorite characters that haven’t reappeared in more recent titles. I’m sure few people care about such mainstays as Lee, Joe and Mike (who is generally considered the basis for later SF2 character Mike Bison/Balrog, known colloquially as “Boxer”), but we haven’t seen characters like Birdie and Eagle since Capcom’s transition to 3D models in their 2D fighting games. There are even characters that never reemerged in later games that have been requested to some degree. Remember when the internet thought Retsu was the fifth new character in Ultra Street Fighter IV? Geki, the Japanese ninja, is another common request when it comes to returning characters, though he’s not at the top of most people’s lists.

My Proposal

Honestly, I’d kind of want Street Fighter V (which has been alluded to, by series producer Yoshinori Ono) to take a page from the Mortal Kombat reboot and retell the stories of all the previous games, which would lead to having a gigantic roster (and effectively remake Street Fighter 1 unintentionally). However, that would probably take an insane amount of resources, despite the fact that the game could potentially reuse some of the assets from the last game.

So let’s just talk about a straight remake of the original game instead. On one hand, seeing something along the lines of the MUGEN-based remake “Street Fighter One” would be pretty cool. Reuse the graphics from the arcade version, the TGCD version’s soundtrack and create an entirely new gameplay engine that would fix the flaws of the original. There’s also the possibility that there could be a full-on 2.5D remake, made by the team behind the Ultra update, in a case of what some people I know refer to colloquially as “watching the bee”. Think about it, the Ultra team is small and many people have complained about their work being buggy in many cases. Giving them another chance on a less important project to redeem themselves would be far more productive than just disbanding the team. Regardless of which form this remake take, there’s one thing this game should definitely have: the entire SF1 roster playable. Yes, even Joe.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Nintendo Entertainment System

The Potential

Regardless of my personal feelings towards Simon’s Quest, I must acknowledge that it was an important step in the evolution of the Castlevania series and had a profound impact on the entry in the franchise that most people consider its magnum opus: Symphony of the Night. Granted, it wasn’t the first Castlevania game to focus more on exploratory gameplay as opposed to standard linear platforming, that distinct honor belongs to the MSX2 version of the original Akumajou Dracula, commonly referred to as “Vampire Killer” outside of Japan. Considering that little factoid can easily be filed as “obscure trivia”, it should be pretty clear why SQ is generally considered the proto-“Metroidvania”. Of course, a remake of Simon’s Quest could lead to the most interesting Metroidvania ever, if done properly. Considering the game takes place across multiple mansions, towns and forests, there’s way more potential for this compared to just another romp in Dracula’s Castle.

The Problems

Simon’s Quest falls into the “good concept, awful execution” category. Konami retained the standard lives systems from the first game in the series, despite the fact that it really didn’t add much to the game. The level design also left a lot to be desired, what with all those fake blocks and instant-death pits. The latter appear even in the towns, for some reason. The game allowed you to accidentally skip important (yet cryptic or possibly poorly translated) hints, but not the excruciatingly slow day/night transitions (call me a ripoff of AVGN for complaining about this, if you must). Finally, though the convoluted password system only appeared on the cartridge-based renditions of SQ, the original Famicom Disk System version had load times that would make the PS1 blush.

My Proposal

If Konami ever decides to remake Simon’s Quest, I’d like them to emulate another remake of one of the weaker entries in the series: Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. Make it a downloadable game, use the same style of faux 16-bit graphics and music. Instead of just aping the old “Classicvania” style of gameplay, I’d like to see a cross between that and the more Metroid-like style of gameplay from later 2D entries in the series. Keep the sprawling overworld and the various puzzles, but maybe include some kind of a “journal” where any clues the game gives you can be re-read at your own leisure. Expand on the mansions, maybe make them into actual stages, either linear Classicvania layouts or labyrinthine exploratory areas. Better yet, use both styles to keep things interesting. Develop on the towns by throwing in more shop mechanics like the ones , keep the day/night mechanic (but make the transitions more immediate) and we could be potentially looking at the best Metroidvania in the series.

Metroid II: Return of Samus – Nintendo Game Boy

The Potential

Let me be perfectly clear on this one, if Zero Mission didn’t exist, the original Metroid would be here instead of its Game Boy sequel. Return of Samus is a significant improvement on the original Metroid in pretty much every way. The controls are significantly improved. There are brand new power-ups including the Spider Ball, which allows Samus to climb walls and the Space Jump, which allows her to repeatedly spin-jump in the air. They join old favorites from the original like the Varia Suit, Ice Beam and Varia Suit, giving the intrepid bounty hunter a much more versatile arsenal. It’s also significantly longer than the original Metroid, with at least twice as many boss fights (that’s assuming you count each variant of a Metroid as a single fight, regardless of how many times they appear in the game) and several other areas to explore.

The Problems

Metroid II’s biggest issue is the fact that its sequel is an even greater improvement on it than it was to the original Metroid. Super Metroid added an in-game map, which allowed for a return to the original’s more non-linear game progression while avoiding its tendency to leave players stranded, added even more iconic weapons to Samus’s arsenal and improved the controls to perfection. There’s a reason why Super Metroid is generally considered the best game in the series. Unfortunately, due to being a Game Boy game and not being the series’ progenitor, Metroid II is generally considered to be the weakest game in the franchise. Its reputation isn’t helped by the fact that Zero Mission is generally considered to be close to the quality as Super Metroid.

My Proposal

At one point, Nintendo had plans to remake Metroid II for the Game Boy Color, as they did with Link’s Awakening. Unfortunately, it was scrapped along with other similar remakes (including MegaMan V, supposedly). I always thought it would’ve been pretty cool to see this idea come to fruition, but honestly, this project wouldn’t make much sense at this point in time.

Instead, I feel like Return of Samus should get the “Zero Mission” treatment. Give it an expanded remake, utilizing a similar engine to Super Metroid. I’d personally keep the more linear layout the game, but maybe throw in some exploits that would allow speedrunners or anyone else who’s looking for a challenge an opportunity to break sequence. Better yet, just make an extra mode that removes the roadblocks. Add some new bosses, but keep the 40 Metroid boss fights intact. Considering most of those were just the same 4 bosses repeated, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. The fact that Metroid’s fanbase has been clamoring for a new game in the franchise, especially a 2D one, pretty much means that if this remake is done well, it’ll relieve some of the pressure on Nintendo when it comes to working on the next real entry in the series.

Knuckles’ Chaotix – Sega 32X

The Problems

To say that Knuckles’ Chaotix was the best the 32X had to offer is pretty much an objective fact. Unfortunately, that’s really not saying much. Though its fellow expansion peripheral the Sega CD had a respectable amount of cult classics, the only other 32X game I find remotely endearing is Kolbiri, a free-roaming game with shump-style controls where you play as a hummingbird. Despite its status as the “one good 32X game”, Knuckles’ Chaotix still has its fair share of issues. Though I don’t really mind the random selection when you decide to switch out your partner, the way the stage order is randomized bugs me: you often switch between zones before you finish whichever one you’ve started with, which messes with the game’s flow. There’s also the fact that, at times, the game just doesn’t feel as smooth as its predecessors on the Genesis and Sega CD, the controls feel a little off at times and there’s also the occasional slowdown.

The Potential

The funny thing is, my first experience with Knuckles’ Chaotix didn’t happen until way after it was released. Even then, it wasn’t actually with Chaotix itself: I played a leaked beta made for the Genesis by the name of Sonic Crackers. While it wasn’t nearly as polished as the final product, I was enamored with its unique idea: controlling two different characters (in that case, Sonic and Tails) tethered together by a pair of rings. Likewise, Knuckles’ Chaotix delivered on that concept in my opinion. It may not have been a perfect game, but it was a way more interesting spin (no pun intended) on the Sonic formula than 3D Blast ever was.

My Proposal

Simply put, give it the Sonic CD treatment. Use the art and sound assets from the 32X version and let Christian “The Taxman” Whitehead work his magic on it, removing any technical limitations and tightening up the controls from the original version. I think the main reason I’d want this one remade is because it’s just not worth the time or effort for Sega to try to emulate 32X games, even though many fan-made Genesis emulators can handle them (to varying levels of success).

There you have it, 5 games I think are worth remaking. Some of them are more flawed than others, but all of them could use a second chance in my opinion. Of course, like I said before, most games that get remade even today are still as good as they ever were. Instead, they should be reserved for games that didn’t age gracefully, fixing their problems while sharing their potential with a new generation of gamers.

 

Sum of Its Parts: New “Classicvania”

This article’s been a long time coming. When I started this series earlier this year, I initially meant to post them on a bi-monthly basis. However, I also always wanted to have at least one idea in waiting before writing the next article in this particular series. I’ve had this idea since I first envisioned this series, but was only recently able to think of my next article. Hopefully, the next article won’t take quite as long to come out as this one did. For those of you that remember the previous article, the Sum of Its Parts series is basically about looking at long-running video game franchises that have either lost their way or have fallen into disuse by their companies, taking various elements from a number of games in the series and mashing them together to create an ultimate sequel worthy of its franchise.

This time, we’ll be looking at Castlevania, specifically a “Classicvania”. What is a Classicvania? A miserable little pile of gameplay! But enough jokes, Classicvania is a term I’ve heard used regarding CV games resembling those from the pre-Symphony of the Night era. Linear, stage-based Castlevanias with an emphasis on platforming over the exploration of later “Metroidvania”-style games. Sure, the series hit its peak after this period, but this style has always been my favorite type in this series and it definitely has its fans. Some of the most beloved games in the series were Classicvanias: Super Castlevania IV, Rondo of Blood and even the two good NES Castlevanias had this style of gameplay.

Some of you are probably asking: why make a new Classicvania game? After all, that particular type of Castlevania game got abandoned for the most part after the overwhelming success of SotN, and the best-selling Castlevania game of all time was the original Lords of Shadow. Of course, I’ve always preferred classic-style CV games like Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis and Rondo of Blood for Turbo-Grafx CD over the other variants. Metroidvanias were okay and “GodofVanias” (a derogatory term for the mainline LoS games) never really clicked with me. More important, however, is the respective shake-ups regarding those other two sub-genres of Castlevania. Koji Igarashi, the creative force behind Symphony of the Night and former producer for the Castlevania brand in general recently left Konami, throwing the future of Metroidvanias into question. David Cox and MercurySteam, the creative force behind the recent big-budget AAA Castlevanias have stated that LoS2 would be their final Castlevania and judging by its poor sales, it seems likely that that will remain the case. More importantly from my viewpoint however, is that the most recent Classicvania game, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth for WiiWare, was an excellent take on the series and reminded me just how much I’d like to see a new one.

Let’s start with the most important part of the gameplay: the base engine. As much as I loathe to admit it, the best possible engine for a new Castlevania game would probably be that of Super Castlevania IV, even if it does lack the feel of an old-school CV, it does boast the most responsive and reactive controls. In this day and age, that’s far more important than any nostalgic feelings I may have for the clunkier engines of old. The smoother jumping mechanics, whipping with 8-way aim and the ability to swing off of grapples, it’s great.

Of course, that’s not to say they couldn’t improve upon the engine. I actually played a little bit of IV recently while researching this article and noticed a few glaring omissions. Allow the playable character to jump off of the stairs (something I honestly thought was in 4, considering you could jump onto the stairs), which was actually in Bloodlines. Throw in the backflip (or some other move like it) from Rondo of Blood, and you’ll have a significant improvement. On that note, bring back the full assortment of power-ups: dagger, axe, holy water, cross, stopwatch and the Bible (from RoB). Hell, bring back the Item Crash from Rondo as well, that was pretty cool. Bringing back the flame whip power up from Bloodlines and the Game Boy games (as well as ReBirth) would be nice, but not a necessity.

As for stage design, it’s fairly simple: make them like the old-school games in general. Keep it linear, with several bottomless pits, waves of blood-thirsty enemies and challenging bosses. Specific elements I’d like to see from the other games though would be stage lengths similar to those of SCV4 and Bloodlines and mid-bosses like in Bloodlines or Rebirth. Most importantly, I’d like to see multiple stage paths again, whether it’s in the style of the third Castlevania or RoB. I guess I’d prefer that of Rondo, due to the fact that it allowed for multiple stage bosses and had a much larger effect on the stage layouts, as opposed to simply choosing which stages to go to manually.

This new game could also borrow various elements from other styles of Castlevania. The most obvious choice would be throwing in some labyrinth-style non-linear stages, like those in the first half of Order of Ecclesia. That would have an added benefit of breaking up the monotony most detractors associated with the linearity of old-school CV games. Avoid throwing in the leveling and hub-world mechanics though, as well as item equips, they just wouldn’t work in a Classicvania game. As for the Lords of Shadow games, implementing one of their giant bosses could be pretty cool, if done in conjunction with IV’s grappling system. Similarly, throwing in the climbing and scaling engines from the platforming segments of LoS, would be a pretty cool addition as well. Leave out the combat engine though: Mirror of Fate proved it just doesn’t work as well in a traditional Castlevania setting.

Other elements I’d like to see return from older Castlevania games would be the ability to use multiple characters. I’ve always liked using alternate characters in CVs: Eric LeCarde, Maria Renard and Grant DaNasty all come quickly to mind. I can’t really say which existing method of implementing them I prefer: being able to switch between characters on the fly (like in Dracula’s Curse or better yet, Portrait of Ruin) is pretty cool, but being able to choose between two different characters for the entirety of the game allows for more diverse stage designs to accommodate entirely different sets of abilities (Bloodlines). The latter method would also add to the game’s replay value, which is a definite plus. It would also be pretty cool if there was some sort of a co-op mode, which allowed two players to work together. Sure, it didn’t work so well in Harmony of Despair, but if it could be tweaked, it would definitely be an interesting experiment. Also, though this may seem obvious to most companies at this point in time, please, PLEASE use save files in addition to stage selects. Rebirth only had a wonky stage select, where you could only start from a stage if had already beaten it, which made beating the game in more than one setting way more difficult than it had to be.

Of course, what would a Castlevania game be without a storyline? Personally, with IGA finally departing, I’d love to see my favorite Belmont recanonized with a brand-new adventure. I’m talking about Trevor’s momma, Sonia Belmont. She originated from the no longer canon Castlevania Legends, an average game that was the first attempt at giving the Belmont clan an origin story. She was also set to be in the cancelled Castlevania Resurrection for the Dreamcast alongside her descendant, the Tim Curry-esque Victor Belmont who would eventually be reworked into Lords of Shadow 2. Of course, the most popular choice for a new Castlevania game would be “Castlevania 1999”. An event alluded to in the Metroidvanias Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, 1999 was the year Julius Belmont killed Dracula once and for all. I’ve always been of the opinion that finally showing events that have been alluded to in fiction is always disappointing (blame Star Wars), but most people appear to disagree with me. Go figure. Oh well, as long as the gameplay’s good, I’m in.

I feel a similar apathy towards deciding the game’s graphical style. I’ve always been fond of the old-school simplistic 2D sprites from 16-bit Classicvanias and Metroid-like Castlevanias. You know, where none of the characters have any facial features, but have fairly detailed hairstyle and clothing so each character is distinct from one another. As I said in the Sonic article, I’m not really too offended by 2.5D graphics, though I do hope that if Konami goes down this path again, they make them look better than they did in The Dracula X Chronicles. Granted, part of that was the artstyle itself, but it just didn’t turn out well. Regardless, as long as I can tell what’s happening and it isn’t offensive to my senses, I’m good.

Music, by contrast, is extremely simple: just bring back Michiru Yamane. She composed some of the best Castlevania soundtracks out there, David Cox be damned. (Her music’s too feminine? I wasn’t aware that coherent melodies were considered girly.) Yuzo Koshiro and Manabu Namiki would be good alternates, though. I’d like to see a mixture of older and original songs, like many of the more recent games have had, but when delving into Castlevania’s backlog, it’d be great to hear some less common songs. I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears” before they get old. There are so many obscure songs from this series that don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve and frankly, now’s as good a time as any to rectify that. Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth chose mainly less popular choices and it had a killer soundtrack. Speaking of which, use that old-school arcade instrumentation from Rebirth as well. I love me some Konamiesque orchestra hits.

Compared to my previous request for a brand new 2D Sonic, this request is definitely a pipe dream. Most die-hard Castlevania fans are clamoring for a brand-new Metroidvania. Well, a brand-new Metroidvania that’s actually good. (Looking at you again, Mirror of Fate). Still, I recently replayed some of Dracula X Chronicles and frankly, Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth got my hopes up: that we could live in a world where Metroidvanias and Classicvanias can coexist. Well, anyway, keep an eye out for the next article in this series, where I pitch a new game that’s bound to have way more demand behind it than this one.