Rated PG-18 - Castlevania:
Whenever a game series gets to a point where a tried and true formula works well, it's usually inevitable that somebody will come along and fuck with it. The Mega Man series has itsLegends, where somebody came along and said, "Hey, I know, instead of making another action-packed sidescroller, let's make it ugly 3D and completely revamp the gameplay to make it totally boring!" Mortal Kombat had its Deception, where somebody came along and said, "Hey, I know, instead of making another action-packed fighting game, let's make it so one person has to spend HOURS running around a 3D world opening chests and talking to people to unlock the full fighting game experience!" Zelda had its Ocarina of Time, where somebody came along and said, "Hey, I know, instead of making another game full of intense combat situations with rooms full of tough enemies that could kill you in seconds, let's COMPLETELY GET RID OF THAT GAMEPLAY CONCEPT and replace it with time-consuming puzzles in a pretty 3D world!" The Castlevania series has operated on a similar level for the last decade. While the previous formula of having a challenging sidescrolling action/adventure game worked for fans of the series, it also had successful attempts at other gameplay concepts with games like Simon's Quest, a totally non-linear action/adventure game, and Symphony of the Night, a totally non-linear Metroid-esque adventure game. However, it was during development of the latter that somebody came along and said, "This works! Let's ONLY MAKE CASTLEVANIA GAMES LIKE THIS NOW." Don't get me wrong; several of the "newer" style Castlevania games are entertaining in a lot of ways. But it's frustrating when a format you enjoy gets discarded entirely by developers in favor of easier, more time-consuming gameplay rather than a classic challenge. Leave it to dedicated fans of the original style to take matters into their own hands...
I think that's some naked chick with severed legs shooting fireballs at you. I knew I loved this game.
Thanks to "modern" technology, some people have actually taken the opportunity to study 8-bit game design on an independent basis and have consequently created works of genius. In 2007,Romhacking.net members Dr. Mario and Optomon, utilizing the original NES Castlevania gameplay engine, created their own independent game called Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries. Based on events following the storyline of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, we're finally given the classic gameplay once more through a descendant of Grant DeNasty. I could explain the storyline, but they give us a back-of-box type of synopsis that would make the old manual writers jealous:
1476, Romania. A terrifying castle rises up from the mist. Along with the castle rose a dark powerful being named Count Dracula Vlad Tepes. A man named Trevor Belmont was fated to defeat the powerful vampire, aided by a witch named Sypha, Dracula's own son Alucard, and a pirate named Grant DeNasty. Together the team traversed the dark halls of Castlevania, defeating the count and his countless minions.
That only proves the point further that game writers these days try too hard. Konami comes up with the most bizarre explanations for every additional entry in the series, when all it takes is some combination of "I've got a whip and I'm in Transylvania" to get the point across. If you ever try to over-think a plotline to a Castlevania game, just know that Transylvania is to zombies, monsters and vampires what Detroit, New Jersey or Gotham is to criminals. At least this time, there's no having to explain away how the Belmonts lost Dracula's corpse again. They really need to be held accountable next time. There should be some special Transylvanian law set up so they get fined or something when Dracula's monsters start killing off villagers.
Now's a good time to start using those laurels.
The gameplay keeps in line with the first game in the series, but despite being a ROM hack, it feels like a whole new experience. Armund has a stylish new blade whip, and a new twist is the ability to use the laurels from the second game as a special weapon for temporary invincibility. However, the new twists and abilities don't keep this game from being easily the most difficult among the other threeCastlevania games. Calling this game challenging is like calling OJ guilty, and you'll definitely want to stab somebody at some point. You'll more than likely have some serious trouble getting past some areas even if you're a seasoned veteran of the series. After the first stage's usual "feeling-out" process, you'll start to see the true evil nature of the following five stages. Every unfamiliar jump, every enemy placement and obstacle you come across, and every boss you face will probably kill you at least once, and probably do it again and again. Medusa heads come at you at the worst possible times and at the worst possible angles. Bone Pillars will change up their fireballs from high to low. Giant eyeballs in the fourth area will spew forth smaller eyeballs that will pause, wait for you to make a move, and come at you in a way so it doesn't seem remotely possible for you to prevent them hitting you, and probably into a pit, forcing the words "FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!" and "AAAAAUUUUUURRRRAAAAUGH!" into your permanent vocabulary. You might find yourself on a roll for a minute or two, only to have a full health and get knocked into a pit within seconds. Your usual, unchanged NES Castlevania control scheme will make you beg for a quick death in this game, and only practice and exploitation of some weapon locations and enemy heart drops will be your saving grace.
The graphics in Chorus of Mysteries do a good job of converting several elements of Symphony of the Night to 8-bit, and the innovative character designs add a fresh new feel to the NES series. Armund is a welcome departure from the stagnant homoerotic character designs of the more recent GBA and DS installments, and Olrox looks nearly identical to his 32-bit form(s). The stage designs are innovative and just plain cool, with plenty of secret walls and weapons. The music is hit and miss for the most part, but the first and second tracks fit the mood, as well as the opening and final boss themes. There's even an 8-bit version of the theme for Olrox's Quarters. The overall track selection feels like a step just below the NES games, which is true for just about every other NES game anyway. Chances are, you won't develop an opinion on any of those things while you're getting your ass handed to you.
Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries is a long overdue addition to the more traditional Castlevania style of gameplay, and sends a message to Konami that Capcom seemed to get sometime before makingMega Man 9. I'd tell you to go find it, but first you need to find the ROM, get a cart made by NESReproductions.com, and eagerly await the finish of the follow-up, Cadence of Agony, which looks like it could be my favorite Castlevania game of all time from the few pieces of footage in existence. It's about time somebody started up with games like this. Who cares if it's not Konami?
Yeah, he's as fast as those hunchbacks while he throws those boomerangs at you.