Wade Manns – The Corsair
If you’re an old school gamer like me, you’ve no doubt heard of Castlevania, the storied vampire and monster slaying game series. That’s an odd title, no doubt, but those who have enjoyed video games since the beginning know what it means: solid action, great music and (even since the beginning, to a much lesser degree) a good story.
Story, you ask? In an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) title? Well, yes; but in those early days it was mostly an excuse plot: Dracula’s castle, its ominous form rising from the Romanian countryside, beckons the vampire hunters of the Belmont clan to brave its dangers and slay its dark master: Count Dracula. Its form changes at the whim of its lord, but always has at least an entrance, clock tower, outer walls, galleries and myriad corridors, a chapel (even evil needs religion once in a while), coliseum, and the keep where Dracula himself resides waiting for our heroes are playable in each of the games.
There have been at least 15 entries in the series over as many platforms, from the classic computer MSX, to the first great American console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, on to the Super NES and the Genesis. But it was on Sony’s PlayStation console that the series really hit its stride, in my opinion. Most of the first games on the 8 and 16-bit consoles and handhelds utilized a linear side-scrolling formula; walk to the right or the left, killing various atrocities and a boss at the end of each level. But Symphony of the Night, the PlayStation installment, introduced myriad item-gathering, exploration, backtracking and a massive castle to do it all in. (Previously, Simon’s Quest on the NES had done it too, but less successfully.)
This new formula, called ‘Metroidvania’ after both this series and the other to utilize it successfully, Metroid (starting with Super Metroid on the Super NES), has continues through to the present day, successfully surviving a few transitions to 3D on the more modern consoles starting with PlayStation 2 (Lament of Innocence, which explicates the ‘real’ story of how the series began). The series will continue in a slightly different direction with Lords of Shadow, which is a plot ‘reboot’ and not part of the original story.
However, the most recently released installment pays tribute to both the old school and the new: Harmony of Despair features, for the first time in the series, will be multiplayer; up to six players may be selected from (currently) five characters from previous games; the characters are rendered as they were in their games, with well-animated 2D sprites (flat animated pictures). There are currently six massive levels to battle through with bosses from the previous games at the ends of each one and the players are under a time limit of half an hour with each death subtracting five minutes.
All in all, the series is a great and memorable one; the new installment is a worthy addition, and I look forward to playing future offerings!