Tag Archives: Castlevania

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

In today’s GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH, the parting with aspect was not of my doing. I did not choose to remove what is probably going to be known as the greatest Castlevania game in the franchise for all of time so long as there is time from my growing videogames collection. I did not. No way, no how. And this is the exact moment where I began living life via a new rule, one that might seem greedy or childish, but one I feel has kept me–and my gaming collection–safe for many years since: no one gets to borrow my games. Sorry, just ain’t happening.

Anyways, what happened was this, though details are fuzzy for certain as we’re now looking deep into the past, some ten-plus years at least: I let a good high school friend of mine borrow my copy of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I was done playing with it at the time, so there was no real reason for me to hoard it goblin-like. That’s the main of it, and some time passed, and then my friend and I drifted away from each other to the point where we last spoke shortly after I graduated college. Certainly a heavy chunk of that is my fault, as I’m too stubborn and sensitive to be alive, but there were other factors at play as well. Regardless, with the friend gone, so was my game I let him borrow. Boo hoo, a thousand tears. No, really. A thousand. Who knew then at the time what kind of legendary status it would come to hold, and who knows where it is today; he probably just sold it on eBay for like a bazillion bucks and is out now on his yacht, drinking spiced wine and watching marathons of Downton Abbey. Actually, wait–that’s my fantasy.

Thankfully, I did get to experience Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to its dang-near fullest before it slipped from my fingers. Yup, I even went through the second castle, which is really an inverted version of the first one. Still, coming upon that was revolutionary, as well as exhilarating to learn that there was still so much more to see and do. I certainly didn’t discover it on my own, but it rocked nonetheless. It was like the second coming of Super Metroid for me, with so much hidden behind the cracks.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is both your standard Castlevania gameplay, with platforming and whipping, and not, with a bonus RPG system tossed in that let’s Alucard level up and equip things other than whips. It’s totally non-linear, with plenty of hidden passageways to discover. Various weapons and equipment help keep Alucard alive in combat, as well as sub-weapons, like tossing holy water or mini throwing axes. There were spells, too. A shop. No kitchen sink though. And with friendly familiars that can also gain levels, you really could customize him to be the vampire hunter you wanted. I don’t remember exactly what my build was, but I know I used the faerie familiar for extra healing and used plenty of throwable weapons to keep my distance.

I have not played many Castlevania games since my abbreviated time with Symphony of the Night. Actually, just one–Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. That was all right. It was for the DS and featured some of the same elements as SotN, as well as new ideas, like switching between Jonathan and Charlotte to solve puzzles. No idea if I ever finished it or not; I remember struggling on some bosses and focused more on completing odd sub-missions…for some reason. Perks? New gear? Ah, who knows. Maybe I’ll go back to it soon just to see and remember. It was an “airplane game” back when I visited my sister in Arizona back in 2008. Just something to distract myself while soaring through the sky on a thing that seems impossible from the outside for soaring through skies. Oh man, if only there was a remake of SotN for the DS/3DS. Yes please.

And I know that it’s a pretty easy game to obtain these days as it’s now available on current services like Xbox Live and the PSP, but that’s not really what I’m after, a port. If only it was that easy to get friends back.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Games Completed in 2011, #11 – Monster Tale

Metroidvania is a special genre of gaming. It’s both linear and not, it’s devoted to progression and secrets, and it’s been around since the venerable NES days. I mean, it’s very namesake comes from two of its most obvious influences: Metroid and Castlevania. Over the years, Metroidvania has seen some peaks and valleys and straight-up dry spells, never finding a wide audience, but there’s been a rebirth of sorts on handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS. Mostly more Castlevania titles, but there’s also been the occasional surprise debut, and that’s where we find Monster Tale from DreamRift, the makers of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure.

In Monster Tale, you play as Ellie, a young girl who stumbles upon a magical armband, unhatched egg, and hidden world inhabited by monsters. She quickly discovers that she’s not the only human to venture into this world as it is ruled by snotty, personality-heavy kids, the worst being Priscilla. They have enslaved many of the monsters and turned them into their evil pets. The egg Ellie found earlier hatches, and the monster quickly bonds with our blue-haired protagonist, fighting off enemies, eating snacks, and evolving into more powerful forms. She names it Chomp, and he/she/it will be vital to her survival as she searches for a way back home.

Monster Tale is a mix of platforming, combat, and pet raising. You’ll travel through five themed worlds—a wicked treehouse and demon express train, for example—until you can’t travel forward any more; most likely, Ellie will need to learn a new ability like charge shot or obtain a key to open a locked gate. Unfortunately though, DreamRift is a wee bit masochistic and decided to make back-tracking a high priority here. Very high priority. Now, with Metroidvania games, back-tracking is the point; you get a new ability, and now you can get past X from that earlier level. However, the back-tracking in Monster Tale feels unnecessary, and often the item/power needed is on the far opposite side of the map. There’s no fast-travel system so Ellie and Chomp have to trudge all the way back; I was constantly checking the map so as to not get lost. It feels like something implemented to transform a four-hour game into an eight-hour game.

Good thing the combat is fun, especially thanks to Chomp. He/she/it is an adorable monster that helps attack enemies on both screens of the Nintendo DS. Chomp can’t spend too much time up top as it drains its health, but the bottom screen acts as a sanctuary, healing it and housing many special items for it to interact with. There’s some great animation work when it comes to Chomp chompin’ down on some cold pizza. As Chomp defeats enemies and eats entire bowls of rice, it gains XP and levels up, opening up new forms. I had him evolve into the Juggernaut by the end of the game and kept him there, but there’s plenty of other forms for people to tinker with if they’re curious. I only wish that Chomp was a little more proactive when on the top screen; it seemed like it wouldn’t attack an enemy unless Ellie personally chauffeured it over.

Story-wise, Monster Tale doesn’t ask too much of your attention. There’s small bits of dialogue between Ellie and another kid before a boss fight, but other than that—it’s purely background fluff. I likened it previously to a Saturday morning cartoon plotline, and I’ll still stand by that. I do think that DreamRift missed out on a great opportunity though; all along, Ellie is trying to get Chomp back to its mother, but this plot point fizzles out. It’s safe to assume the two are reunited, but it would’ve been nice to see some monsterly reunion on-screen.

The production values in Monster Tale can’t be ignored. The 2D sprites are colorfully crisp, and the animation work is top-notch. The quality kicks it into even higher gear during the boss fights, my favorite being against the deranged bunny rabbit. Background details such as monsters hiding behind paintings really help with the immersion. To be honest, I did not notice much of the music; I eventually turned all sound off as I got tired of hearing Ellie make a noise every time I hit the jump button. Every. Single. Time. Thank goodness the game’s gorgeous to look at for extended periods of time.

Monster Tale came out shortly before the Nintendo 3DS launched, a period being labeled as “the end of the Nintendo DS era,” but not by me. It might be late to the party, but it’s a pristine example of why gamers should stick around a little longer. Sure, the back-tracking gets tiresome, but the combat and pet raising is irrefutably addicting. It’s definitely one of the more unique Metroidvania titles in some time, and if you’re a fan at all of fun, friendly platformers, this is one helluva tale.

A copy of Monster Tale was provided to me by Majesco Entertainment for review. My completion total was 78.6% after just under eight hours. I’m pretty sure I found every room, but did not spend a ton of time evolving Chomp into different forms. I basically stuck with the Juggernaut form and grinded him to level 30 before the final boss fight. The hardest part of the game involved a moving platform and floor lined with deadly spikes.

Chomping and wall-jumping my way to fun in Monster Tale

My current stats for Monster Tale say that I’ve now played the game for three hours and five minutes, clearing 28.4% of everything. I think this is an excellent stopping point to hand out some free impressions about Ellie’s journey into the unknown. To start—it’s super fun. The story is light and bouncy, and kind of reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon plotline: a bunch of kids leave home to become rulers of a foreign realm where they also enslave monsters to do their evil work. Enter Ellie, a young, spritely girl who stumbles upon a magical band (the thing you wear on your arm, not the thing you pay too much to see perform badly live) and an egg which hatches into a powerful monster. Jealous of her connection to Chomp, these unmanaged kids seek to steal back what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Much like how Shadow Complex was done in honor of Super Metroid, Monster Tale feels to be honoring the same game, as well as the Castlevania titles for the Nintendo DS. The overall aesthetic is friendly, with bright colors and cuddly enemy lifeforms, and I simply love that the save rooms are in libraries, and that to save you press up on the D-pad. It feels so good to save. Ellie can use either a melee attack or shoot balls of energy from her band; I’ve found that melee is most often the way to go, and the better your combo for killing, the greater your monetary reward is. Or sometimes you’ll get a slice of cold pizza. Win-win, really.

The platforming…it’s solid, but a little slow to start with. Thank goodness for the wall-jump ability, which makes backtracking and traveling in general smoother. You travel left and right, up and down, and there’s definitely obvious sections that will be accessed later after you’ve acquired the right ability. The usual platforming pitfalls prevail, too, with ledges that vanish upon touch, ones that bounce her high into the air, and others that move back and forth.

Chomp’s a nice addition to the party. He mostly attacks enemies on the top DS screen, and regains health on the bottom one, as well as devours food, kicks soccer balls, and learns new skills. The eating animations for him are made of pure smiles. So far, he’s learned several forms to evolve into, and the one I’m currently upgrading is called Wrecker, which means he enjoys exploding, meat, and exercise. That might sound silly until I tell you that his previous form loved ice cream. And here’s where it gets really RPG-like; each Chomp form levels up on its own, gaining stats from whatever you have him eat or how he attacks enemies; players can switch between forms on the fly, too, without the fear of losing all that hard-earned experience.

My only irks so far is that, on occasion, Ellie will roll forward when I actually want her to jump down to the ledge below. Also, the noise that plays when text scrolls along—does that have a name?—is annoying and not needed. Remember, silence is golden.

Boss battles are good, but I’m worried they are all gonna be too much alike, wherein Ellie fights one of the kids and a monster they control. Doesn’t take long to learn the patterns, and the toughest parts is just keeping Ellie’s health up as there’s no way to replenish it during a battle sequence. Regardless, I’m looking forward to giving Priscilla a smackdown. She reminds me of Darla Dimple from that 1997 classic Cats Don’t Dance.

But yeah, almost one-third of my way through Monster Tale and loving it immensely. It’s definitely proof that this pre-3DS system still has a lot to say. Stay tuned for more coverage.