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Archive for July 2012

Podcast: The Final Countdown, Part 2

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We continue our Final Countdown series that swaps the wonderful stories associated with some of the most beloved games of all time.  Again, little discussion as to whether or not the ranking is valid and much more on the interesting stories and memories that came from them.  This time around Fred from Gaming History 101 is joined by Trees from EZ Mode Unlocked (Colm from the T4 Show couldn’t make it, but was present in spirit) as they tackle even less games than the first show but with equally fun stories.


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Written by Fred Rojas

July 30, 2012 at 11:29 am

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Review: Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)

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Console: Sega Genesis
Released: 1994
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Mega Drive? Yes (as Banpaia Kira  Translation: Vampire Killer, Castlevania: The New Generation in Europe)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $23.07 (used) $59.99 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $25-$50 (used) $60-$350 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Just like today there was fierce competition between the two main 16-bit consoles, SNES and Sega Genesis, that necessitated exclusive games.  Aside from the first party developed titles, third-party developers could opt to either create the same game for both consoles or create completely new ones.  In the case of many Disney games, like Aladdin or The Lion King, different companies developed the game on each console but the basic concepts and level design would remain consistent regardless of which version you purchased.  Konami, on the other hand, would usually make completely different exclusive titles that played to the strength of the specific console it was designed on.  There was no way this developer, who was free to release games on any (and every) console not to create games for both.  Castlevania: Bloodlines is a side story game, much like Rondo of Blood, that played to the audiences that came running to Sega’s edgy console.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Review: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PC-E CD)

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Console: PC-Engine CD (Japan)
Released: 1993
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Japanese Title: Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo – English Translation: Devil’s Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $83.00(used) Unknown – this usually indicates none have ever been sold (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $90-$120 (used) N/A (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console and remake on Dracula X Chronicles (PSP) – $9.00 (VC), $15.00 (PSP) digitally

Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo is one of those games that you either know about or you don’t.  As a side story to the series, appearing on the PC-Engine CD no less, I don’t think Konami ever intended the game to be popular but what it does for the Castlevania formula is worth noting.  Rondo of Blood (as it is known in English) follows Richter Belmont, a descendent of Simon and Trevor, in a side story where he seeks out Dracula to recover his girlfriend Annette.  It takes place in Germany, I think (I’ve never played the game in English), and the cutscenes even contain German dialogue with Japanese subtitles.  Thanks to the RAM and CD format of this title, it also features amazing sound design and an anime-like style.  Oh yeah, and until recently it was never released outside of Japan.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Review: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

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Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
Released: 1991
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Super Famicom? Yes (as Akumajo Dracula – English Translation: Dracula’s Castle)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Mild
Played it as a child? No
Value: $22.79 (used) $189.95 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $20-$30 (used) $150.00 (new) and $500 for first edition (v-seam) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console – $8.00

It’s pretty much understood that Super Castlevania IV is merely a remake of the original Castlevania, however for many reasons it is a significant game in its own right.  In Japan the game held almost the same name as the original (Akumajo Dracula) and in the lore and instruction manual in Japan it literally has the same plot.  For the US release, Konami attached the “IV” as well as giving a slightly different story that suggests the events of this game take place immediately following the second game, Simon’s Quest.  Even though both the developers and the fans agree it’s not a sequel, the two games have little in common with one another.  While it’s a cool experiment with many gameplay characteristics, some that would never return and others became series staples, Super Castlevania IV was also a flagship title for the SNES to show off all the things the various modes (including the overhyped Mode 7) could do to a game.  Think of it as a fleshed out action platformer tech demo that was far more interesting in retrospect than Pilotwings.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Review: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1990
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Famicom? Yes (as Akumajo Densetsu – English Translation: Devil’s Castle Legend )
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $12.25 (used) $172.82 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $15-$20 (used) $289.00-$500.00 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version) – $5.00

What are you supposed to do?

Castlevania III returns to its roots and is an action platformer.  Unlike the original, the game isn’t entirely linear, giving you branching paths along your way.  Of the game’s 15 levels, you will play 9-10 of them depending on your decisions, eventually making your way to Dracula.

Review

As one of the later games on the NES, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is surrounded by technical mastery.  In fact, it utilizes such an expansive amount of supplemental hardware (ie: chips) that the Japanese version isn’t even capable of working with the NES (unless you modify it, of course) and the US version is incompatible with “famiclone” systems.  For all that work, however, Castlevania III is a great title that impresses on all fronts.  Back to the extra hardware – the memory management controller chip, version 5 (MMC5) allowed the game to be playable on the NES albeit at the cost of some of the impressive sounds and graphics in the Japanese version.  This doesn’t mean it’s bad by any means, the game still looks and sounds better than a majority of games ever released on the console, it’s just that the Japanese version is a bit better thanks to the VRC6 microprocessor.  Normally I don’t gush on video game soundtracks, because save for a select few I don’t really consider it a notable factor.  This is one of those rare cases that I must say the game sounds amazing, in any form.  1up’s own Jeremy Parish captured the difference in a YouTube video that I have provided below so you can hear the difference for yourself.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1988
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Famicom? Yes (as Dorakyura Tsu: Noroi no Fuin – English Translation: Dracula 2: The Seal of the Curse )
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.80 (used) $195.00 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $15-$20 (used) $400.00-$1,000 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version) – $5.00

What are you supposed to do?

Control Simon Belmont through an open world and collect the five scattered body parts of Dracula and a magical cross.  Once all of these items have been discovered, Simon returns to Dracula’s castle and assembles the parts to fight and kill Dracula, who has put a curse on Belmont.  Depending on how fast you can complete the game, you will be given one of three endings.

Review

In Konami’s follow-up to Castlevania, the developer attempts to refine the game mechanics and make the sequel quite different from the original, as many NES games at the time were doing, with RPG elements.  Simon Belmont can level up, purchase upgrades and weapons from townspeople, and freely explore an open world.  The gameplay of fighting enemies remains mostly the same, however with the new open world format there is little direction as to where to go but blocked paths and out of reach ledges due to not having the right item streamlines it into a somewhat linear experience.  In addition, day and night cycles keep the player on their toes as night time removes the safety of villages and doubles the strength of enemies.  At face value the concept of this game was great, but there are some big issues that prevented us from enjoying it then and now.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Review: Castlevania (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1987
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Famicom? Yes (as Akumajo Dorakyura)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $12.87 (used) $55,000.00 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price (eBay): $15-$20 (used) $1125.00 (new) NOTE: This copy is revision A and thus has a lower value.
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version) – $5.00

What Are You Supposed To Do?

This is a linear action platformer.  Many attribute the Castlevania series as an RPG or action RPG, whereas aside from the second title in the series, it has never really been.  With no real inventory to maintain and no story elements to speak of, this original title is all about jumping and killing enemies.

Review

Castlevania released early in the NES life cycle and for that time seemed to be the culmination of everything you would want in a video game.  Hitting store shelves early summer of 1987, most NES gamers had either just gotten or were hoping to get the console in the near future and word was getting around that this was one of the pivotal titles to play.  You control a hero, Simon Belmont, who has vowed to hunt Dracula in his own castle.  In the game you encounter all types of horror staples such as bats, zombies, and Medusa heads all while tackling large scale boss battles with famous monsters like Frankenstein, the Mummy, and even Death himself (aka: the Grim Reaper).  As a young boy, this sounded like the most amazing game in the world and I was even happier to find out it delivered on all fronts.  Castlevania is a difficult and wild ride through a haunted castle of horrors that holds up even today, albeit at the cost of your sanity with the Dracula battle.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Feature: Castlevania Retrospective

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Few titles that started life on the NES still exist today.  Of those titles there are even fewer that weren’t developed by Nintendo.  Konami is one of the few companies that has a list of titles like this, although many of them suffer from very few updates and recent iterations such as the Metal Gear (Solid) series and Gradius.  Castlevania does not have this problem.  In fact, it still seems to withstand the test of time and despite trying to reinvent itself so many times, celebrates at least mild success with each new iteration.  As a gamer who got his first console, an NES, in 1988, I have literally grown up alongside the series and played most titles it has to offer.  If you don’t know Castlevania or have never played a single game, this will hopefully explain why you need to.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Head to Head: Double Dragon

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In many cases, games with the same name – and even the same game ported to various consoles – can be drastically different.  This was especially true in the 8-bit era where plenty of popular arcade games were deemed too limited for a boxed release on consoles like the NES. Head to Head takes two particular games and explains the drastic difference between the two that often keep fans of each camp drastically divided.  Aside from ports, you can also expect several other types of comparisons such as localization.

Double Dragon Arcade

VS

In 1987 Technos released a spiritual successor to its popular brawler Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun) known as Double Dragon.  It told the story of two brothers, Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee (Hammer and Spike in US arcades), who are fighting the mean streets of the Black Warriors turf to get back Billy’s girlfriend.  It released first to arcades and eventually saw a port over to the NES, which drastically changed the game.  Chances are if you are an American that played the game in your past, then you remember the NES version.  Now that arcade ports of many games we loved on the NES are releasing on services like Xbox Live and Playstation Network, it’s important to know the drastic differences between the two because they are different games.  Love ’em or hate ’em, here’s the Head to Head on Double Dragon.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Know This Developer: Radical Entertainment

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It was announced on June 28, 2012, that after careful consideration Activision decided to disband most of Radical Entertainment (on a recent episode of Giant Bombcast it was discussed that the rumored remaining staff was 12) and basically close the studio.  Granted, although the logo may appear on future games and thus be an argument to the fact that the studio is still open, Activision states that Radical remains a support studio with no ability to develop its own games.  Cynics want to blame Activision for setting inappropriate goals for the Prototype developer and we all tend to believe that the remaining Radical staff will be assigned to a Call of Duty in the future, but that’s a different discussion for a different forum.  Instead, I want to touch on how Radical Entertainment came to be and the games it has contributed to the industry.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

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