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PSA: Your Wii U Has Resurrected Castlevania: Part II

Welcome back, weary traveler! You look emboldened and full of vigor. Could it be? Have you taken my advice? Did you in fact partake of the three succulent fruits that I placed before you in Part I? But of course you did! Someone as smart and good-looking as you would most certainly have played through Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow on your Nintendo-brand Wii U Entertainment Device. Now, you beautiful person, I have another three Castlevania titles for you, but these games promise to be very different experiences. These three I’m grouping together despite having less in common than the GBA trilogy simply because they represent the traditional, pre-Symphony of the Night formula though to varying degrees of success. Keep in mind that Dracula X is the only one of these that is exclusive to the Wii U – Rondo of Blood and Adventure ReBirth are right there on the original Wii Shop Channel. So, let’s dive in chronologically starting with…

Rondo of Blood

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Original Platform: Turbografx 16


Rondo was one of the final Castlevanias before Koji Igarashi and his team re-imagined the structure of the series for Symphony of the Night. As such, it’s a culmination of all the best design choices in the series up to that point refined to create easily one of the best platformers of the era. Branching paths returned from Super Castlevania IV but in a way that felt more organic than simply choosing a desired route at the end of a stage. Visual cues were scattered throughout set dressing that would offer a glimpse at other possibilities for exploration. Gaining access to these paths would often involve employing techniques in ways that may not seem immediately apparent – though nowhere near as cryptic as those found in Simon’s Quest. These discoveries planted the seed for what would become the exploration-heavy second act of the franchise in the decade to come and served as an organic way to increase replayability and promote a methodical approach to platforming -- something that previous games actively dissuaded with time limits a harsh penalties for lost lives. The addition of another playable character – a feature not present since III fan-favourite ensemble cast – not only extended the game’s life two-fold but helped ease the sting of some of Rondo’s difficulty. A balance was struck in Rondo that ensured the game could be beaten but overcoming its challenges was still a rewarding experiences regardless of character choice. If Symphony of the Night is the Metroidvania everyone should play then Rondo of Blood is the classic Castlevania experience that everyone who has played Symphony owes it to themselves to experience. And it’s available on the one console that even your grandparents probably have. Get on that Wii Shop Channel and treat yourself to an incredible game that has yet to be matched.

Rondo of Blood

Key Features
-An incredible soundtrack with some of the raddest slap bass ever
-A goofy anime opening way before Dawn of Sorrow arrived on the scene
-Maria
-Some of the best enemy sprites and boss designs of the series. So good that some of them were still being reused well into the DS era.
-Look, Castlevania IV is fine and all but man, Simon was huge in that game. Rondo uses its screen real estate efficiently and everything benefits from it: enemy placement, jump distances, use of stairs. Everything just works.
-There is a very good 2.5 remake for the PSP available for super cheap that contains Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood though with some questionable translation choices. (No more miserable piles of secrets)
-Maria’s Game Over screen

Dracula X

Castlevania Dracula X
Original Platform: SNES


I’d love to be able to pick the brains of the team that made Dracula X, a game often billed as a port of Rondo of Blood. It really isn’t a bad game. It still has all the elements of a classic Castlevania. It’s just no Rondo. I don’t know who out there was importing PC Engine games and anticipating the SNES version of Rondo here in the west but I’m sure all two of you were deeply disappointed. It lacks the playable Maria from Rondo, the stages have all been redesigned (mostly for the worse) and a lot of enemy placement has reverted back to the frustratingly cheap level of the NES titles. The number of invincibility frames after being hit is also abnormally low leading to a lot of falling into enemies only to get hit again and fall into another hazard to take even more damage. It lack any of the background detail present in Rondo as well. Glowing eyes behind the glass, winged monsters flying the background, all the small details that foreshadowed the next boss encounter, all gone from Dracula X. In its place are some fire effects and interior set dressing that looks out of perspective and flat. That being said, it really is a nice gesture to see this game show up on the Wii U. Physical copies were in short supply back in the day and are considered by many Castlevania collectors to be of holy-grail-level rarity. Despite paling in comparison to its Turbografx brother, Dracula X is an interesting footnote in the series history and should be explored by fans of the series that may never have had a chance to up until now.

Dracula X

Key Features
-A version of Bloody Tears that uses sound levels nicely to really build anticipation. Too bad the stage it’s on is a frustrating affair.
-Another reason to play as Richter Belmont, the best Belmont.
-It’s a rerelease of a game that didn’t need to be rereleased in a series that is effectively dead. I’ll give Konami props for at least trying to appease the fans.
-It’s called Dracula X which was the title of Rondo of Blood in Japan where this game was called Dracula XX but none of that matters because this game is called Vampire’s Kiss in Europe which is so much cooler oh my god just look at the box art ugh Europe is so cool.

Vampire's Kiss

ReBirth

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
Original Platform: Wii


I get it. WiiWare didn’t exactly take the world by storm. You’ve never played LIT or Lilt Line or Pole’s Big Adventure or My Life As A King because it was all buried behind 2 Fast 4 Gnomz and Family Card Games. There were some incredible gems in there though. People who dug through those awful menus were handsomely rewarded with games like M2’s Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. With little-to-no fanfare Konami release a trio of titles under the ReBirth name; Contra, Gradius and Castlevania. What’s interesting about Castlevania in particular though is that it was loosely based off of the 1989 Game Boy title Castlevania: The Adventure. Loosely. ReBirth bears very few similarities to its namesake beyond sharing a main character in Christopher Belmont. Whatever it might have lost by straying from its source material is irrelevant because ReBirth stands perfectly fine on its own as a tribute to a style of game that hadn’t been seen in over a decade. Rebirth returns to the roots of the series in nearly every way right down to there being no SAVE function. If you want to beat Dracula this time around you’re going to need to do it in one sitting. Much like Dracula X, ReBirth isn’t the best example of classic Castlevania design philosophy nor does it innovate in any particularly meaningful ways. But it exists. It’s a classic Castlevania developed in 2009. That alone is a pretty incredible feat. How nobody played it baffles me. Do yourself a huge favour; snag this puppy off of WiiWare and give it a spin. It’s a great starting point for people looking to try a classic Castlevania that isn’t controller-throwingly difficult and it’s a nice little hidden gem for anyone who misses the days when Castlevania still existed as a franchise. It also has one of my favourite Dracula fights in the entire series. It’s not particularly long either. Why this game hasn’t even found a little cult following in the speed-run or Let’s Play circles baffles me.

Castlevania: The ReBirth

Key Features
-The fireball upgrade system from the Game Boy titles
-Some sprites that look lovely and some that are bleh
-Difficulty settings that you will be very thankful for
-If half the people that bought Lords of Shadow bought this the world might be a very different place
-Seriously, awesome Dracula fight. Play it! Don’t just look it up online!! UGH YOU’RE THE WORST.

So there you have it. I know I didn’t touch on some of the other Castlevanias that are available on Wii U like IV and III but those games have been talked about to death already. By all means play them as they’re all fantastic but don’t be afraid to dive into the others out there that don’t get quite as much exposure. It’s sad to think about the state of the series now and how despite having a golden era on Nintendo’s handhelds it still failed to be financially viable for Konami. But luckily we have a new way to show our support for the series with the Virtual Console. It may not bring Castlevania back from the dead but it can breathe some new life into the discussion surrounding these exemplary games and what designers can take from them going forward. Who knows when Koji Igarashi will get to make his next dream game but maybe seeing the renewed interest and the importance of some of the games I’ve listed here and in Part I will inspire others to carry on the torch. We’re already seeing a small renaissance in games like Wayforward’s Shantae series and Renegade Kid’s upcoming Xeodrifter. So let’s keep these concepts alive, let’s keep the discussion surrounding these games from disappearing and let’s keep that resilience that the Belmont clan has displayed for hundreds of years from dying so that a new breed of game can be reborn in it
s ashes.