2 out of 5. There are interesting design ideas in Simon's Quest, but a ton of little niggles prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
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How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is fairly linear without any ability gating, with more in common with the Adventure Game genre than the direction its successor took.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~3 hours
Review Info: This review is part of a broader review of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection on Steam. See the link at the beginning of the review for the main thread.

More Info

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Sub-genre: Linear Platformer Hybrid
Features: Leveling System, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat, Tricky Platforming, Level-Based
Difficulty: High
Linearity/Openness: Level Based
Platforms: Windows, Steam, NES, Wii U, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 1987/08/28
Available Languages: English, Japanese

Store Links

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Buy Castlevania II: Simon's Quest if you like…

  • The other games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection
  • Gaming History
  • Solving Cryptic NES puzzles
  • Excellent 8 Bit Music that influenced all future Castlevania soundtracks
  • Castlevania Lore

▼ Review continues below ▼

This Review was done as part of our review of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.

I feel like this game has been reviewed to death at this point, so there’s not a ton I can add outside of simply agreeing with most of the grievances. With that said I don’t think the idea behind Castlevania II was bad – I do think pushing its ideas onto the Castlevania audience may have been a little misplaced – but a more “Adventure Game” style Metroidvania-ish thing is basically what La-Mulana is, and people love that game.

The biggest problem with the English release of this game is that it botches up the most important thing that makes it unique. You can’t have what is essentially a puzzle exploration game where all of the clues are nearly incomprehensible. Congratulations to anyone who finished this one without a guide – I’m sure it’s possible, but I can only imagine there would be a lot of trial and error. One thing I did notice about the game as a whole though is that it really isn’t that big. Each dungeon essentially consists of two sections – throwing your Holy Water at every wall wouldn’t take that long really. I actually think this aspect of the game would have value to people who just like secret hunting, maybe it still does in its current state. It’d be really neat if Konami included the redacted fan patch in a future update though.

I wish I could have gone into this review and said that this game would be at least passable if the localization was fixed, but unfortunately some of its issues go beyond that. The biggest offender are the staircases. Enemies love to haunt the top of stairs, and there’s no way to dispatch of them without waiting a very long time for an opening, or just taking a hit. There are other examples of terrible no-win situations too, but besides that nonsense most encounters are just boring. Death for example, in the first Castlevania, fires a barrage of scythes from every direction forcing you to use your subweapons and dodge carefully. In Castlevania II, it’s like you caught him after he ate ALL THE DRUGS, because he’s totally chill by comparison; in fact you can just walk past him if you want. I get that the game was designed for you to backtrack and look for clues, but it probably should have taken more inspiration from Zelda 1 than just the cryptic clues thing.

As far as “Metroidvania-ness” goes, some people say this fits, and I guess if your definition of Metroidvania is “Has an interconnected world” I can’t really argue with that. For the most part dungeons have to be played in the exact order since one of your keys is traded in future towns for different colored keys. The only thing that could possibly be called an ability gate though is having to throw holy water at walls to open passages – but you potentially get that right from the start. Anything else that might have connected it to its eventual successor Symphony of the Night is a pretty light comparison in my opinion.

Castlevania II is an interesting specimen I’d almost recommend playing just as a study on failed game design. Casual players not interested in game design can probably skip it. Castlevania II set a precedent for the Castlevania series to experiment with more adventure game style elements, but I think all of its elements would need to be improved to actually call it a “Good” game. At the very least though it blessed us with the wonderful Bloody Tears melody that we could enjoy remixes of into the future.


Final Score

2/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 2

It's not terrible, but far from interesting. What bosses there are are awkward. Combat is definitely de-emphasized here

Platforming
– 2

Some basic platform hopping between moving platforms is the deepest it gets. It's never straight up bad, it just feels more like padding

Exploration
– 2.5

Exploration is similar to Zelda 1 in that you kind of have to stumble into things. There are some good optional secrets

Puzzle
– 2.5

Could be a main feature if the localization wasn't so bad. Sadly the patches that fix this won't be available in the Steam version

Story
– 2.5

The presentation is of course archaic but the basic idea is interesting

Graphics
– 2.5

Castlevania on the NES is always kind of a cluttered mess compared to contemporaries like Mega Man, and Simon's Quest is no exception

Music
– 4

Bloody Tears

Replayability
– 1

Frankly I'm at a loss for why you would do this twice


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Steam Reviews
Recent: Mixed
(63% of 11 Reviews)
All Time: Very Positive
(83% of 445 Reviews)