If you’ve been collecting for any length of time, then you’ve probably accumulated a lot of cool stuff. Stuff you love. Stuff you treasure. Stuff you never touch. You know how it is: you acquire something, you’re excited about it at first, but eventually you put the item away and promptly forget about it. In other words, what once was “found” has now become “lost” (get it?). ”Found & Lost” is all about delving into your collection, dusting off your favorites, finally firing up those untried games you’ve had for years, admiring the gaming memorabilia you’ve acquired, remembering why you wanted all this stuff in the first place.
Back from the Undead
I’m a Castlevania fan from way back, having played through the original NES classic in 1987 or so. Back then, my friend Warren and I practically lived in the decrepit halls of Count Dracula’s haunted castle, eventually honing our ghoul-hunting skills to near perfection. Now, however, it has been a while since I last played the game, so it’s a perfect candidate for a replay. Before firing up the game again, I fully expected to blaze right through it, probably without Continuing, possibly without even dying, because I am a simple fool who grossly overestimates his own ability. But first I had dig out the cart, and as I soon rediscovered, just rummaging through your collection for a game can be fun if you look at it the right way.
I keep most of my games in Sterilite Clearview storage drawers, a widely-used storage method, and one I heartily recommend. You can buy the things for $8 to $12 at your local department store. They’re sturdy and stackable and they make loose and boxed games easy to manage.
My complete, boxed copy of Castlevania resides in a drawer alongside some other boxed NES games. Peering in that drawer of 8-bit power, I beheld all three boxed NES Castlevanias together, not far from a boxed Contra, Dragon Warrior IV, Micro Machines, and several boxed Mega Man games. It’s a sight that does an old NES veteran like me proud, and it really reminds me of how much I enjoy collecting. I’m filled with geeky reverence. This stuff is cool!
Anyway, onto Castlevania. I play it, I love it. I still have the old skills. Compared to the Symphony of the Night-style games which I’ve been playing lately, the old-school title is more rigid and less forgiving, but it has a kind of flow that more open-ended games lack. I’d say that playing this game is like dancing a complex ballet, except I’ve never danced ballet so I don’t really know what it’s like, but doesn’t the metaphor sound good? At any rate, I had fun.
Incidentally, I made it all the way to the Grim Reaper’s level without dying, but I mistimed my attack against the first Hunchbacks and started losing Simons at an alarming pace. Then I faltered while fighting the Count and had to Continue. And I really wanted to brag about my mad skills too. Curse you, Konami, and your difficult but pleasantly addictive games!
Back in the late ’80s, I subscribed to Nintendo Fun Club News (the forerunner to Nintendo Power for you young-uns). Warren didn’t, so when I received a new issue, I’d call him up and tell him about it. I remember one day, while looking through the June/July 1988 issue, I saw the logo for a game called Simon’s Quest. I remember thinking its logo looked similar to Castlevania’s, and hoping it would be a similar game. Then, after about the fifth time I looked at the logo, I finally noticed the words “Castlevania II” printed above it.
“There’s gonna be a Castlevania II!” I shouted into the phone, reveling in my newfound powers of observation.
“Holy turds!” exclaimed Warren, that being the PG-13 version of “Holy S**t!”
I bring up that story because I still have that issue, and it’s a joy to look through now. Nostalgia drips from every page, adhering to my fingers and coating my hands with a sticky, rose-colored goo. Well, not literally. Anyway, short of severe senility, vintage magazines are probably the quickest route to reliving your childhood. Remember drooling over each tantalizing new screenshot? Your old mags probably still have the saliva stains. Only now, you get to look at that old hype while armed with current knowledge. For example, in this issue of Fun Club News, there’s an ad for Chester Field, which never came out in America. I remember thinking it looked cool from the screenshot -- kinda like Castlevania. Now it’s just evidence of vaporware.
Looking back through my collection, I note that I have most of the games in the Castlevania series, including the seldom-seen IBM-PC version of the original, and I’ve picked up some nifty memorabilia too. My most interesting vampire-hunting accoutrement may be The Official Castlevania Hint Book, published shortly after Super Castlevania IV came out. I saw an ad for this sucker in high school, while reading an issue of Compute! magazine in my guidance counselor’s office. It’s a pretty standard hint book, perfect bound with black-and-white illustrations. I don’t see it discussed very often online, making me think it may in fact be OMG RARE, but I don’t really care about that. The point is it’s a cool Castlevania collectible, and its gameplay tips are pretty solid to boot. Hey, the advice in this book may be the most useful guidance I ever got out of that office! Thank you and good night!
I take a few moments to contemplate my copy Simon’s Quest by F.X. Nine, one of the asinine children’s books based on NES games that came out in the early ‘90s. I’m not sure whether to be proud or ashamed that I’ve actually read this thing. If I recall correctly, the story revolves around some kid overcoming the undead by kicking his soul-crushing addiction to chocolate. I consider rereading the text to make sure, but I come to my senses.
I’ll forego talking about the Game Player’s GameTapes I have that feature Castlevania II, or my custom-made Castlevania box art poster, my many soundtrack CDs, or the official Castlevania poster I used to have that my father threw away(!). Suffice it to say I’ve got a lot of Castlevania stuff, and I enjoyed looking over it all, remembering where I found it, generally reveling in the coolness of it all. All collectors need to do that occasionally, but now it’s time to move onto something new. And ironically, something old.
The Eye’s Don’t Have It
Despite being such a popular series, Castlevania hasn’t really been cloned that often. One game that’s often cited as an imitator is Taxan’s 8 Eye’s for the NES, a horrifically difficult game that looks more than a little like Castlevania II. As a na´ve youth, I was really excited about this game when I first saw it in Nintendo Power, but somehow I never picked up a copy until chancing upon one at a flea market a couple years ago. By then, I’d heard that the game was more frustrating than fun, so I never bothered to play it beyond a five-minute session to confirm that the cartridge worked.
Now, in the spirit of this column, it’s time to give the game a fair shake. I pop it into my trusty top-loader NES and am immediately disgusted by the vertical RF interference lines that top-loaders always display. But I move past that, taking in the game’s impressive title screen and decent opening music. But what the hell is Thinking Rabbit, I wonder?
I start the game and arrive at the Mega Man-like level select screen. I pick Spain because I seem to remember reading that it’s the best level to start on (I later confirmed by reading this FAQ that it is). In this game, you control not only the Belmont-esque swordsman Orin, but also a fighting falcon called Cutrus. It’s a unique gameplay innovation that is groundbreaking in its way, but it really makes the controls tough to master.
Immediately, the game pummels me into submission. Ye gods, this is tough! Orin and Cutrus are cut to pieces -- at least I think they are; I have a hard time making them out against the overblown backgrounds. The music starts out promising enough, but then its repetitiveness burrows into my brain with all the subtlety and relentlessness of a jackhammer. The game may look like Castlevania, but it sure don’t play that way. Gradually though, I put my Castlevania skills aside and start to play 8 Eye’s on its own terms. Orin lacks a ranged weapon like a whip, forcing you to “fence” with the enemies. Move in, strike, move out. I learn it’s essential to build up your energy by battling all available foes to earn power-ups. Enemies always appear in the same places, so memorization is key. Learning to control Cutrus is not only doable, but very necessary.
I slowly warm to the game, realizing how not-Castlevania it really is. Ultimately, it’s quite original, and I give the designers credit. I kinda like it, and really want to love it, but unfortunately it’s just Too. Damn. Hard. Die, and it’s back to the beginning of the level with no progress to show for it. What’s more, if you complete a level, you don’t make much progress either. You start each level at half-strength and the “stronger” sword you earn at the end is only effectively against a specific boss, practically forcing you to keep a FAQ handy to find out which one.
After many attempts, I managed to conquer two levels of 8 Eye’s before putting it away. I may try to tackle the rest of the game eventually, but it’ll be for bragging rights only -- any enjoyment it has to offer is likely to be cancelled out by the frustration factor. It’s a little disappointing, but at least I finally put my curiosity about the game to rest. For fun, I’m sticking to Castlevania. Luckily, my collection has that covered.
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