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Hugh Likes Anime: Castlevania S2

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The Skinny: This definitely feels like a game, I’m just not sure it’s “Castlevania.”

I will admit that season two of Castlevania wasn’t boring. Although it was littered with references, the show took a very different turn from the short season one, and felt even more disconnected from its source material. But it is still an enjoyable, if gory, animated vampire-hunting romp.
After the short first season, itinerant vampire hunter Trevor Belmont, sassy wizard Sypha Belnades, and angsty but beautiful son of Dracula Alucard were all set to take down the King of the Vampires after saving a town from invasion. But first they have to go back to the ruins of the Belmont estate and figure out how to find the castle.
While they are off studying, the series introduces some new bad guys to play for time. Most of the season is taken up by the machinations of Dracula’s War Counsel, a collection of vampires from around the world that have gathered at the castle. The only two who are important to get speaking lines are Godbrand, a reckless viking vampire, and Carmilla, a lady vampire with war plans of her own. Also introduced are Isaac and Hector, a pair of humans who do the actual work of making monsters as Dracula’s Devil Forgemasters.
While this season wasn’t too long at just eight episodes, it feels like only the last two were very important to the story. Carmilla’s plotting, which feels straight out of a 90’s World of Darkness Vampire game, is fun, but ultimately kind of pointless, as she never even meets up with our heroes. The two plots feel like they are happening in two separate rooms, with a few monsters shuffling back and forth between them.
While it is a bit disjointed, Season 2 of Castlevania was still a heck of a lot of geeky, gory fun, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the games. These range from hordes of recognizable monsters, to an extremely Rococo portrait of “Lament of Innocence” protagonist Leon Belmont, to a few gorgeously arranged selections from the games’s soundtrack.
If you enjoyed S2 of Castlevania, this continues the story with some nice twists, and if you’ve been looking for some fun scheming and evil to tide you over until Game of Thrones returns, this has you covered as well. You can stream Castlevania on Netflix.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania – The Dracula X Chronicles

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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Published by Konami
Originally for PSP, Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: Old School Difficulty meets mid-2000’s 3D backgrounds

Welcome to Dracula Season! With the release of Castlevania Requiem for the PS4 last week, I felt a hankering to dig into the classic games included, Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood. But they were both part of an earlier collection, The Dracula X Chronicles for Playstation Portable. But rather than a collection, they were unlockable bonus content in one of the most difficult games in a notoriously punishing franchise.
Dracula X is a faithful remake of Rondo of Blood using 3D Polygonal graphics instead of sprites. The models look very good, and are quite detailed, but they still feel a bit dated by modern standards. The game retains every controller-snapping bit of difficulty from the original, which came out for the PC Engine console and was not previously released outside of Japan and is one of the hardest entries in a game series known for its brutal challenge.
By finding special items hidden in the remake, players can unlock both the original Rondo of Blood in all it’s 16-bit pixelated glory, and its sequel, the breakout Playstation hit Symphony of the Night. And while these aren’ just laying out in the open (they’re found on hidden stages in somewhat more difficult paths) A few minutes of googling should help you reach them if you’re only really here for the original, which for the PSP is priced less than Requiem.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles retains all of the charm as well as the extreme challenge of the 1993 original. You can find it in the Playstation store if you have a PSP or Vita laying around.

Hugh Likes Anime: Castlevania

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Castlevania
Netflix

Netflix’s new animated adaptation of “Castlevania” is a strange beast. This might be expected, as it was penned and produced by Warren Ellis, the creator of such offbeat comics as “Transmetropolitan” and “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” But it is a heck of a fun little gem for all its flaws.
The miniseries is gorgeous. The character designs are iconic and immediately recognizable for fans of designer Ayami Kojima work on the Castlevania games. The animation is fluid with a deep, rich palate.
The four episode series is a certainly on the short side. It feels like a 90-minute pilot movie that was sliced up to create episodes, and it leaves the audience of a cliffhanger, but it’s a good first installment, and there are plenty of easter eggs for game fans to spot.
The plot loosely follows Castlevania III, with elements of series favorite “Symphony of the Night” incorporated as well. After The Church burns Dracula’s wife as a witch for practicing medicine, the Vampire King vows revenge and releases an army of demons on Walachia. The task of fighting off this horde falls to Trevor Belmont, the last son of an excommunicated family of vampire hunters.
Ellis is hardly subtle in his criticism of capital-R Religion in this series, with quite a few talking-head sequences about blind faith and superstition, and a supporting cast of thuggish priests dogging Belmont’s heels. But the action more than makes up for these talky bits, and the incorporation of some of the more fantastical elements of the series are cleverly done.
While short, ”Castlevania” is a tasty morsel of gory vampire-hunting goodness that goes down easy, even as it leaves the watcher thirsty for more. You can watch it exclusively on Netflix Streaming.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Castlevania IV

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Super Castlevania IV
Konami
Played on New 3DS

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We’re hunting Draculas out of season! A classic from the early days of the Super Nintendo, I picked up Super Castlevania IV from the New 3DS eshop! And it’s just as thumb-breakingly difficult as I remember.
This game is hard, which is not to say that it is UNFAIR. For the most part, the game’s traps and enemies can be out-thought. This is a true old-school pattern memorization platformer, and it doesn’t mess around. But although I found myself dying over and over at the hands of Dracula’s minions and spikes of the castle’s many traps, it never feels like the game is cheating. Obstacles can be overcome with patience and reflexes, rather than luck. And this game throws a ton at you. The castle feels more malevolent in ways than later iterations of the game. The sprawling 2-D puzzle maps of Symphony of the Night and its ilk, generally referred to as “Metroid-vaia” style games, are all puzzles to be solved. You can go anywhere, and frequently, backtracking is require to uncover all of Castlevania’s juiciest secrets. Super Castlevania’s tightly designed levels are just the opposite. There is no going back. Every step feels like an unreconcilable choice. Drawbridges slam behind you, spike traps dog your heels, and platforms constantly shatter under your boots. Each jump feels like a commitment, creating a tension that builds through the entire game until you are whip-to-fang with Count Dracula himself.
Super Castlevania IV looks and sounds great on the New 3DS screen. The big sprites and sampled music were outstanding for the time, and they are perfectly preserved emulated on the handheld screen. The analog stick works well for the most part, although attacking and moving at angles is somewhat unreliable. You lose your momentum if the stick isn’t at just the right angle, which can be a problem when trying to climb collapsing staircases and clearing flying enemies in later stages.
Super Castlevania IV is a great pick up if you’re looking for some retro platforming on your New 3DS, or just want to kill time until the new Castlevania series drops on Netflix next month. You can find it in the New 3DS, Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

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Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow
Published by Konami
Nintendo DS, 2005
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The sequel to 2003’s “Aria of Sorrow,” Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow” was the first installment of the series for the Nintendo DS.  A savvy reader might point out that ‘Dawn’ isn’t the best name for a sequel, but since it appeared in the first year of the system, it was one of many games that glommed on to the ‘DS’ suffix.
The game once again follows teen reincarnation of the Lord of Darkness Soma Cruz to a maze-like castle in which he will again come to terms with and try to overcome his destiny.  When he is confronted by a cult leader searching for the Lord of Darkness, Soma’s power of Dominance unexpectedly returns, forcing him to confront his past life once again.
On the whole, “Dawn of Sorrow” doesn’t bring much new from its GBA predecessors.  The main game puts you back in the shoes of Soma, with the ability to Dominate and use the powers of various monsters to fight and to solve puzzles.  You can also collect extra souls to power up your abilities and weapons, which is nice, but mostly this game is more Aria of Sorrow with prettier graphics.  The game does have a ‘seal’ system, in which bosses have to be sealed away to be beaten.  This involves drawing a symbol on the touch screen after the fight.  It is a bit annoying, forcing players to keep a stylus tucked in their hand during the fight, but hardly the most egregious tacked on touch-screen gimmick of its day.
The game also features a return of the standard Castlevania extras such as unlockable characters and Boss Rush modes.  The extra mode is a real treat in this version, as it allows the player to switch between characters in a fan-service nod to Castlevania III.
The game still holds up relatively well, with well-designed, highly detailed sprites.  The castle feels nice and big, and it isn’t too hard to navigate with plenty of warp and save areas.  The game had a little trouble running in my New 3DS, however.  It would occasionally freeze or glitch, and the system wouldn’t be able to read the game card.  This wasn’t enough of an issue to prevent normal play, however.
“Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow” is an incremental but worthy installment in the Castlevania franchise, and is well worth your time if you’re looking to explore Dracula’s castle this Halloween.  It doesn’t break a lot of ground, but it is a fun and challenging adventure.  You should be able to find a used copy at your local game store.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Konami
Nintendo DS, 2006
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Welcome to Dracula Season, my annual celebration of my favorite defunct game franchise, Castlevania!  This is the second installment of the franchise on the Nintendo DS, Portrait of Ruin.  Like the other handheld titles of the era, this is a 2D side-scrolling exploration game.  The twist in this one is that the player controls two characters that share the screen, Johnathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin.
A sequel to the somewhat obscure Sega Genesis title “Castlevania Bloodlines,” Johnathan is the son of one of that game’s protagonists, John Morris, and the grandson of ‘Dracula’ character Quincy Morris.  He’s a more physical character, while Charlotte is a magician.  Players can switch between the two, and choose to go solo, or have the other character onscreen as an AI partner.  Two players can also team up over a wireless connection.  Both collect equipment, sub-weapons, and spells as they explore Dracula’s Castle.
But the count is not at home.  Rather, the castle is being manipulated by Brauner, a vampiric artist whose daughters were killed in World War I.  He’s taken control of the castle with the aim to destroy the world.  Players have to enter Brauner’s paintings in order to disrupt his hold on it.
Portrait of Ruin is visually stunning, and puts the DS’s graphics processor through its paces.  The concept of entering the paintings is cool, and adds some visual flair and variety to the maps.  The unusual maps and layouts challenge players in ways that call back to “Symphony of the Night.”  The story is interesting but easy to follow, even for someone like myself who hasn’t played the Genesis prequel.
It would have been nice to have more paintings later in the game rather than reusing the first four, but this is a small nitpick.  Portrait of Ruin is a worthy successor to the Castlevania line, and while it is no longer in print, you can probably pick up a used copy at your local games shop for a steal.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania Aria of Sorrow

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Konami
Game Boy Advance, 2003
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Today we’re skipping ahead a few years to look at “Aria of Sorrow,” the last of the ‘Metrovania’-style Castlevania games for the Game Boy Advance.  This means that rather than consisting of numbered platforming stages that the player must complete in order, the game is instead one large 2-D map, with the player gaining access to new areas through the use of special abilities.  For example, once the player gets the ability jump in mid-air, they can reach higher platforms and thus reach corridors they couldn’t previously.  In the Castlevania series, this format started properly in Symphony of the Night for the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstaion.
Aria of Sorrow breaks with tradition in that rather than being set in the middle ages or 19th Century, this game takes place in the future.  The game is set in 2035, but the future date doesn’t play much into it, except that you can score a sweet laser rifle later in the game.  But at that point, your other options include powerful holy weapons, so it’s not really an upgrade.  No cybernetic werewolves or anything.
The main character is Soma Cruz, an American teenager living in Japan.  When he goes to watch a solar eclipse at a shrine operated by a childhood friend, he passes out.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in Dracula’s Castle, and in possession of inexplicable power.  As Soma makes his way through the castle in search of answers, he meets sinister missionaries, amnesiac exorcists, and other mysterious people.
Aria of Sorrow pushes the GBA to its limit with absolutely gorgeous graphics and a sprawling castle filled with monsters.  Soma’s powers are a neat twist of the Castlevania formula, and encourage exploration in search of new souls to win and try out.  It would be nice if they weren’t quite so rare, and packed a bit more of a punch, though.  Especially early in the game, they don’t have the same heft to them as the classic subweapons.  While this does give a sense of progress to the game as the player collects stronger and stronger abilities, it can be a grind to collect them.
Overall, “Aria of Sorrow” is a definite hit in the Castlevania score sheet, and not to be missed.  If you can’t find a used copy of the cartridge, it is also available as a download from the WiiU store.

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