Castlevania II is one of several direct sequels for the NES that dramatically changes the formula compared to its predecessor. However, unlike most of those sequels, the basic gameplay hasn’t actually changed much. Instead, the genre has shifted, from an action game to a slower-paced adventure.
You once again play as Simon Belmont, armed with a whip, some sub-weapons, and the inability to change your trajectory mid-jump. However, this time around, Simon can level up to dramatically increase his survivability, and most of your upgrades are permanent. Several sub-weapons are now free to use, as well, which changes the dynamic of the game. Rather than being tools to defeat tough enemies, your sub-weapons now have varied uses. In particular, the holy water is a staple weapon for its ability to open passages and identify false floors.
The world of Simon’s Quest is laid out mostly horizontally. You adventure across a wilderness dotted with a number of towns. There are several alternate paths, but the world layout is pretty straightforward. Not that it’s simple to find everything. The game focuses heavily on puzzle elements, and the primary challenge is locating all the secret nooks and crannies you’ll need to collect Dracula’s parts and finish the game. The clues to these puzzle elements can be a bit obtuse, and the game even offers a number of false hints to throw you off the scent.
While there are five mansions to explore, and each is superficially similar to a typical level from the original Castlevania, action is not the focus here. If you die, you re-appear in the same spot you died in. Even continuing doesn’t set you back in terms of location, though it does reset your current experience and money. But as a result, you can power through basically anything, given time.
While Castlevania II features many interesting gameplay concepts, they don’t mesh together as well as they might have. Trying to figure out where some of the mansions are is more frustrating than interesting, and the lack of real action-oriented challenge result in limited replay value. (Though the game does offer three different endings, depending on how long it takes you to complete.) It’s interesting to note that the game actually plays like a more forgiving, and less complicated, Metroid.
Castlevania II is worth playing, though it helps to have a guide handy for when you get stuck. It adds a lot to the Castlevania mythos, and is an interesting examination of how to apply the same gameplay to a different genre. And of course, it has great music.