The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE ONE: CASTLEVANIA MANIA

I love Castlevania! Two of the three NES Castlevanias are among the best games on the entire platform. Simon’s Quest is the shits and no amount of editing will change that. It’s just a terrible game. Castlevania and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, on the other hand, are still enjoyable today, over thirty years after their releases. I can’t get enough of them, but why just replay the same games I’ve played already? The NES mod community has messed with the Belmont clan more than Dracula.

Castlevania Reborn

Of course, the majority of ROM hacks are just the same game that’s been resprited (that’s a word now) or had the colors changed. I guess some people are into that sort of thing. But, if you want a new experience, there’s several modders who tinkered with the level design. Think of these versions of games as remixes. Castlevania Reborn is one of the more popular efforts, and yea, it’s not bad. This one feels like a really good second quest. At least at times.

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The red-headed Simon of Castlevania: Reborn is the most striking change. Several of the boss fights feel identical. Which is kind of fine, maybe? I mean, they are iconic. On the other hand, the third boss has been changed from a pair of mummies to a pair of gargoyles that I slayed in about five seconds. No joke. Five seconds.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-231951Levels are rethemed and play out differently, and a few of the enemies (especially bosses) play differently. It’s a good effort, especially the concept of multiple paths in some of the levels. The issue is, there’s a lot of sections that are just basically straight lines. Yes, the original Castlevania has the “infamous hallway” before you face the Grim Reaper, but that section was a harrowing final test before arguably one of the toughest bosses in Castlevania. The hallways in Reborn are just dull. Also, there’s too many of the axe-throwing knights. But, it’s still pretty okay. Find it here.

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If you want to play an entirely new Castlevania 1 experience, this is a good starting spot.

Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries

When I started Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries, I figured it was one of many games that promises tons of newness, but really is just a low-effort reskin. The first level here feels a lot like Castlevania’s first level. It’s so close that I almost quit. And then I noticed there was a new item that makes you invincible, like those jugs that occasionally get dropped, only as an item. So, I stuck it out, and I’m happy I did, because the level design became noticeably different after the first stage. It turns out that Chorus of Mysteries is a pretty dang good effort at revamping Castlevania. Hah, revamp. It’s funny because it’s about Dracula.

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Chorus of Mysteries has new enemies, like these bastards here. So overwhelming were these things that I needed a barrage of boomerangs to get past them and ended up fighting the equally new boss that followed them with only four hearts. Still beat it, and I didn’t use rewinding to do it.. more than a dozen times. Hell, in this pic you can see I was doing just that. And if you’re wondering why Simon looks like a cross between Rambo and Solid State, it’s because it’s supposed to be Grant Dynasty from Castlevania III. No, none of Grant’s abilities are there. At least I don’t think so.

And it has teeth, too. HEY, also like Dracula! I’m on a roll! Once you get past the ultra-samey first level, you find one of the most impressive efforts in ROM hacking. Even better is the final boss is the Grim Reaper. I never understood why Death Incarnate works for Dracula. It’s so nonsensical. Here, he’s the last boss, and it’s one of the most impressive and difficult versions of Death I’ve ever fought in all of Castlevania. It’s an excellent effort and a damn fine waste of an hour. Like, this could be a paid expansion pack of the first game.

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Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-012435I don’t really have anything bad to say, except the game is often pretty ugly, and curving Medusa enemies are drawn smaller but seem to retain their old collision boxes, which makes avoiding them particularly problematic. In fact, besides a few enemies with new behaviors and fairly strong level design, you never totally shake that “redrawn/remapped” feeling. Which, again, is why this feels like a really good expansion pack that you can get right here. What I really want is something that feels totally new and original. A mod that uses Castlevania 1 as the base of something new.

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Of all my ROM hack Castlevania experiences, this was by far the most impressive to me. It just works as a final boss. Chorus of Mysteries did all its bosses (except the first.. God, I hate that boring ass Giant Bat) the best.

Castlevania: The Holy Relics

Now, this is what I’m talking about!

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Enemies that feel like reskins of Castlevania 1 enemies have different, often smarter behavior. I played several games where “new” bosses meant changing the giant bat at the end of level one into a giant vulture. That’s not the case here. This is what it promises and more.

I was blown away by The Holy Relics. This ROM hack of Castlevania 1 is a whole new game, with whole new play mechanics, whole new levels, whole new weapons, whole new enemies, whole new music, and whole new bosses. It’s a NEW game, so good that Konami ought to buy it and resell it.

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The first five levels are non-sequential and can be taken in any order from the starting menu, and this is where the first major gameplay addition is revealed: relics. You know the seizure-inducing cross that clears all the enemies? Instead of random candles having it and being basically useless, you just get a few to use any time you want, using the select button. Some of the giant hearts in the game are now shaded blue and reload your relic uses. Beating levels unlocks other relics that have powers like invincibility, restoring health, increasing your whip strength, or even accessing hidden areas. Along with the keys and doors, it assures this NEVER feels like some kind of paint-over of Castlevania 1. You’d swear this is a new game build from scratch.

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The one knock I have on the key concept (which seems to pay tribute to the franchise on MSX) is that the first candle you encounter is often where they’re at. You know what would have been REALLY sick? If they hid the keys inside the walls, where the life refills normally are. That would have dramatically changed the game’s dynamic.

It’s a really strong game too. At times, the level design, at the very least, matches the best NES Castlevania experiences. My one and only knock on the design is sometimes the game relies heavily on moving platforms that you have to wait FOREVER for, which is especially annoying because the game still utilizes a timer. You’re encouraged to find hidden treasure chests as a bonus, but exploring isn’t really an option, especially since you never know if you’re going to have to backtrack. Yea, backtracking. Levels wind around, sometimes requiring you to double or even triple back. You’ll find yourself constantly wondering if you should stay on the pathway of platforms or drop to the level below you. Play it without save states and you’ll be cutting it too close on the timer.

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The weakest aspect of Holy Relics are the bosses. It’s not that they’re bad or anything, but they are a bit underwhelming, both in their attacks and the fact that they totally lack that Castlevania spookiness. This one here I was hoping for a second, terrifying phase. I mean, look at it! It’s kind of adorable.

 

indie-gamer-chick-approved

All three games today earned this.

ROM hacks are truly the unsung heroes of indie gaming. When they’re what you want them to be, it’s a dream come true. That some guy and a team of artists came up with a better Castlevania sequel than Konami did with Simon’s Quest is astonishing. That’s what this is. Holy Relics certainly doesn’t feel like Castlevania 1.5. It feels like what Konami should have done with #2. It’s really impressive. Bravo to the entire team behind it. So yea, check out Holy Relics, and if you have other games like this to recommend, let me know. I’m dying to play them!

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About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

One Response to The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

  1. Matt says:

    I am not into mods, but this one sounds pretty cool! I am looking forward to the other episodes.

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