Very few series these days have the ability to make me feel like a kid again. Any time Nintendo releases a traditional platforming Mario title, whether in 2-D or 3-D, they succeed in giving me that feeling. Mega Man 9 & 10 also pulled it off, and quite well I might add. The Wii version of Punch Out!! was nothing short of brilliant. But outside of those games and only a handful of others, if I want that nostalgic feeling, I actually have to hook up my old systems and pop those games in, or use a downloadable game service like the PlayStation Store or Nintendo's Virtual Console and eShop. It's nice having these games available on the current generation systems. I spent a lot of money on NES and SNES games when I first got my Wii, as well as some PSOne Classics once my PS3 was hooked up.
Over time, the Xbox 360 became my console of choice, the number one reason being that I love playing online co-op games, and most of my friends are on the Xbox. After I finished Super Mario Galaxy 2 and realized there were no games in the foreseeable future for the console that interested me, I got rid of it. My PlayStation 3 has been collecting dust for quite some time, only being broken out in order to play a few rounds of Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds every six months or so. So, as it stands right now, the only gaming platforms in my household that get played are the Xbox and 3DS. I've managed to build up quite an impressive downloadable games library on the Xbox, including one game that I've already owned three different ways: CastleVania: Symphony of the Night.
I would rank Symphony as one of my top 5 games of all-time, and along with Super Mario World (easily my #1 game ever), it's one of the few games I repeatedly come back to at least once every year or so. I bought the game on Xbox Live Arcade over a year ago, and when I first booted it up, I found that playing with the analog stick was out of the question, as even the slightest tilt upward would result in using my special weapon instead of my regular handheld swords, and I was also getting a lot of weird reactions from main character Alucard from using the Xbox's sad excuse for a directional pad. It was so bad that I was unable to defeat the pair of Slogra and Gaibon, the game's first boss encounter. After repeated attempts of trying to defeat the two demons, which would culminate in watching Alucard make a lot of flinching motions before eventually taking his final hit, I turned the game off and did not come back to it until about a month ago. I was looking through my XBLA games library out of boredom and came across Symphony. It was laughing at me, and my masculinity refused to let myself be laughed at unless I was the one making the joke. I fired it back up, lost to the pair one more time, reloaded, paid attention to the patters of the two, and eventually emerged victorious. After this battle, I retreated to the save room right outside the one I was currently occupying and saved my game with a sense of desperation. It didn't make sense. How did I lose to Slogra and Gaibon so many times? I've played this game a dozen times and never had that kind of trouble. I chalked it up to the abysmal d-pad of the Xbox 360, and continued on my way, never again losing a boss battle...or any battle for that matter.
Symphony is not a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination. Before you reach the halfway point of the first castle you're already so leveled up and have found enough good armor and weapons that the game is a breeze, and refilling all of your health when you reach a save room only makes the game that much easier.
Okay, okay, you're probably wondering why I'm going into such detail about a game over a decade old. Why? Because this game is so good that it deserves to be revisited. I've always been a huge CastleVania fan, from the very beginning all the way up to Lords of Shadow, I just can't get enough of the series. When it comes to the Metroid-style CastleVania games (note: I hate you if you say Metroid-Vania, Metroid did it first, it deserves the credit), Symphony is the pinnacle, all their efforts since then, despite all of them ranging from good to excellent, have fallen short, Order of Ecclesia being my personal favorite of those particular games. But what makes this game so good is the fact that I've played it a dozen times and I still discover new secrets every time I play. I consider my buddy Luke Roberts an expert on the game, and during my most recent playthrough, he showed me several things that I never knew existed. Like little nooks in the castle walls that you can bust to discover new items, areas where you never would have thought of if you didn't have either a friend or the internet to tell you (or a whole lot of free time), and weapons that seem inferior to your current ones, but when used in conjunction with certain other abilities turn them into both the best and most entertaining weapons in the game.
I also can't talk about CastleVania without talking about how much I love the enemies and bosses. My personal favorite being Beelzebub, who looks like Luke Roberts after 4 minutes of exercise, and is nothing more than a giant corpse hanging up who doesn't attack you directly at all, instead, the giant flies that swarm around the corpse are the things you much take notice of.
Also, let us not forget Legion.
Whereas Beelzebub is just one big dead guy, Legion is a giant ball of dead guys with a central nervous system that you find in the Catacombs. Of course you have your classic CastleVania standbys like Medusa and the giant bat, but for every Frankenstein's Monster you encounter there's also a Scylla. For every boring zombie you fight there's also a Diplocephalus. I can't talk about Symphony without mentioning Galamoth, the toughest battle in the game. Galamoth is a giant beast you find in the Floating Catacombs. He's so big, in fact, that you only see his entirety when he kneels down. For inexperienced players, make sure to bring lots of potions and as much lightning resistance as you can, as all of his attacks dish out quite a bit of damage, and only a few hits without healing is enough to result in a game over screen...a very long game over screen.
There are so many small, unique touches in the game. Like the boots Alucard can equip that make him one pixel taller, and serve no purpose other than that. They don't help you reach higher places, or give you any extra defense, they simply make Alucard taller. There are numerous hidden areas in the game that reveal new weapons, armor, or health items. Of course, the reveal of the second, inverted castle is old news, but it's still worth mentioning. The game literally takes the castle you just fought your way through and turns it upside down, room for room. It's only by decrypting the messages inscribed on the two rings you find throughout the game that you can find the castle and, ultimately, get the true ending and defeat Dracula
Yes, CastleVania: Symphony of the Night is an all-time classic, it's only faults being a lack of difficulty and a tediously and annoyingly long game over screen. Aside from those two minor inconveniences, the game does everything right. The combat is simple enough for anyone to be able to finish the game, but includes spells for the more experienced players to add a little difficulty and variety. I could continue to write and write about this game, I didn't even go into all the relics, magic, and familiars that you can find. I didn't mention the voice-acting that's so bad that it challenges Resident Evil in corniness levels. The game references all the classic horror monsters: Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, werewolves, etc. It references classical mythology: Medusa, Scylla, Cerberus, and Minotaurs, among others. It references Christianity and Catholicism with the Angel of Death, numerous demons, and even a confessional booth Alucard can sit in, as well as lots of Gothic art that can be seen scattered throughout the game. There are even enemies that reference The Wizard of Oz with dark version of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
The argument among CastleVania fans is whether Symphony of the Night is the best in the series, or it's linear predecessor, Rondo of Blood. Despite growing up with the original side-scrolling games, my vote goes to Symphony, and I don't see Konami ever making a more perfectly crafted CastleVania game than this one.