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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews one of the often lauded greatest games of all time, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

TranscriptEdit

Perhaps I was too hard on Portal 2 last week, because the new releases I've tried since then have all just made me very depressed.

See, I started playing SOCOM 4 with a heavy sigh of dread, and after pawing through linear, war-torn city #759 for five minutes I grew suspicious of the huge black soldier speaking with a reedy Australian accent. So I looked it up, and, sure enough, the accents of the main characters actually change depending on the region you're in. And after that I just felt insulted, like they seriously think the only reason I get a bad taste in my mouth from Modern Warfare right-wing gun-wank games is that the main characters aren't from the same country as me, so if they just redub a few voices they can win the international mindless racist market.

There was Mortal Kombat, but Australian customs currently regard that alongside black tar heroin wrapped up in child pornography, so after hitting the white wine spritzers pretty hard, all I played this week was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on XBLA, so I figure it's either time for a retro review or my long-delayed suicide.

But this is a retro review with a difference! Because although it's considered a classic and I've enjoyed many games that took inspiration from it, I've never actually played Symphony of the Night myself. Around the time when it first came out, I was living off baked bean sandwiches in somebody's bin. So playing it for the first time this week, will it be one of those old classics that still hold up from a fresh, modern perspective, like Super Mario World or Patrick Stewart, or will it be one of those embarrassing elderly relatives that survive on nostalgia and self-effacement, like Myst or William Shatner or the entire superhero comics industry?

Symphony of the Night is a metroidvania-style game - of course it, it's literally the game that contributed the second half of that word - a 2D platformer with free-roaming exploration in which you play - ugh, for some reason the Japanese have this thing where they think spelling "Dracula" backwards is really fucking clever - Alucard, the son of Count Dracula, who can only move around with a forwards moonwalk. And if you're playing the XBLA version, on a widescreen TV, there'll be massive big pictures of Alucard and Dracula either side of the screen glaring at each other for the whole game like both are waiting for the other to own up to eating all of Mrs. Dracula's pies.

So Castle Dracula shows up unexpectedly yet again, like an annoying family you met on holiday, and while sorting these things out generally falls into the Belmont family remit, Alucard feels there's never going to be a better opportunity to say "fuck you, Dad" and storms the place. The Castle Dracula has somehow become kind of dosshouse for every monster from every mythology ever; it's where they all hang out when they're not appearing in front of very credulous people with shaky hands and inexpensive cameras.

And the first thing that strikes me about Symphony of the Night is that the sheer number of different monsters is utterly-nutterly-butterly. There are lots of monsters that only appear in one room, and a lot of those would be a boss in any other game, the amount of design that went into them. If I was an artist at Konami, I'd probably have left this project feeling slightly embittered. If I have an issue with this, it's that the monsters are so arbitrarily varied that it's hard to tell on sight which are hardest to kill. The very first enemies are giant wolves the size of semi-trailers that die in one hit, while a cluster of imps can fuck your shit up faster than a coprophile in zero gravity.

Visually, Symphony of the Night is dense as all shit. But then it was on the PS1; with the advent of CDs for console gaming, games suddenly had lots of disc space to spread their elbows out, and a lot of developers used that to have FMVs up the butt or make games in that hideous first-generation 3D that looked like origami modeling with used toilet paper. But Symphony of the Night stuck to 2D and completely tarted itself up, and it's still nicer to look at than the many incarnations of Captain Gray-brown Loadsofbloom.

And I suppose it's a good thing that very little is used twice, because you'll get plenty to chances to see it all as you backtrack through the giant world map trying to figure out where the chuffing buggercripes you're supposed to go next. I don't mind that so much, because that is the nature of exploration games, and it has RPG elements, which means I could get tremendous satisfaction from revisiting monsters who gave me lots of trouble twenty levels ago and barbecuing their villainous floppy bits with the Elemental Fire Sword of Pettiness.

But even the enemies that are completely beneath you can still do one damage, and Alucard is a dramatic ponce who has the same reaction for everything from having his ears flicked to taking a broadsword facial, and that's to hurl himself backwards like he's trying to get the other team sent off. And since enemies respawn when you leave the room, there's nothing more frustrating than clearing out most of a corridor before a lone skeleton coughs in your general direction and you go hurtling out the door.

But having said that, what surprises me is how easy Skimpy Nightie gets by the end, because if there's one thing that usually characterizes retro games, it's that they're about as forgiving as playing The Floor Is Lava on the surface of Mercury. But as you level up, get used to the sub-weapons, and get used to the fact that Alucard always slashes slightly higher than you think he does, then the game only gets more and more trivial, culminating when you get the power to turn into poison gas so that enemies can't touch you and their faces melt off if you're so much as in the same postcode; which I think is game's way of saying: "Will you just go to the fucking final boss room already?" But if you go to the final boss room of Sexy Underpants before you've done a bunch of arbitrary bullshit the game never tells you about, you literally miss the entire second half of the game.

Make no mistake, bitch: Symphony of the Night isn't here to impress you, you're here to impress Symphony of the Night. "Congratulations, you found the power jump and the special wolf attack!" Wow, thanks, Symphony of the Night. Now how exactly do I do those two things? "What, you need a fucking hand to hold, player? Piss off, I'm recoloring the skeletons again." This isn't really a good thing, but it certainly illustrates how this game couldn't possibly be made today. Games these days are terrified the players will miss something and will shove the player's face under their skirt lest they overlook a single square inch of their carefully groomed pubes.

Overall, Dirty Knickers passes the nostalgia test in that I actually really liked it as a game, and not because it distracted me from my mother's drinking problem when I was fifteen.

AddendaEdit

It's like an Oedipus complex but without the mum fucking: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I love those superhero comic fans who refer to Superman and Batman as 'Clark' and 'Bruce' like they're on first-name terms or something

Grandma's legs used to be metroidvany but now they're metroidvania


ScreenshotsEdit

SotN 1

I grew suspicious of the huge black soldier speaking with a reedy Australian accent

SotN 2

The sheer number of different monsters is utterly, utterly butterly

SotN 3

Enemies respawn when you leave the room

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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