Castlevania: Spectral Interlude (2015)

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There’s retro and then there’s retro. It does sound kind of backwards-looking to program an entire game for a platform that isn’t produced commercially anymore, not just to take the look and feel of older games, but to actually build one for those old systems. But despite that, I understand how limits sometimes can prove beneficial to the creative process and anyways, with emulators these days it’s not much of a hassle to actual play these games on a modern system anyway. And I’m always in awe of people who can master these feats.

Castlevania: Spectral Interlude is a metroidvania-style games that combines the look and feel of the NES Castlevanias when it comes to the controls and visuals with the free-roaming and exploration-driven gameplay of the PSX/GBA/NDS 2d platformers of the series. The game is not too big, but it’s difficulty is more in line with the NES-games than later games in the series, despite the plentiful allocation of save points. While a lot of the graphics – environments, monsters and other sprites – are reminiscent of or maybe even directly taken from the original games, the entire game feels like its own thing and much more than just a hack of the original.

I especially like the bosses, who most of you have seen in other games, but who will roll over you the first time you meet them. Even figuring out their pattern isn’t enough, the bosses act dynamically enough that even knowing how to beat them is only half the battle, the other half is actually having the stamina to survive their relentless attacks and hitting them. But each time you manage to beat one of them, it’s pure bliss.

The story is somewhat okay, more or less functional like in most Castlevania games (no clue where it fits into the overall chronology, probably somewhere after C:SotN). Sadly, the writing is the biggest drawback of the game, going for a mocking, irreverent at times even humorous tone that is completely at odds with the tone in other Castlevania games and sadly isn’t all that well written anyway.

Some minor nitpicks I have concern the controls, sometimes hitting oddly flying enemies seems to not work, even if it looks like you should have hit them, the ability to space-jump via double left/right-tap often gets activated even when it’s not wanted and the maps, despite the two updates, seems not to work correctly (also you have to double-tap down to fall through platforms, instead of the usual down+jump combo, which you need to get into some secret rooms).

Still, despite some of these drawbacks, I really enjoyed the game. It’s more challenging that most games I’ve played recently, it’s hits nearly all the right button gameplay-wise (I do love a good metroidvania) and it’s a labor of love that does exactly what it’s creators set out to do.

[HINT 1: If you wonder where the white altar is, once you have all the four pieces go back to town and see what has opened, and if you proceed past Dracula you get a somewhat different ending.]

[HINT 2: The artifact you get from the boss enemy before Dracula doesn’t just allow you to proceed to him, you now can also see all the hidden upgrades in the walls. ]

[HINT 3: If you want to get to Dracula with the Vampire Killer whip but don’t want to summon Death and kill all the townspeople in the process, there is a way. Remember the joke your father made about the 10.000 coins of gold?]

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