Castlevania vs. Mega Man – Round #2 (Simon’s Quest vs. Mega Man 2)
Alright, time to compare the follow-ups of the NES originals. A second game can either elevate a series further or cause it to suffer a pitfall early on that may prevent it from ever becoming a successful franchise. It’s obvious that latter was not the case with neither Castlevania nor Mega Man, though Konami had technically already tried its hand on a second CV title (the obscure Vampire Killer, released for MSX the same year as the original title). Considering the legacies of these games though, I think it’s fair to say, this isn’t exactly a fair match…
Both titles did try very different approaches with their sequels. Mega Man followed the traditional path of taking the mechanics of the original game and tried to improve on the mistakes that were made with it. Castlevania 2 went for a wholly different approach. It abandoned pretty much everything except the core gameplay and tried to expand the title into something much bigger. Mega Man 2 followed the action-platformer route, upping the number of levels and included new items to help players skip annoying parts of levels. Castlevania 2 became a large action-adventure title with an open world to explore, where the player had to crack cryptic puzzles to enter levels and finish the game within an allocated time limit in order to get one of three possible endings.
To give Konami their due credit, the company was clearly not satisfied with keeping the Castlevania series stuck to its humble roots. They wanted the game to be something huge and impressive. They wanted the player to feel like they were really traversing the forests and caves of Transylvania and interacting with NPCs made the game feel like it had a living world (things we take for granted in modern games but which was quite unique back in the 1980s). And it might feel a little unfair to criticise Castlevania 2 for its efforts, but the bottom-line about CV2’s lofty ambitions is that they didn’t quite pan out.
The game was riddled with NPCs giving out useless clues. The game was simply not readily understood by most. Gamers had to waste hours just to understand how the game-world functioned and even then they may not necessarily understand the logic upon which the game was based. And a little bit of reality needs to be put in place, the actual Mansions (the action-levels at the core of the game) were horribly designed, containing traps and pitfalls without providing any solace for the player in the form of health items.
Mega Man 2 conversely became an all-time classic by making itself much more accessible. Capcom of America even included an easier difficulty level to help players get started. The passwords made it easy to continue levels after you’d made some progress, the Master Weapons were much more helpful. And getting rid of needless features like the Score, helped the game focus on what was so great about the original, that solid action-gameplay.
Mega Man 2 proved that with sequels, it’s always good not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Konami luckily realised their mistake and back-pedaled for the sequel to ensure that fans would not feel as confused and baffled. Capcom hit the mark on their first sequel, Konami did not. So the winner is quite clear…
Winner: Mega Man 2
Mega Man 2: Small improvements turned a good game into a master piece.
Castlevania 2: Ambitious ideas turned an excellent game into a confused mess.