Video Game Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)

There are lots of great video games over all consoles and platforms, spanning five decades. Few, however, are actual masterpieces. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those rare masterpieces.

I can’t say a bad thing about this game. I love it wholeheartedly and playing it in 2018 made me weep for myself, as I haven’t replayed through it enough over the years. This experience though, has assured me that it is something I’ll have to play through over a weekend every couple of years. Man, I really enjoyed stepping back into this for the first time in over ten years. It also made me feel the sense of excitement and awe that I had for it when I first bought it and took it home in 1997.

I have always been a fan of the original three Castlevania games and this takes the best elements of the original trilogy of titles, mixes them together and pushes away all the negative parts.

While most people don’t like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I always adored that game and how ambitious it was for the time. That ambition and it’s RPG like style mostly just upset people that wanted it to be more like its predecessor. But Symphony of the Night borrows the RPG elements, throws them in here and presents it all as something closer to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which was a much better version of the style of the original game.

Like Simon’s Quest, you have to round up pieces of Dracula’s body in order to fight him. And also like Simon’s Quest, you have the freedom to go where you please and obtaining certain items unlocks access to new areas.

The thing is, and most Americans in 1997 didn’t know this, but Symphony of the Night is actually a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which didn’t come out in the States until later and was then renamed Dracula X. I’ve never played Rondo of Blood but now I want to after revisiting this. Rumor has it, that a version of it is being released for PlayStation 4 soon.

Anyway, apart from this tapping hard into Simon’s Quest, I also love how many firggin’ boss fights you get in this game. There are bosses everywhere in the castle. It’s like you can’t go ten minutes without encountering another boss to fight. What’s also great though, is that the classic bosses return, as well. You get to fight the Grim Reaper, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and Medusa. You even get the annoying hunchbacks, the pain in the ass gillmen and the mindless zombies, as well as so many other regular enemies that every section of this game is new and fresh.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is absolute perfection in an artistic and interactive medium where such feats are incredibly hard to achieve. Kudos to Konami, as this is one of the best games the studio ever produced and my favorite in the great Castlevania series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The original Castlevania trilogy for NES, Super Castlevania IV for SNES, the Gameboy Castlevania games and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (also known as Dracula X).

Video Game Review: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was really f’n cool when it first came out because of one reason, you could play as Alucard, the son of Dracula.

Well, you could play as a few characters but Alucard was just badass and you could turn into a bat and fly through certain areas. But each character had their own special purpose.

Most importantly though, this returned to the game style of the original Castlevania, which most people wanted after the more complex, tougher and RPG-like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I am of the minority that loves that second game though, even if it’s a favorite classic NES title that people love to shit on. Those people are just simple minded and can’t solve more complex problems and puzzles though.

Anyway, Castlevania III is back to basics with some added flourish in the form of the characters Alucard, Sypha Belnades and Grant Danasty. Your main character is Trevor C. Belmont, as opposed to Simon Belmont, as this game is actually a prequel set a few hundred years earlier.

And while it does return to the formula of the first game, it branches out and is more creative, as it allows you to make choices that effect the game. You can choose different paths and the game has different endings based off of what you do along the way.

This allowed the game to have long lasting replayability. As different people beat it in different ways, kids talking on the playground came to realize that they needed to try different things in order to see the various finales. And this is back in the era when beating a game was a massive undertaking, especially since it typically had to be done in a single sitting. Castlevania III monopolized many summer vacation afternoons.

This is just a solid chapter in a solid series what was fun to play and exciting because of the options within the game. It really was a step forward in gameplay and storytelling evolution.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: the original Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Film Review: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

Also known as: La momia azteca contra el robot humano (original Mexican title), The Aztec Mummy Against the Humanoid Robot (worldwide English title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1958 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rafael Portillo
Written by: Guillermo Calderon, Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Ramon Gay, Rosa Arenas, Crox Alvarado, Luis Acevedes Castaneda, Jaime Gonzalez Quinones

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 65 Minutes

Review:

Is this a terrible movie? Yes. However, within the context of what it is and how it was made, I can accept it and not just trash it for being total schlock. Besides, it features a friggin’ robot fighting a friggin’ mummy. Okay. maybe the monsters are terrible and move at the speed of a mentally handicapped turtles through a sea of molasses but still, it’s got a robot and a mummy!

This film was featured on the first nationally syndicated season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason: it’s a big stinker. But show me a Mexican science fiction film from the 1950s that isn’t?

The MST3K versions and really, any version available in the U.S., has English dubbing. Sure, the dubbing is also terrible but it sort of adds an extra level of goofiness to the proceedings and makes this film more endearing than it probably should be.

To be honest, you’ve got to love these sort of pictures to have an appreciation for this. A normal person would probably rather claw their eyes out but it’s certainly not the most dreadful thing ever made and definitely not the worst thing featured on MST3K.

The biggest negative isn’t the crappy monsters or the shitty special effects, it’s that the film has some really boring and drawn out moments. This thing could probably be whittled down to a twenty minute picture and you wouldn’t feel like you’ve lost anything important. Hell, it’d probably play better that way.

One of the highlights is the mad scientist. That guy was pure gold and dedicated to that insane role.

The robot was some knee-less hulking thing with a window that displayed a full human face but he was referred to as a “human robot” so I guess that works. The mummy looked more like the zombie version of Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies but I totally bought into it being a former Aztec warrior. Okay, that last sentence was me totally being facetious.

Even though I don’t hate this, it is shitty. I know it is shitty. It is impossible to deny its shittiness. Therefore, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Lots of old school Mexican monster movies, especially some of the lucha libre stuff with El Santo and Blue Demon.

Video Game Review: Castlevania (NES)

Every kid in the ‘8os played Castlevania. Well, if they didn’t, they missed out on one of the greatest experiences of their generation. Sure, it wasn’t as massive as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda but it is just as much a classic and has had a similar level of staying power, as sequels are still made and it even has an anime show on Netflix that is currently running.

The game sort of takes the Universal Monsters and throws them into a 2D side scrolling adventure of badass proportions. The big boss is Dracula but you also face Frankenstein’s monster, a hunchback, a mummy, several gillmen, as well as other classic monsters that weren’t in the Universal Monsters canon like the Grim Reaper and Medusa. There are also zombies, giant wolves, giant bats and dismembered Medusa heads that fly at you. There are deadly traps, pits and water that is instant death. The game throws a lot at you and pulls no punches.

Seriously, this really pulls no punches. The game is hard as hell. And maybe the difficulty level is it’s only real negative. It isn’t an unbeatable game, as I have conquered it. But man, it is an incredible challenge that takes hours upon hours of mastery before one can actually beat it. But that was what the best old school NES games were about: mastery.

Another slight negative is the mechanics. Sometimes the jumping is wonky and it’s easy to get overzealous and screw up. Also, the stairs can be a total pain in the ass but eventually you’ll get it.

Castlevania is one of the best games of its era. It had to be to create a franchise as strong as it did. It is a true product of the ’80s and a real blast for old school horror fans.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Video Game Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES)

Sometimes great things get a really bad rap. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest gets a horrendously bad rap and frankly, it’s a damn fine game!

Years ago, the Angry Nintendo Nerd, now better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd, trashed this epic classic in his first video. People took his video to heart and adopted his sentiment as their own. Then again, maybe video games are really hard for that guy and his viewers.

You see, the biggest criticism of this game is how hard it is. Honestly, it is difficult but it isn’t unbeatable. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun and a serious challenge, more so than any other Castlevania game I have played. That challenge is why I love it so much.

Another season I love the game is the freedom of it compared to Castlevania I and III. Those games made you follow a map, from level to level with a big baddie to fight at the end. I love those games too but Simon’s Quest allowed you to explore the world you were in. You could bounce around however you wanted, similar to how Zelda II was. Sure, you had to complete certain tasks and unlock new areas to explore but for the time, this was pure freedom.

People also criticize the controls. I never had a problem with them. The game is pretty straightforward and the controls of the highly acclaimed first game, were pretty clunky… let’s be honest.

Full disclosure, I didn’t beat Simon’s Quest way back in the day, as it was a massive game and took a lot of time. You didn’t have infinite opportunities to save your games on the NES like you have nowadays. However, as soon as this was playable on an emulator, I crushed it. It was more time consuming than difficult. But beating it gave me a real sense of accomplishment that I don’t get from most games. The thing is, games today are too easy. Simon’s Quest didn’t have a difficulty setting.

The hate for this game is unwarranted, in my opinion. It has always been one of my favorite classic NES titles to fire up and play. I enjoy the game to this day and recently played through it again, in an effort to talk about it before this review.

Simon’s Quest is pure satisfaction, as far as I’m concerned.

Film Review: The Mummy (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Please meet Princess Ahmanet. She will claim what she has been denied.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

Well, it’s here. This is the start of Universal Pictures’ attempt at resurrecting their old school Universal Monsters franchise into something more modern and unified like what Marvel has done with the Avengers series of films and like what DC is now doing with their Justice League movies that started with Man of Steel.

Universal has plans to bring back their classic monsters in what they are now officially calling Dark UniverseThe Mummy is the first of these pictures and one would hope that it would be a great start. The big problem is that it isn’t.

I’ve seen a ton of critics and fans trashing this film. While it isn’t as bad as many would have you believe, it certainly has a lot of issues that kick off this Dark Universe franchise pretty weakly.

The biggest problem is Tom Cruise. I’m not hating on Cruise per se but his inclusion in the picture is a distraction. We essentially have typical Tom Cruise making intense faces and trying to prove his manliness and coolness while two women half his age fight over him. He is just quintessential Tom Cruise and that is not what this film needs.

Going forward, a lot of huge names have been mentioned around this franchise and that’s the problem. Unlike Marvel, Universal doesn’t seem to be casting actors that fit parts the right way, they seem to be latching onto star power for the sake of star power.

Another problem is that there isn’t really a sequence that stands out from this film. Nothing is all that memorable or impressive. Its a collage of cookie cutter action sequences that tries to be something big but falls short.

The attempts at humor throughout the film also fall flat. Jake Johnson is there as Cruise’s wisecracking sidekick zombie but his wisecracks just don’t hit the right notes. Cruise tries his hand at some comic relief too but nothing really works.

While I would say that this is a better film, overall, than those atrocious Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, at least those pictures had some truly fun moments. This new Mummy flick is completely devoid of fun and while it tries to be more terrifying, it really isn’t.

There are a few highlights to the film, however.

The first being Sofia Boutella as the mummy. It was refreshing seeing a female mummy and she had a much better presence than anyone else on screen except for Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll. He is in the film the same way Samuel Jackson was in the first Iron Man film; he is the character that is going to tie all of these Dark Universe movies together. We also get a nice peek at Mr. Hyde. Okay, more than just a peek but it sets him up nicely, going forward in this series.

As far as the other famous Universal Monsters creatures, we get a glimpse at the Gillman’s hand and a vampire’s skull. This is was done similar to the Easter eggs in the first Iron Man. But really, it just feels like Universal is trying to emulate Marvel too much and I really don’t know what the end game is? A monster Avengers team? But hopefully Universal can do better with their villains than Marvel has done cinematically.

The Mummy is not a good foundation for a franchise but it was a fair attempt that could have been better. It didn’t deter my interest in what else is coming in the future but that is also due to my love of the original Universal Monsters franchise. These monsters are beloved characters in film and literature and although they have all been reinvented more times than one can count, seeing them come together again could be a real treat if the big wigs at Universal learn from this film’s mistakes and correct those issues going forward.

Film Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan, Jonathan Gries, Jason Hervey

Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 82 Minutes

monster_squadReview:

The Monster Squad is one of the best kids movies from the 1980s. Coming out in the decade when I was a kid, I was more susceptible to the pop culture of this era than any other. Also, when this film came out, these kids were essentially the same age as me. I also loved classic monsters like these kids, so it wasn’t a hard film for me to connect to.

This film is constantly compared to The Goonies, which was a bigger budget, more popular film that had Steven Spielberg’s and Richard Donner’s names on it. The Monster Squad had Shane Black’s and Fred Dekker’s names on it. At the time, neither were really well known but Dekker had written and directed the pretty stellar Night of the Creeps a year prior. Both men have gone on to make some great films and still work together on some projects. They’re currently working together on a reboot of Predator (Shane Black acted in the original).

Getting back to The Goonies comparison, I find this film to be much better. In fact, I felt that way even in 1987 when this movie came out. To start, you’ve got a group of kids fighting five of the classic Universal Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gillman (or as many call him, “the Creature From the Black Lagoon” or just, “the Creature”.).

While Dracula and the Mummy both look very much like their Universal Monsters incarnations, the other creatures are updated. The Gillman is now scary and frightening, while the Wolf Man is more bad ass. And while still on the monsters, Duncan Regehr (best known as Zorro in the late 80s) was a perfect Dracula, Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) did a fantastic job as the human form of the Wolf Man and Tom Noonan (known for being the Ripper in Last Action Hero) truly owned the role of Frankenstein’s monster and should be considered one of the best to play that character.

The other thing that makes this film better than The Goonies, in my opinion, is that the kids are more real. They cursed, they were often times perverts, they watched slasher films and their parents didn’t give a shit and they felt like boys I’d hang out with at school where the Goonies crew was cool but they seemed like a bunch of kids doing their own thing and came off as less authentic and less organic.

I also love the names in this movie. The token fat kid is called “Fat Kid” even though he reminds people that his name is Horace. The creepy old recluse dude that ends up being totally awesome is only ever called “Scary German Guy”. The character of Patrick has a slutty sister that is only ever referred to as “Patrick’s Sister”. By the way, “Fat Kid” is way better than Chunk from The Goonies, as he doesn’t just eat ice cream and do the truffle shuffle. No, the token fat kid in this movie, picks up a shotgun and saves the kids who bullied him – winning their respect.

This film is campy as hell, fun as hell and just a great fucking motion picture. If you love The Goonies but haven’t seen this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. If you love classic monsters, you definitely need to get off of your ass and watch this now.