Haunted Castle III: Trevor's Quest
Review by Mike Finkelstein
I will admit I was somewhat harsh on Haunted Castle II. A fan-game made in 1998, that title was a decent effort from programmer Migami and a solid first try, but it just didn't quite come together as a whole package I wanted to play nonstop. Once I got through the game once, for the sake of the review, I set it aside never to be played again, which isn't a good sign for a game. It's a freeware game, and designed by a fan without all the resources of Konami, and I judged it based on that, but I really just wanted... more.
Well, three years later Migami was back with an even more advanced effort. Returning to his version of Trevor Belmont, Migami crafts a direct sequel (or maybe a re-imagining would be more accurate) that gives the hero all of Romania to explore. It's Haunted Castle mashed against Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (hence the name for the game, "Trevor's Quest"), and it certainly doesn't lack for ambition.
During a celebration in town, Dracula sweeps in and kidnaps Trevor's lady fair (who is definitely not Sypha Belnades), prompting Trevor to have to head out into the world to find her and bring her back home. The journey won't be easy, though, as there are plenty of road blocks in the way preventing Trevor's direct progress to the castle. Trevor will have to find key items, explore every nook and cranny, and steadily become more powerful if he's to have any hope of finding his beloved and saving the day.
For this second Castlevania fan-game, Migami has, indeed, crafted a Metroidvania game from the bones of Haunted Castle. Honestly, its so far removed from the base arcade game that it hardly resembles Haunted Castle at all (outside a couple of overly large enemies). I don't think that's a bad thing, really, as, frankly, Haunted Castle is a terrible game. I respected Migami's decision to create a sequel to that game the first time around, but I appreciate even more his desire to let loose and not let the boundaries of the arcade game hold back his creativity.
There's honestly a lot to like about this game as everything about Haunted Castle II has been refined. For starters, the game looks and sounds better. The graphics have been cleaned up, with less "blobby" sprites for all the enemies, the towns people, and the hero himself. This still isn't quite up to the same graphics standards of Konami, but then it's also one guy making all the graphics (or, at least, hacking existing graphics from other Castlevania games) and programming the engine, so we'll forgive this a bit. The music selections this time around are more diverse, and better implemented, including eliminating that near game-breaking soundtrack bug that haunted the previous title.
Trevor also seems to play smoother here. His personal hit box is smaller leading to less unfair damage from enemies. Meanwhile his own weapon hit box has gotten larger, allowing him to more easily hit enemies coming at him. This, along with a decrease in the enemy spam (at least until the last few stages of the game once Trevor is in Castle Dracula proper) make for a more fair and forgiving title (again, unlike Haunted Castle) which was greatly appreciated.
I also appreciate just how large the scope of the world has become. Instead of just a handful of basic stages, Haunted Castle III gives us an entire, interlocking world of areas. There's a world map you can access to show you were you are in Romania, leading to less chances of you getting lost, but there's also so much to explore that you'll likely spend hours searching out all the items you need and the equipment required to make it to Castle Dracula. Again, the game doesn't lack for ambition or scope, making this one of the large, more fully realized fan-games I've ever seen.
All that being said, Haunted Castle III is far from perfect. One big issue I had is that the game can be frustratingly obtuse. You find areas you can reach with no discernible way to navigate them. Some puzzles require you to have items to clear them but there's no hint as to what you're missing or what you need. While the towns people do talk about some things you might want to look for, or areas you should venture to, their tips aren't enough to make this game any easier to navigate and tease out its required secrets.
Even when you don't know what to do or where to go, the game can be frustrating in its layout. You'll get an item on one side of the map and then have to track all the way back over to the other side to use it. And Heaven help you in you die somewhere along that path without hitting a church first as those chapels (and similar rooms in Dracula's Castle) are the only respawn points you get. Die in a mansion, or on the overworld, and its all the way back to the last priest you talked to, which can eat up minutes of progress.
In fairness to the game that's the only death penalty you'll find. Just like the previous title, "Game Over" doesn't actually mean your game has ended as there's infinite lives and a full save system in place. Die and you respawn with all your EXP and gold still in the bank, which is quite nice. Plus, if you're really struggling in an area you can always buy up a bunch of herbs and other healing items to use later. That doesn't stop it from sucking when you get blasted by an enemy into a lake and respawn all the way back across the map, but it goes some way to mitigating the difficulty.
Overall this is a vastly improved experience over the first (second?) Haunted Castle game crafted by Migami. Haunted Castle III: Trevor's Quest isn't a perfect game -- it's neither the prettiest nor best refined fan-game I've seen -- but it does have a lot of heart and ambition. It's better balanced, more interesting, and more expansive than Haunted Castle II and shows the path Migami would take forward through Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles 2 and Migami's newest release, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula.
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