When you think of incredible retro experiences, 2 series likely come to mind: Castlevania and Mega Man. So, let's explore both franchises and pick which one is the epitome of old-school 2D action.
It's been one awesome year for Video Chums. At the beginning of 2019, I began publishing a Versus match-up every single Friday and actually managed to somehow keep that up all year. Now that it's the final Friday of the year, I figured I'd go out with a bang and discuss 2 of my personal favourite video game series. With that in mind, don't think that this will be the final Versus as I plan on writing many more of these; there simply won't be one every Friday next year. I still have plenty of ideas for gaming match-ups that I'd like to do but in 2020, I merely want to start diversifying the stuff that we put up more. With all of that out of the way, let's revisit the Castlevania and Mega Man franchises and see which emerges victorious. Also, don't forget to cast your vote at the bottom for your favourite of the 2.
Castlevania debuted in 1986 with a stellar first entry that helped pave the way for loads of sequels. You play as Simon Belmont while traversing a series of grueling stages armed only with a powerful whip and a sub-weapon. To me, that's what makes the classic Castlevania games so great; you don't have a huge arsenal and it's all about skill with little-to-no tricks that can help you out. Plus, the wealth of dastardly monsters and bosses to take on is fantastic. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest introduced an exploration element and Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse has a non-linear campaign and a few extra playable characters but the core formula remained the same. Super Castlevania IV went back to the linear setup yet it did everything so well that it's my personal favourite of the classic games. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is amazing as well and Castlevania: Bloodlines is a very different beast yet it's incredible stuff.
Meanwhile, Mega Man originally released back in 1987 and it captured gamers' imaginations with the fact that you earn the bosses' weapons after defeating them. This adds a layer of satisfaction to the 2D action dynamic that makes the challenging gameplay all the more rewarding. When Capcom released Mega Man 2 one year later, it replaced most of the generic enemy and item designs which became series staples from that point on and it offered a much more streamlined adventure. Mega Man 3 introduced fans to the iconic canine Rush as well as the slide ability and Mega Man 4 allowed players to charge the Mega Buster for the first time. Mega Man 5 stands out to me as one of the best as it's a culmination of everything that the series has done right while providing memorable stages and boss fights. Moving along; Mega Man 6 and 7 are certainly fun yet they don't quite feel like they capture the magic of the previous titles.
Obviously, you can't keep pumping out the same old games over and over again so Castlevania and Mega Man adapted in interesting ways. The first Castlevania game that felt like a completely fresh and new experience was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with its exploration-focused world which completely knocked fans' socks off. We may now know the genre as Metroidvania but back in 1997, I simply thought of it as awesome. After that, most of the portable Castlevania games followed the Metroidvania formula while the console games experimented with 3D gameplay. I felt that Castlevania 64 was a huge disappointment while other gamers seem to love it yet 2003's Castlevania: Lament of Innocence made me fall in love with the series all over again and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness took it to the next level a couple years later. Finally, the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games are very cool modern entries in the series.
Mega Man went in an entirely different direction than Castlevania. In fact, it went in a few different directions. First, Mega Man X for Super NES amplified the action by introducing faster-paced gameplay and rewarding upgrades that give Mega Man cool new abilities. Its array of bosses are named after animals and over the course of the series, there's some downright hilarious concoctions. A few years later, a 3D adventure game known as Mega Man Legends debuted and I absolutely loved it. Whereas the 3D Castlevania games are very touch-and-go, Mega Man managed to get it right. After that, Capcom unleashed the card-based RPG Mega Man Battle Network and a year later, Mega Man Zero debuted which played a lot like the Mega Man X series and featured collectible Cyber Elves. That itself saw a spin-off with Mega Man ZX while Mega Man Star Force offered a similar formula to Battle Network. Talk about an evolution!
Last but not least, both of these iconic franchises have seen their fair share of spin-offs. Castlevania didn't start on a good note with these, however, as the first spin-off was the substandard 1988 arcade game Haunted Castle. Thankfully, Kid Dracula provided a ton of kid-friendly fun in both its NES original and Game Boy sequel. Over a dozen years later, a fairly fun fighter called Castlevania Judgment released for Wii but it was rather rough around the edges. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow even saw a spin-off in the form of Mirror of Fate yet my favourite spin-off is Castlevania: Harmony of Despair which has you master enormous stages cooperatively with online players.
The first Mega Man spin-off that really blew me away was Mega Man & Bass as it features classic challenging gameplay and allows you to play as both Mega Man and Bass as you try and collect 100 data CDs and complete its grueling campaign. Meanwhile, Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters are pretty fun arcade fighting games that feature a bunch of Robot Masters from the series. For SNES, Mega Man Soccer offered some generic yet enjoyable football action while the Japanese-exclusive Mega Man: Battle & Chase was a standard yet impressively fun kart racer. Overall, that's a solid collection of spin-offs and most of them hold up well.
Okay, it's about time to pick a winner; the final one of 2019 and it's not an easy decision, that's for sure. The winner is...
Although I started playing them almost 30 years ago, I can't get enough Castlevania and Mega Man. However, I've had slightly more fun with Castlevania over the years with its captivating atmosphere, incredible gameplay, awesome cast of characters, and top-notch music. There may be more Mega Man games and the series has definitely taken some interesting diversions yet after all is said and done, I'd rather play through a good old whip-wielding adventure than bust out the Mega Buster again.
That's just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Vote now!