Castlevania II: Blood, Sweat, and Code (kaelari Fork)

Review by Mike Finkelstein

When last we checked in with Castlevania II: Blood, Sweat, and Code, the randomizer had been released into a stable build that included a solid set of features any fan of randomizers could enjoy. Item randomization, enemy randomization, and basic theming options made it a solid addition to the core Castlevania II: Simon's Quest experience. Although the original NES game was a brutal game (right up there with Zelda II for games that actively hated you), the randomizer smoothed out the experience enough to make it far more playable and, dare I even say, enjoyable.

Since that stable release the randomizer continued getting updates and bug fixes. Unfortunately somewhere along the way original creator BloodSweatandCode stopped actively updating their randomizer. Due to a lack of communication with the original creator, fellow community member kaelari stepped in and created a fork of the Blood, Sweat, and Code code-base. They've since continued work on the randomizer, adding in more patches and more options, continuing the great work of the randomizer. And since we (of ICVD had to come in and change info around for this randomizer (to update links) we figured it was a great time to revisit the game and see all the fantastic things you can do in the updated Castlevania II: Blood, Sweat, and Code

If you haven't read our original review of the randomizer, here's a brief run down: Castlevania II: Blood, Sweat, and Code takes the original Castlevania II and randomizes it. Its basic options allow you to jumble up the basic structure of the game, shuffling around the items and enemies of the game (but not bosses, since there's so few of them) to mix up the play experience. You could be in Veros and find garlic, or laurels, or Dracula's Heart, which could point you in a direction (left) different from the original flow of the game (exiting right from town to head to the first mansion). The items you find will force you to think about new routes and find new paths, all on the quest to gain Dracula's Body Parts.

That basic flow is maintained in the updated Blood, Sweat, and Code, but since v1.0 a ton of new features have been put into the game. For starters, there's now Town and Mansion shuffle. What this does is take the locations for the various towns and mansions in the game and, as you'd expect, it shuffles them around. This is a basic shuffling that can force you to explore more areas and go along paths you might tend to push off until later. Maybe Dracula's Heart leads you to a town instead of a mansion. It's simple, but effective, and does force your brain to rewire itself some.

More extensive, though, is the full map shuffler. This feature (which, naturally, isn't compatible with just a basic town and mansion shuffler), creates a new overworld for you to explore. You, of course, still start of in town at the beginning of the game but where you go, and where the paths lead, is now randomized to the point that it feels like a new overworld each time you play. This can be hard for players first exploring this feature -- it's effectively a new game with a new layout -- but once you get into it, and learn to map out the world, it begins to feel normal.

I actually think these kinds of randomization options are really cool. Being able to experience a new map each time can lead to whole new avenues of discovery. Paths you normally might ignore could suddenly lead to unexpected screen. There's likely something worth exploring down every nook and cranny, giving players a new appreciation for all the screens of the game. You'll have to rework your base knowledge of the game, learning everything and everywhere, but that can be it's own kind of reward.

There are also more quality of life options that have been added to the randomizer. Dracula's Ring original was just required to get into the ruins of Castle Dracula, but it didn't (on its own) have a special power. The randomizer adds in an option that enables a bonus for the ring: swamp immunity. There are plenty of swamps in the overworld of the game, and going into their sludgy water will damage the hero normally. With the ring found, though, swamps will do no damage with this option enabled. It's a nice bonus, especially if you end up finding the ring early. At least then you get some use out of the item.

You can also enable Dracula's Fangs. These were an item that was planned for the original game but later removed during development. The sprite, though, was left in the rom and the randomizer can put it official back in. The fangs, when found, will grant the hero five lives (instead of their base of three) and, when found, will refill their life count to five as well. While the life system in the original game isn't as busted as in other games (see: Zelda II), since at least you could restore (and even continue) right on the spot you died, it will wipe away your hearts and exp gained for your next level, so there are instances where a couple of extra lives can be useful for the flow of your grind.

And then there are the features meant for the hardcore players. You can enable OHKO (One Hit K.O.) to make every hit a deadly one. You can turn the hero invisible, or paint the world black so only the hero, and certain specific marks, are viewable. You can randomize where the tornado in the game takes you, meaning there might be some areas you have to glitch into if you want to explore them (since you won't naturally be taken there). You can even remove quick kill damage and make the Dracula fight harder, as well.

Are all these options good for newer players, or casual folk? Absolutely not. Those players will find more use from the reduced heart penalty flag, the 100% heart drops, and the double heart drops. These players will appreciate the Logic Modifier that puts an Oak Stake, Laurels, and a whip upgrade right in Jova, so you can always get them early on. They'll appreciate how smooth the overall experience is for this randomizer, making a very tough (and generally unfriendly game) far more enjoyable all around. The base randomizer experience is friendly, but that doesn't stop some hardcore options from existing as well (nor should it).

The goal of a good randomizer is to provide a complete and interesting experience, on that can appeal to casual players as well as the true, hardcore fans. What's lovely about Castlevania II: Blood, Sweat, and Code is that it does all that, packaged together on a simple and easy to use on-click website. You can get in, get setup, and get playing with minimal effort, saving all your strain for the game itself. This is Castlevania II, randomized. It may be more inviting but it still has the evil, quirky charm of the original game just waiting there, under the surface.