Super Castlevania IV Randomizer
Review by Mike Finkelstein
I've seen a fair number of Metroidvania randomizers over the last few years. It makes sense when you think about what randos do: the take everything about a game and shake it up to refresh it, make a new experience out of an old one. When you shake up a Metroidvania, you get all of the key items mixed in with the normal items, new placements for everything. The more extensive the rando, the more things are mixed up and shuffled around (and randomized).
A Link to the Past for example, can shuffle the bosses and enemies (Enemizer), ensuring you won't know what boss you'll face at the end of a dungeon or who you'll have to fight on the way down. RPG randos can go a step further, generating spells and enemy packs, new classes and new dungeon layouts off the base code of the game (such as with Final Fantasy Randomizer). Rarer, though, are platforming randomizers because, when you think about it, what exactly can you really randomizer about the games?
Well, the Super Castlevania IV Randomizer [EXE] illustrates that there's actually plenty you can do to shake up a "simple" platforming game. This randomizer take all the elements of the base game of Super Castlevania IV and jumbles it all around to make a pretty strange and enjoyable experience that really refreshes the original game. It's not an easy game to play once randomized, especially if you crank up the difficulty settings, but it does become a new, and quite enjoyable, experience.
The first thing to note is that the randomizer doesn't generate anything new for the game. You won't find new levels using the base assets, nor will it create whole cloth enemies or bosses. The randomization of the game is actually fairly limited, with it mostly just shuffling elements. With the basic settings in place, mostly what you'll find is a properly jumbled experience that will leave you guessing what you'll see next after every turn.
The big thing the randomizer does is shuffle up the level sections. The rando breaks up the levels at each natural transition point, and then mixes those all up so you could go from the climb up the Clock Tower, with Simon swinging on rings while dodging Medusa heads, leading into the drop into the Dungeons, across the first section of death traps and deadly slime, into the opening Courtyard where you fight ghostly horse heads in the stables. Stages can be any length, although naturally the longer one stage ends up being, cobbled together from all the little hallways, the shorter all the other stages will be by comparison. There are only so many sections in the game and the rando doesn't reuse hallways.
One nice innovation the rando does include, though, is reverse pathways. What it can do is place you at the end of a section of a level and make you go back to the beginning (instead of going through the hallway in the normal direction). Many of the challenges in SCV4 were designed of the hero to come at them from one direction and making you go through them in the other direction can make the challenges exponentially harder. It's certainly one way the rando adds a lot of challenge to what fans consider one of the easiest games in the series.
Along with the level rando you'll also get candle and item randomization. You can set it so the candles not only have shuffled items but also generate new items each time you enter the hallway. One time you might get a whip extension, the next time (assuming you leave and come back, or die and come back) the candle could have a money bad, or a heart, or a sub-weapon. It means you can't just expect items to always be there if you need them forcing you to adjust strategies and think on the fly. For people that have played the game over and over suddenly the bosses fights you can sleep through can get quite difficult if you don't have the sub-weapon you want because it's suddenly no longer there (and steadfastly refuses to generate in).
Along with all this there are all kinds of little changes. You can shuffle the sub-weapons so they take on each other's behavior (how about an Axe that stops time, or a stop watch that hits the ground and burns with holy flame). You can adjust Simon's starting health, how much damage he does, how much damage the enemies take and how much they deal out, and even how fast all the characters can move and alter their behavior even. It's a lot of a base randomization, all of which adds up to new situations where death is hanging over Simon's head as the bats come flying quickly and the harpies take three hits to kill.
All that being said, there's a key feature most fans would love to see that's clearly missing: enemy shuffling. While you can alter their behavior, health, and so forth, you can't have the rando movie enemies around, nor can the bosses show up in each others' chambers. When you see the zone that has traditionally has Medusa you'll always see the original compliment of bats, frogs, and ravens leading up to the fight and Medusa at the end. You'd expect the enemies to be jumbled in a platformer randomizer but that's just not the case here, and it really holds the rando back from true greatness.
Sadly, the rando is all but abandoned at this point. There's no official site for it anymore with the GitHub that used to host if having been wiped from the 'net. The original creator, RedGuy, reportedly lost interest in any further changes, with a fan of the rando being the last to post the final version of it on a RomHacking.net forum post. It's doubtful if the rando will see further revision (even the fan that had some plans to work on an update for the rando hasn't posted anything since, from what we can find). That makes the 0.0.2.9 version the "final" one we'll ever get. It could use a few more features, a little more TLC, but that just won't happen, apparently. We've actually taken to hosting the rando simply so it won't be lost to the sands of time (it's important to preserve community fan works).
For what it does, the Super Castlevania IV Randomizer is pretty good. Most of the complaints I have with it are the things I'd love to see it do but know it never will. It feels oddly incomplete, a fun experience that still needs a few minor tweaks to reach its full potential. I do think any fan of the original game will have fun with it, but as a replacement for the original game, something to truly bring this classic back for regularly play, the randomizer falls just a touch short.
The Super Castlevania IV Randomizer [EXE] is free for any fan to check out. Note, though, you'll need the original SCV4 rom to play the game which we, obviously, can't provide. We do encourage you to, legally, find your own copy of the rom (maybe via ripping tools and your original cartridge) so you can at least experience the randomizer once for yourself.