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Not Jabba

Not Jabba's Not the Cacowards Review Corner (Return to Daro)

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Hey, thank you for bringing some attention to Return to Daro! It's always great to hear that folks enjoyed it. Two years and three WADs later, RtD is still the project I'm most proud of.

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On 8/19/2019 at 8:57 PM, Not Jabba said:

Castlevania: Simon's Destiny by @Batandy

 

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Recreating Game X in Game Y is one of the most common forms of project in a lot of modding communities, and if the idea is often synonymous with low-quality vaporware, that's probably because it's usually the first project of an inexperienced game designer. Batandy, however, has stuck with it and made it the focus of his mapping career. Ideally, a mod like this combines the best of both games into a hybrid form, keeping what works and rejecting what doesn't, and Doom: The Golden Souls 2 is a masterpiece of exactly that -- drawing from all sorts of games, but focusing on the Super Mario series to transform Doom into a cross-genre universe that's both lighthearted and violent, a blend of familiar and unfamiliar (but always intuitive) gameplay mechanics. The original Golden Souls, which I still have yet to play, is by most accounts great fun as well, albeit with a different set of strengths and weaknesses, and I'm highly anticipating the recently announced third installment.

 

Castlevania: Simon's Destiny is a bit of a different animal, and although I don't think it translates the Castlevania mechanics into Doom as well as the Golden Souls series does for SMB, it's an interesting hybrid that leaves a strong impression if you can stick it out -- and a lot of people seemed to love it when it was released. Somewhat in contrast with GS2, it recreates all the tropes of the early Castlevania games with absolute faithfulness, and therefore plays something like "Castlevania in Doom" rather than "Castlevania Doom." All of its best points -- and all of its worst ones -- are ultimately born out of this decision. 

 

On a lot of levels, Simon's Destiny is brilliant homage with a great sense of authenticity to it. The settings for each map feel so much like locations you'd encounter in the series that you'll probably find yourself trying to remember whether they're referencing specific Castlevania levels or not. Every map is backed up by the sorts of high-energy monster-masher tracks that helped make the series so famous (though I don't recognize any of them entirely -- I'm not sure if they're remixes or tracks from later games that I never played). All the most memorable monsters are there: the Goddamned Bats, the bone-chucking skeletons, the fish men that pop up out of the water, the infinitely respawning wavy medusa heads, the many and varied flavors of living suits of armor, the turrets made of dragon skulls, the boss fights against the likes of the twin mummies, Frankenstein('s monster), and Death. Combat is melee with the whip plus special items like throwing daggers, axes, and holy water, which are fueled by hearts that you get from smashing things (Note: these use alt-fire rather than being inventory items, which took me a little while to figure out). All of this can be really fun to discover; a lot of the experience of playing the mapset is getting that nostalgic spark with each new element that's introduced, and seeing how faithfully it was done and how it all plays out in the Doom engine.

 

On the other hand, there's a lot of frustration in seeing how a lot of these tropes don't adapt as well to the Doom engine as they do in a 2D platformer. The focus on melee combat can make the game more of a grind, especially in later levels where ammo for the special items becomes more scarce. Many enemies, particularly harassers, become more of a pain due to being harder to hit with three axes of space rather than two. The boss battles compound on these problems, and I found them mostly infuriating, even (especially?) the very first one, which is against a giant form of Goddamned Bat. Gathering heart ammo and other items becomes a huge grind simply because it takes time to smash every decoration lining the walls of a 3D room, as opposed to having them simply be in your path in 2D. The rooms and halls that make up most of the maps are very boxy and plain, in comparison to GS2's environments, which were hugely varied and more freely shaped, even though both games use linear map design. The common thread is that a lot of stuff simply doesn't execute flawlessly in 3D space, which is a problem that GS2 avoids by taking inspiration for many aspects of its design (most notably the weapons) from Doom. In keeping with the source material, Castlevania also puts a lot more effort into being Nintendo Hard, which makes anything you might not like about it all the more frustrating. And again, this contrasts with GS2, where I tended to feel like I had a firm grasp on the challenges thrown at me and felt like I could own my mistakes more -- though I could say the same thing about any classic Castlevania game vs. the Super Mario games from the same era, so maybe that's just a matter of taste.

 

Simon's Destiny ramps up in intensity just as much as you would expect, and it's at its best when it's going full-blown homage to the more interesting elements of the Castlevania games -- when you're hopping across pieces of crumbled bridges, when the fish-men spawn wave after wave as you rush forward, when the ground crumbles out from under you as you try to make it to safety while being dive-bombed by a dozen boss bats. The final map is the one that perhaps does it best, a fully mechanized castle with lots of vertical movement and conveyor belt platforming that requires some pretty precise timing, not to mention the requisite multi-stage final boss battle. The thing that makes this mapset difficult to love unequivocally is also its greatest draw: Simon's Destiny is so utterly, unapologetically an homage to another series of games that it's hard not to be charmed by it.

 

SD should've won a Cacoward. I still consider it a scandal that it didn't get one.

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Return to Daro was one of my favorite mapsets, even though I still haven't fully played STRAIN, I really enjoyed on its own.

54 minutes ago, Master O said:

 

SD should've won a Cacoward. I still consider it a scandal that it didn't get one.

Melee combat doesn't translate very well on a 2.5 engine, I guess not everyone was a fan of how the whip worked.

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4 hours ago, Gothic said:

Return to Daro was one of my favorite mapsets, even though I still haven't fully played STRAIN, I really enjoyed on its own.

Melee combat doesn't translate very well on a 2.5 engine, I guess not everyone was a fan of how the whip worked.

 

Yet Lilith won one and you could barely see anything given how it was total glitchfest.

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I saw the screenshots for Simon's Destiny and thought "cool, I can't wait to play it"; then I saw a gameplay video and this became "ehh, okay, I'll just give it a miss".

 

Spending 90% of playtime destroying light sources to grind random drops isn't my cup of tea.

 

26 minutes ago, Master O said:

Yet Lilith won one and you could barely see anything given how it was total glitchfest.

 

Lilith is glitch art, yes.

 

Of course not everyone is going to like something like that, something that is deliberately ugly and confusing. But I found it very effective at evoking the feeling that something is wrong, at a very deep level. No matter what you do, no matter how much you fight, the corruption, the wrongness remains here. Of course if the glitches don't make you feel like this, then it's just going to be an obnoxious set of unplayable levels.

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On 9/6/2019 at 7:54 AM, Not Jabba said:

*Return to Daro review*

Thanks for the heads-up, that was a sweet little set. Liked the much refined from strain visuals, progression through interesting means and secrets were very interesting to find, although not always integral to the gameplay. Unfortunately last map was a highlight on how bad slot 7 weapon is. 

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