There was a time when Nintendo sequels didn't want to be like the original. Don't ask me why, as it's one of those things Nintendo does from time to time, which may be seen as weird in the conservative world of videogames, but from time to time creates some unexpected items such as, in this case, a glimpse into the future of a famous series.
Simon has at last killed Dracula, and is enjoying a life away from the whippings. But, as it always happens, some kind of spirit comes with horrible news: he is actually cursed, and must retrieve several body pieces from Dracula's corpse so he can, finally and for real, destroy him. Of course, being an action man, he embarks on a new quest to save the world not asking what this curse is all about.
At this point things go outside the expected path. Castlevania has been, until the newer "Metroidvania" games, a symbol of arcade platformers of the "jump, kill enemies and keep going forward" variety. But suddenly you find here an early attempt at mixing typical Castlevania levels with an explorable world in the style of Metroid, yet nobody told you about it. It's like this one went far beyond it's time, as it wouldn't be until the PSX got his own game of this series that this brand of Castlevania would become known.
Sadly this first attempt doesn't work as well as the mentioned Symphony of the Night, yet several things are the same. The map is a series of zones connected one to another, with some padlocks to stop you from going too far. You know what I mean, those places where you suddenly realize the need of some way to jump higher, resist more damage or just cross some water. And the solution for this is nothing unexpected: getting the correct powerup. You may find them in a dungeon or maybe you have to buy them, it doesn't matter in the end, we are so used to this that no problem should arise. But it does, there is a thing, a very simple thing, stopping this from working.
Nobody explains anything. It's true I didn't read the manual before playing (Who does, or ever did, with console games?), but having people around the towns giving tips I would expect at least a few useful tips to put me in the right direction. Yes, you do get a few useful tips, but for items you get much later in the game, not for the early parts. Thanks to this I explored all the accessible map, going in circles and finding nothing new, until I found out what I needed, holy water to destroy some kinds of blocks, such as those which hide most of the vendors in the world. Totally logical.
To me, this is just an attempt to create a fake difficulty curve. The same way some enemies and traps are placed in such places that you will have to die, or just fall down the level, several times until you manage to know the place's layout. But while this problem is solved with the unlimited continues, not knowing what to do or where to go only serves to frustrate you.
Otherwise the game is not bad. I even would excuse these mistakes as a product of the time. "Nintendo hard" became a popular expression for these games for a reason, but if you take a look at it the game is not badly designed, even if it lacks refining.
Basically this works the same as in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, just without the world map. Instead all the towns and dungeons are connected by a series of levels, which may have more than one exit in each side allowing alternative paths.
These zones are also the place where you will collect most of your hearts. Yes, the typical Castlevania hearts, which this time won't be used as ammo, but as a way to improve yourself, because they both serve as money and give you experience each time you collect one of them. If you lose all your lives you lose both the hearts and experience, but all the items found and levels risen are kept.
So you have to explore the world, find all the items hidden in towns and dungeons and then use your newly acquired skills to keep going, until you reach the final dungeon. Pretty straightforward and simple in the end. Still there are a few odds and ends to change things a bit, such as being able to heal on churches, or the day and night cycle.
This last point is very noticeable, and very simple. The game changes from one to the other after around ten minutes, as long as you are in an outdoor place. During the night enemies are stronger, and towns get filled with monsters, but also they give bigger hearts.
If I must describe this game in few words, I would say this is the first Metroidvania. It's nearly forgotten nowadays, maybe because it's a port from the also nearly unknown NES floppy drive expansion, which included a save feature, unlike the password system on the cartridge system; maybe because people hated game similar to Zelda II, or maybe due to some also unknown, and maybe even good, reason. The only thing I can say is that here you have a surprising game which forecasts the future of the Castlevania games.