The Succubus series has always worn its Castlevania inspirations pretty prominently on its sleeve. I mean, hell, Castle of Succubus, an earlier title in the series (not available on Steam as yet) which Midnight Castle Succubus clearly grew from, even makes use of pretty much the same screen layout and features a protagonist named Simone Belmont.
Midnight Castle Succubus, meanwhile, is a pretty clear example of developer Pixel Teishoku and artist Libra Heart going “hey, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was pretty good, but it’s full of stupid ’80s bullshit. What if we made that game, but with all the stupid bits replaced with sexy bits?”
There’s some 18+ imagery ahead.
Taking on the role of a succubus hunter — an unnamed one this time around, though one who does sport one of the most spectacularly shapely bottoms in all of video gaming — it’s your job to find the local succubus that has been making the life of the people in the area a complete misery, whip her repeatedly about her sensitive areas until she explodes, and then everyone can live happily ever after. Probably.
Adopting a very old-school approach very similar to that seen in the original Simon’s Quest, Midnight Castle Succubus starts immediately without a single cutscene — the opening moments simply represent you arriving in this troubled land, reaching the village from whom 16 girls have been kidnapped, and figuring out how to go about tackling the mission at hand.
For the unfamiliar, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was the first game in the series to adopt a side-scrolling open-world approach rather than being split into discrete levels, and this is very much the case in Midnight Castle Succubus also.
That said, in keeping with the philosophy by which this game has obviously been designed, the more obtuse and confusing aspects of the map in Simon’s Quest — such as a boat ride taking you to a completely unconnected area, or the need to crouch in seemingly random places to make things happen — have been replaced with a game world that has a much better sense of natural flow about it.
As you play through Midnight Castle Succubus, you’ll naturally make your way through obviously distinct areas of the game map, each of which has its own visual style, backing music and hordes of enemies to defeat. In a rather player-friendly touch, areas that ramp up the difficulty significantly feature an item called a “challenge orb” near their entrance, which you can whip to determine your relative strength; if it takes you more than one hit to destroy, you’ll probably want to backtrack and find a better weapon.
For the most part, so long as you’re thorough about exploring, this won’t be an issue, though, because Midnight Castle Succubus’ world is exquisitely designed to subtly guide you on your way without ever feeling like it’s shunting you down a linear path. There’s a constant sense of progress and forward progression and it’s extremely rare that you’ll need to backtrack; during my own personal playthrough, the only time I needed to head back to an earlier area was because I’d missed a hidden key needed to rescue one of the trapped girls.
Ah yes, the girls. There are 16 of them scattered throughout the world of Midnight Castle Succubus, and they act as the game’s main “collectible”. Finish the game without rescuing any of them and you get the bad ending; rescue at least one and you get the good ending; rescue all 16 and you get the best ending.
Each girl is secured behind a locked door which requires a key to open. Keys are usually dropped by bosses, though there are a couple throughout the game that are hidden in breakable walls, so you’ll need to search carefully if you want to rescue all 16 maidens.
The way the game is structured means that in each area, there tends to be a route you follow in order to fight the boss, and a branching pathway that leads to the trapped girl. One of these (usually the boss path) tends to lead onwards to further progression, while taking the time to go and rescue the girl typically rewards you with a power-up such as an increase to your maximum HP.
This being an 18+ game, if you’re playing in the “NSFW” mode, these girls are inevitably being raped by monsters when you find them — and, likewise, your character ends up getting raped every time you run out of HP, before returning to the room where you “died” without any other penalties.
Interestingly, though, Midnight Castle Succubus makes use of its adult content in a markedly different way to Castle in the Clouds; rather than providing interactive sequences or cutscenes, the majority of the adult content is confined to either small pixel art sprite animations or loading screens — and, in a clever bit of design, the 18+ load screens only appear when you’re following the relevant path to reach a trapped girl.
In this way, you can quickly determine which route is the “right” one to take when exploring. If you have a key in your possession, you’ll want to follow the trail of erotic load screens; if you don’t, you’ll want to avoid that path until you beat a boss and/or acquire a key, then backtrack to pick up the girl in question. It’s a clever, subtle piece of game design that works extremely well as a means of guiding the player without forcing them to take a particular route.
It’s also worth emphasising that you can enjoy the whole game in “SFW” mode if you either object to the rape scenes or are in a situation where you’d rather screen-filling pixel art porn didn’t suddenly pop up without warning. The game is just as enjoyable without them — but part of the developers’ vision was to have them included, hence the considerate choice available. Sex and horror have always been inextricably intertwined, after all, and thematically speaking a land under the yoke of a succubus’ oppression would almost certainly be filled with horny monsters.
But I digress. As you progress through Midnight Castle Succubus, you’ll have the opportunity to acquire a number of whip upgrades as well as some special abilities such as double-jumping and attacking in different directions. These cost money to acquire, and, like in Simon’s Quest, this currency (hearts in the case of the earlier game) is also used to power the various sub-weapons you find along the way.
As such, early in the game, you’ll want to be sparing with these sub-weapons to ensure you can afford your next upgrades; later, however, you’ll have more money than you know what to do with, so you can fling them around with gay abandon.
This doubtless all sounds very Castlevania, and indeed it absolutely is — deliberately so. But at around the halfway point, Midnight Castle Succubus does something very interesting indeed: not only does it do the typical Castlevania trick of opening up another map, it also completely shakes up the game mechanics.
After defeating the succubus in her castle at the end of the first map, she curses you and then explodes into seven body parts that end up scattered around the second map — another homage to Simon’s Quest, where Simon was cursed and needed to find Dracula’s body parts in order to break said curse.
The difference here is that our heroine can actually take full advantage of the succubus’ curse by transforming into a succubus at will. Initially, the only benefit this provides is a rapid-fire ranged attack — which can be recreated by the best whip in the game anyway — but as you gradually track down the succubus’ various body parts, you start to acquire more abilities that eventually make you more powerful and mobile than the succubus hunter at her peak.
As well as double jumping, you also gain the ability to swim, wall jump, float and eventually fly, all of which make getting around significantly easier. Coupled with the faster pace of attacks it’s possible to make in succubus form, this makes the latter half of the game feel very distinct to the opening section. Bosses in particular become more about unleashing rapid-fire assaults during gaps in their pattern-based attack routines rather than precise hits, and the whole game takes on a distinctly more energetic feel.
This is helped along by the four companions you can find on your adventures, each of whom can be “equipped” as a supporting troop when required. Initially, only one can be used at once, but as you acquire additional HP upgrades, you can use two or even three at once.
Each companion character has their own distinct use. The Thief, who is the first you’ll find, throws knives any time you’re jumping or falling, and can also locate the hidden “crown” items which can be used in a New Game+ run to unlock various features. The Monk will create healing items if you crouch down for a short period. The Warrior will, at regular intervals, lock on to an enemy in visible range, hurl herself at them and slash them to pieces. And the Mage will, also at regular intervals, fire out a wide spread shot in the direction you’re attacking.
By the end of the game, when you’ll likely have the Thief, Mage and Warrior all supporting you in combat (with the Monk perpetually on the sidelines unless you desperately need healing) there’s a really fun, frantic feeling to the combat; your little party becomes a whirling mass of death that is more than happy to take on any monster stupid enough to get in the way, and it’s massively satisfying.
Midnight Castle Succubus is an absolutely magnificent game that, for my money, is genuinely better than some of the bona fide Castlevania games I’ve played. It looks and sounds great, it plays brilliantly slickly and smoothly, and it’s thoroughly compelling from start to finish; once I’d started, it was hard to put the damn thing down.
So yeah. Consider that a ringing endorsement, and if you have the slightest interest in Castlevania-style games — and wanted to like Simon’s Quest but just couldn’t quite manage it — then I can’t recommend Midnight Castle Succubus enough.
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