As you can probably tell from the title, Worlds of Power #4: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (138 pages, ©1990 Seth Godin Productions, Inc.) is the fourth from the Worlds of Power series, an attempt by Scholastic to horn in on the popularity of Nintendo games of the era by having absolutely terrible adaptations written of them. The book is "not authorized, sponsored, or endorsed by Nintendo of America."
I actually own this book. I picked it up at a used-book sale in elementary school, and it's frankly no wonder that I found it there. I remember being delighted at the time that such things existed, and searching desperately through the public libraries for another book in the series, preferably one from a game that I had actually played. I never had such luck. My mother recently gave it this book back to me after finding it in the attic, along with my Death of Superman comic and my Wooly Willy, among other such treasures. I was surprised that it actually existed: I thought for a time that I had imagined it.
I have, for the sake of humanity and literature, reread this book. As an adult. I now feel fully qualified to remark (as sarcastically as I wish, thank you very much) on its literary merits. However, in order to give you a proper appreciation of the book before delving into review, I'll take you through its bold, inviting cover. Take my hand.
Were you an elementary-school nerd in the Nintendo/Super Nintendo era, you too would find this book enticing beyond belief. The cover has a daring black bar at the top with WORLDS OF POWER inscribed in a jaunty sans serif. Beside that, an explosion is found wherein is written "A novel based on the best-selling NINTENDO® game by KONAMI®." Below that, the actual title logo from the game was found (which, if you were the right sort of child, was more exciting than anything else about the book — it was actually related to the game you'd played!). Appearing to drip (perhaps with the BLOOD OF DRACULA) from the title is a picture of Simon Belmont preparing to crack his whip while posing on a desolate mountaintop, his rippling muscles
well, rippling. A dark, brooding sky fills the rest of the frame, with bats to Simon's sinistra. The book was "created by F.X. Nine," the same genius ghostwriter behind the rest of the Worlds of Power series. Pause for a moment and consider who it could have been writing this book. William Faulkner, perhaps? No: he's dead. Stephen King, then? This is in his genre, isn't it? Could be, could be. However, the inside cover quickly solves the mystery for us: the book was in fact written by Christopher Howell, and it was "A Seth Godin Production." I cannot say whether Christopher Howell in fact wrote the other Worlds of Power books, as sources are quite limited, and I only own the one book.
I know that what follows is tacky, but so is this book. I present to you the first page of Worlds of Power #4: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
It looked as though Count Dracula was going to win the battle.
"I will drink your spirit like cherry pop!" said the count, flapping his cape and showing his fangs. "Yes, Simon Belmont! You will become one of my children of the night!"
Simon shivered with fear.
They both stood upon a castle tower. Beyond was darkness, except for a cold moon in the sky like a dead eye. Wind chuckled softly along the battlements. The air was full of the smell of the garlic-clove necklace Simon had around his neck.
"No, Count Dracula! You will not drink my spirit this day!" he said, snapping his thorn whip with a crack as loud as a gunshot. "And by the way, it doesn't taste like cherry pop at all, so it's nothing you'd want anyway!"
"Let me be the judge of that!"
And the vampire leapt at him. He flapped his long arms and they became wings. His gigantic teeth gleamed as the mouth opened wide, seeking to bite!
Horrors! And that's just the first page!
The book only goes downhill from there. The main character is Tim Bradley, a normal kid. He's quite smart, and loves puns and chocolate. He's a good runner but not interested in sports, because he likes video games instead. He's obsessed with Castlevania but can't make his way through anything else in the horror genre, be it book, movie, or comic. He's fourteen and converses at a second-grade level. He's about to get the shock of his life!
While avoiding a big mean bully, whose girlfriend Tim accidentally asked out on a date to the used video game store (she accepted), Tim dodges into the bathroom and meets Simon Belmont, who has traveled through an interdimensional portal in order to ask for Tim's help. Tim, of course, is happy to oblige. Turns out that Dracula has been cut into five pieces by his followers, and if Simon (with Tim's help) can't reassemble and kill him in time, Dracula will take over Simon's body and return anew. The two heroes bravely brave everything from Jewish merchants to Thanatos, Master of Death before finally banishing Dracula from the realm.
It was painful to me to see all of the important gimmicks knocked into my head using all the subtlety of, say, an industrial lathe, or perhaps a chunk of concrete.
Tim likes puns:
"That's very thoughtful of you, Burt. Which reminds me of a funny joke I heard the other day." Tim Bradley loved jokes. He loved puns, too. And like he always said, the badder the better. "Why does the chicken cross the bathroom?"
Simon has a serious personality:
Tim could see that Simon was the dead-serious type who didn't get jokes. It didn't matter. The dude was big and the dude was brave, and he meant well
"Hey! It's a joke! Don't you Castlevanians have jokes?"
"Of course we do, Timothy! We are not Zombies!" Simon cleared his throat. "How many vampires does it take to light a lantern?"
Simon Belmont scratched his head. "I seem to have forgotten it. No matter. Not important."
Tim likes chocolate:
he took a bite of his chocolate granola bar. This was one of his weaknesses. Not granola bars. Chocolate. If he could, he would have eaten a Hershey's Big Block for breakfast. Mom compromised by buying him chocolate granola bars with healthy stuff like raisins and nuts.
"Too much chocolate is bad for your complexion, Tim," she'd say. "Besides, it puts on weight."
Anyway, he knew that chocolate wasn't good for you. He just loved it. Always had, and probably always would. Especially the gooey, rich fudge that his grandmother made* that he would wash down with big glasses of cold foamy milk and — Gosh! Just thinking about it made him gobble up the rest of the breakfast bar.
* Not an innuendo. -Ed.
The book is rife with bad puns, gimmicks, painful attempts to relate to the youth of yesterday by mentioning pop culture ad nauseum, product placement, and all of the rest of the stuff that late 1980s spin-offs require. Each chapter concludes with a game hint, cunning placed upside-down to confuse the reader. The author is unaware of the fact the "it's" is not, in fact, possessive.
Most horrifying of all is the fact that the author had not, in fact, ever played the game. He was obviously writing from a strategy guide, because (alas) he makes the mistake — on page 2 no less — of having Timothy control his NES with a joystick. Unless he was using a specialty controller to play the game (which I strongly doubt — these books were not written by a gamer), he had written an entire novel about a game without having played it. Horrors indeed.
Any sort of oddness in the plot is explained nicely by the fact that it takes place in another dimension. They must use whips and swords and such to fight evil, because things in Castlevania work on magical principles, and as such gunpowder will not explode. All moral quandaries are neatly cut and dry, because things in Castlevania work on moral principles: there is absolute good and absolute evil, and apparently a whole lot of absolute cowering neutrality on the part of the NPCs. Simon's love must telepathically help them using only hints and riddles because of Dracula's curse. There is only one church in all of Castlevania. Dei ex machinis lurk around ever corner. What this all sums up to is that the world is exactly like the one in the game, and by God Mr. Nine isn't going to deviate from it.
Why should you read this book? I really can't think of why. It's quite frankly horrible beyond even what irony can prepare you for. Perhaps in small doses, read aloud with some good sarcastic friends, and a great deal of drugs. Probably not. Somehow the fifteenth stake/steak pun just doesn't have enough zing to carry the plot. And it's hard to be scared when every foe is dispatched with great pith within the space of about three pages. The book is a relic of an era of video gaming long gone. For once, let's be glad that it is.
And the line that makes the book:
"Come. Grab my whip, Timothy Bradley."
Product placement in this book: