Transylvania Renard and the Spiked Corridor of Doom

Spikes...why'd it have to be spikes?

"Promise me you'll survive. That you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. " - Jack Dawson, Titanic

The following is my tale of trial and triumph over a seemingly insurmountable video game challenge. There were times when I was genuinely tempted to throw in the towel, but I persevered over several months of game overs until I finally emerged victorious. Let me start from the beginning. I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I fully completed it as both Alucard and Richter Belmont multiple times, earned all achievements and trophies available in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 ports, and even explored out of bounds areas and completed a speed run via glitches. The only objective I had left in the game was to fully complete it as Maria Renard in the PlayStation 4 version.

Fully completing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as any character requires players to explore all accessible rooms across the game's regular and inverted castles. The total percentage is tracked by an in-game map. Alucard is the only character capable of fully exploring every nook and cranny of the two castles, given his unique supernatural abilities. Richter and Maria lack these paranormal properties, so their total map coverage is slightly less. Whichever rooms our human heroes can reach is considered their full playthroughs of the game. As with Super Mario Sunshine, there's no unlockable reward or bonus for fully completing everything in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This is solely a completionist-errant.

My playthrough as Maria began smoothly enough. Each character handles differently from one another, making for three unique experiences. Maria is a fun character to play. Her playstyle is based on speed and acrobatics: she runs everywhere, double jumps, slides across the ground, briefly flies and glides with her pet owl, air dashes, etc. Her Achilles' heel, though, is lacking an exaggeratedly overpowered attack that completely decimates all enemies and bosses in seconds. Both Alucard and Richter possess such abilities, but as Maria doesn't, she essentially functions as the game's hard mode. Defeating bosses as Maria requires skill, caution, and strategy. However, I would soon learn that the toughest challenge in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is encountered while playing as Maria, raising her difficulty level to expert mode.

The words "tough" and "challenging" are synonymous with the Castlevania series, as is the term "Nintendo hard". These games won't hold your hand, and they certainly won't hold back on dishing out punishment for failure. Despite this intimidating reputation, Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are generally considered easier entries in the series. With regards to the latter, Igarashi-san clearly intended the toughest challenge in the game to be the optional boss of the inverted catacombs, Galamoth, but this behemoth is actually a pushover if you know the secret to defeating him. Even as Maria, Galamoth is a piece of cake once you know what to do. No, the "toughest challenge" I'm referring to is not that big palooka. The actual toughest challenge in the game is located not far from Galamoth, though, on the opposite end of the floating (and regular) catacombs: the Spiked Corridor of Doom.

As my description suggests, it's a passageway completely covered in spikes, resembling the interior of a medieval iron maiden. It's as if the architect behind its sadistic design were a deranged porcupine. Getting through this hallway of horrors as Alucard isn't too much trouble, as he can freely fly through it in bat form or stroll along it in protective boots. Doing so as Richter is much harder, as it requires spamming a magic jewel that grants him about a second's worth of invincibility with each use. That brings us to the toughest challenge in the game: Maria's roundtrip through this architectural abomination. Unlike her companions, Maria cannot fly freely, wear protective footwear, or abuse a magic jewel for a smidgen of invulnerability. So, how do you solve a problem like Maria? With her nifty air dash and double jump, of course.

Making it through this deathtrap as Maria requires a series of air dashes and double jumps in quick succession. This requires near-perfect timing and precision with a miniscule margin for error. I really hope Maria enjoys getting piercings at her local tattoo parlour, because she received lots of new ones during my many attempts. If Maria lands on, or touches, any of the spikes lining the corridor, she bounces around like a pinball, which rapidly depletes her health. Between her screams of "ooh!" and "ahh! ", you have a split-second to get her airborne again before she's bled completely dry.

Adding to the challenge was my inability to ever find a pattern I could learn or exploit. For example, I could begin Maria's initial air dash from the same starting point each time yet experience a different outcome with every attempt. Sometimes, Maria would clear an early, low hanging spiked wall, while other times, she'd slam right into it, like George of the Jungle. Sometimes, Maria would double jump in unison with my button presses, while other times, she'd ignore my inputs and fall directly into the spikes. The distance each air dash covers or height achieved with each double jump would also differ every time, despite me repeatedly pressing the buttons with the same consistent rhythm. As such, this challenge seemed to require just as much luck as it did skill, though probably more luck.

Following each game over, you're forced to restart the entire process from your last save point, regardless of how close you came to victory in the previous attempt. It's demoralizing. Having to tackle the Spiked Corridor of Doom over and over again stung me as much as the spikes stung Maria. Even though I was playing the PlayStation 4 version, it lacks a rewind feature or save states, which sucks. I feel all modern ports of old "Nintendo hard" games should automatically include the option to undo mistakes or save anywhere. It's a no-brainer. The lack of these quality-of-life improvements in Super Mario 3D All-Stars was one of my biggest gripes with that compilation, but I digress. Back to Maria...

After repeating the process more times than Bill Murray repeated Groundhog Day, I eventually progressed to a point where I could make it to the other side of the razor-sharp chamber somewhat consistently, reach the far-end of the following rooms, take a breather, and slowly heal Maria with her pet turtle's ability to sap the lifeforce from enemies in exchange for hearts (in Castlevania, hearts are oddly the equivalent of ammo, not health). This was a boring, tedious, and time-consuming step, but also a necessary one for the much tougher trek back.

As mentioned, there's no way to undo mistakes or save anywhere, so it's impossible to practice the return trip, which makes it especially nerve-wracking, given the Las Vegas-like stakes. After months of playing on and off for an hour or so at a time, and contemplating rage quitting more than once, I eventually succeeded in making it back out of the Spiked Corridor of Doom and breathed a huge sigh of relief upon safely reaching the save point again (gaming back in the '80s and '90s could be quite hair-raising at times, and save points or passwords were always an oasis in the desert). I wasn't out of the woods just yet, though...

Because Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has two castles with two versions of each room, regular and inverted, I now needed Maria to perform an encore of her remarkable feat in the opposite castle. I completed the inverted variant of the Spiked Corridor of Doom first, which meant I now had to tackle its regular form, which is flipped, mirrored, and initially experienced in pitch-black darkness (there's a light switch on the opposite end for the return trek). While intimidating, I thought of this encore as being akin to the second quest from Ghosts 'n Goblins. By this point, I was ready for anything Igarashi-san threw at me.

Honestly, completing this challenge in the darkness wasn't nearly as gruelling or daunting as I'd initially anticipated. I managed to complete my second roundtrip through the Spiked Corridor of Doom as Maria in less than a day, compared to the months-long odyssey of my first journey through it. Perhaps constant failure truly does lead to eventual success? I'm just relieved and proud of myself for finally completing the toughest challenge in the game. I'd fully completed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as Alucard and Richter many times before, and now I've fully completed it as Maria, too. All three playable characters have their respective maps fully charted. The trilogy is concluded. The trinity is complete. It was tough, but I now have the satisfaction of literally beating Igarashi-san at his own game. Well, I guess I'll celebrate my pointless (yet rewarding) gaming achievement by finally watching Castlevania: Nocturne on Netflix. Until next time, love, peace, and chicken grease.

On to the Next One

Back to the Last One