Review by CMoriarty
"Yes, you really CAN eat meat from a wall in this game..."
Castlevania has evolved, as I write this in mid-2002, into one of the most beloved videogame franchises of all time. While many younger gamers instantly think ''Symphony of the Night'' or ''Circle of the Moon'' when somebody says Castlevania, lest we forget about some of the earlier Castlevanias that set up the premise for which we still enjoy the series today?
While there's nothing wrong with enjoying the Playstation and Game Boy Advance instant classics I mentioned above - in fact, I welcome both of those games into the Castlevania family with open arms; both games blew my mind - I feel the need to write a review on Castlevania for the NES with a simple goal in mind. The goal, of course, is to represent to whoever reads this review that the older Castlevania games deserve attention for what they've influenced in the gaming world since their hayday on 8-bit machines such as the NES, MSX and Commodore64. Castlevania is a game that melded a little bit of horror with a splash of the action/adventure genre, and stuck you in the middle of Count Dracula's castle. The only way out? To kill him, of course, and free your homeland from the prince of darkness' presence. Simple premise? Sure. Great for a Nintendo game? Yes. Great for a game made in 1987? Of course. Still great today? You bet.
Storyline/Plot - 5/10
Okay, sure, the storyline of Castlevania isn't the most stellar piece of videogame fiction that you can possibly get your hands on... but at the time, it stood out. While you can technically call Castlevania a survival horror game, such as the famous Biohazard/Resident Evil series of today is, you can also coin Castlevania with a simple sentence - the game was fun, who needed a storyline? While I have to be objective with my score, and only give it half credit, because it is completly missing a storyline, it had just enough of a plot to drive the story. You, as a famous vampire hunter named Simon Belmont, come from a long line of vampire hunters. The Belmont family is famous around Europe for their great skill in ridding the lands of Count Dracula's curse. And while Dracula returns every 100 years from his grave for a new attempt at life, he is beaten down time and again by his nemesises in the Belmont family tree. The 100 years is up once more, and it's now time for the Belmont family to hand down the ''Vampire Killer'' (your primary weapon, the whip) to the youngest heir, Simon. That's the story, really. That's why Simon enters the creepy castle and subjects himself to all sorts of crazy monsters... to kill Dracula and free the lands of evil once more. While you can look at it as a family man doing his job, I prefer to look at it as your classic early NES storyline. Not bad, either way you look at it, but there was better, even in 1987.
Gameplay - 7/10
Castlevania is a run of the mill game as far as gameplay goes, perhaps a little above par for the time it was made, and the system it was made on. It has its unique elements, but to be truthful, Castlevania can be more of a lesson of frustration for the typical gamer then a fun adventure in the lands of Transylvania. When you get hit by any enemy, you receive the same amount of damage, which makes the system kind of lame, but functional. Since there are six stages in the game, the first two have each hit by an enemy taking off two units of energy, the second two stages subtracting three units of energy, and by the time you get to the overly frustrating fifth and sixth stages, each enemy takes four units of energy. That means you can only get hit four times. Unacceptable, really, but whatever, it works. As far as playing the game goes on a basic level, Simon Belmont (the main character, if you haven't caught that gist reading above) is equipped with his Vampire Killer whip, which can be upgraded two times from it's first state to its third, strong state. When you die, these upgrades get reset. In addition, Simon can be equipped with secondary weapons (which in later Castlevania titles were called Warakiya Weapons), such as an Axe, Holy Water, Boomerang, Dagger and Stop Watch. To use these weapons, you have to have a proper amount of hearts in your inventory, which allow you to use these special weapons. Each weapon takes a certain amount of heartage for each use, depending on which you have equipped, and so, naturally, some special weapons are stronger than others.
The unique feature of Castlevania, however, is the entire ''candle system.'' There are candles and torches all over the castle, which any Castlevania fan'll be familiar with. Simon can whip these candles and torches, which always drop special items, such as hearts, moneybags and special weapons. It's a unique system that constantly cycles your special weapons, heart quantity, and point total. It's a nice little idea that Konami programmers came up with that stuck in almost all Castlevania games since.
Graphics - 7/10
The graphics in Castlevania aren't necessarily terrible, but they aren't spectacular by NES standards. The drawings are nice, the backgrounds are pretty crisp, and the setting is suiting; you really feel like you're in a gothic Transylvanian castle, which is cool for sure. However, the animation framerate is choppy and shoddily put together, and the enemies and Simon himself just don't move right. It's a lagging kind of animation. Hard to describe, really, but you'll certainly see what I mean when and if you've played it. It's a shame, because the colors are nicely put in the backgrounds and most enemy designs. Color on Simon? He's all brown, for whatever reason, making him look (and excuse my language for those easily offended) retarded. It's a mixture of good backgrounds, nice enemy designs, but poor animation and a hybrid of good coloring with bad coloring. A whole lot of goods and bads, to suit everyone's likes and dislikes.
Sound - 9/10
The sound of Castlevania is a really standout feature, and could possibly be one of the saving graces of the game. The memorable tunes appearing on every stage, and the boss theme, are just amazingly conducted by Konami conductors. The MIDI tracks are all good in their own rights, and while there's not much else to say about the sound persay, I think you'll enjoy the MIDI tracks throughout the game.
A cool sound that also appears in the game is something I lovingly call ''the Simon grunt.'' When he gets hit, he ''grunts'' in pain, which is a really neat sound that adds to the game nicely. Also, when you open the various doors in the castle, they open really swiftly, making a large banging noise, that'll forever be burned into my brain as a familiar NES sound. Not a bad sound at all, and also adds to that cryptic and eerie tone and style of the game.
Control - 7/10
The control of Castlevania is another point of the game which rises just above mediocrity. The control is pretty tight, and simple, too. Pressing A jumps and pressing B whips, while up on the directional pad and B simultaneously result in the use of your special weapon. However, it's some other points that are not so stellar. Getting hit by an enemy can throw Simon off completely. If you're midair in a jump when you get hit, expect to fly back into a pit, or into some spikes, or into another enemy. It's just set up like that, and it makes it really frustrating, in all honesty. Other than that, the controls are tight... Simon walks a little slow and gets hit like it ain't no thing in midair, which pushes him backwards into some sticky situations. Otherwise, just above mediocre. A recurring theme, isn't it?
Replay Value - 5/10
Castlevania is a short game... six stages. If you're skilled, you can easily beat it within an hour, and I doubt you'll want to go back and play it again for awhile. It can have more of a lasting appeal if you're not that good at it and are stuck at a certain point in the game, like people too often are in this game. It's a classic action/adventure platformer with a linear gameplay style, which doesn't give you any variety in a second playthrough. The most you can do is use different special weapons on different bosses, et cetera... but it's really not worth playing the entire game to fight the bosses with new weapons. Quite the opposite, the bosses are the most frustrating part of the game (after the first three bosses, who are easy), and'll make you steer clear of this game after you either beat it or get too frustrated to continue.
OVERALL - 7/10
Overall, Castlevania is a good play, but it might not be for everyone. It offers little difficulty in the beginning, and far too much difficulty towards the end of the game, resulting in an improper and poorly executed ''transfer'' of difficulty from one stage to another. It was too abrupt. Otherwise, this is where the famed series started, and any NES fan should check it out. If you call yourself a Castlevania fan and have never played this game, then I will strip you of that title until you play it, because you don't deserve it, poser! =P Otherwise, hit up eBay and get it, they're all over the site for $3-$5... and it's worth the money to add to your collection.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 05/30/02, Updated 05/30/02
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