Review by Phediuk

"A stiff, clunky, and remarkably unfun start to an eventually great series."

Without a doubt, Castlevania is an esteemed series. While its sales aren't the greatest, the games still receive high acclaim from critics and hardcore gaming junkies alike (well, the 2D ones, anyway.) However, one thing that should be noted about the praise slavished upon Konami's long-running franchise is that almost all of it is directed to 1997's Symphony of the Night and its followups. That game combined a Metroid-esque sense of exploration with smooth controls and a gorgeous art direction, topped off with character design dominated by silky-haired prettyboys. The pre-SotN Castlevanias are considerably more macho; there's no eye candy here. That is, unless you get weak at the knees when viewing Simon's muscly bare legs. Likewise, the early games all have a much slower pace than their contemporaries, and none of them are able to escape the trap of clunky controls, linear-as-a-goddamn-pole-vault levels, and pitiful jumping mechanics.

It all begins with the original. 1986's Castlevania, oddly enough, is not technically the first Castlevania game (hey there, Vampire Killer), but since it was the one that introduced the series to the platforming genre, we'll just pretend it is. Simon has a whip, he can collect some secondary weapons, and he whoops some enemy ass for a rather brief six levels. The gameplay goes no deeper than that; nor does it even try.

Everything starts off promising enough; while progressing through the simple, straightforward first level, the controls are sluggish but bearable; Simon's tiny, one-second jumps are almost laughably insufficient, but tolerable since there's no platforming yet to be found; the challenge, thus far, seems to be fair.

But then you get to Level 2. Suddenly, Simon is jumping harrowing height after harrowing height, and all the while, floating Medusa Heads weave through the air for the sole purpose of hitting you. When hit, Simon invariably tumbles backwards, and when he's standing on a tiny platform, that tumbling always leads to a bottomless pit and Simon's death. Simon is not agile enough to simply jump around Medusa Heads; instead, one is forced to stand in just the right location, so that the foe is directly in the path of Simon's whip as it reaches the lowest point of its highly predictable (but still difficult to handle) flying pattern. A snap of the B button later, the Head is dead, and Simon can continue on in peace...but lo! another two steps, and a brand new Medusa Head is generated out of thin air, forcing the charade to repeat itself all over again.

It soon becomes apparent that Castlevania is rife with cheap enemies and unfair platforming challenges. Simon has neither the speed nor the jumping ability to reliably conquer these obstacles; in the fourth level, the cave, you'll find yourself jumping between moving platforms and avoiding an onslaught of Medusa Heads at the same time. You will likely die on this part several times, leading to a game over, and having to go through the first three levels all over again...which is by no means a guarantee. Thus, the player is forced to memorize over numerous game overs the exact location and timing of the Medusa Heads in the fourth level, which is not challenge but repetitive, poorly-designed tripe. The last two levels offer no solace; enemies fly at Simon faster than ever before, with even more difficult platforming ahead (see: jumping from clock gear to clock gear in the last stage.)

The boss battles are somehow worse. Sure, the Giant Bat and Medusa, the two of whom round out the first two levels, aren't too bad, but around the time you reach Frankenstein and Igor in the fourth stage, it seems that someone at Konami decided that the game simply was not hard enough. How else could one explain Igor's rapid leaps around the arena, kicking Simon's ass while all our hero can do in return is let out some 8-bit digitized grunts? Flip ten coins; if all ten land on heads, then congratulations! You've beaten the Grim Reaper in the second-to-last stage. It is quite literally impossible to avoid the flurry of sickle blades sent careening towards Simon; all one can hope for is that the Reaper floats to exactly the right places, and that one can let off just enough whip attacks to kill the bastard before the same happens to you. When one finally reaches the game's finale, a mano-a-mano duel with Dracula himself, success depends solely on where the Prince of Darkness is standing when he transforms into his F-bomb-worthy second form. The final boss' jumping attacks are 100% impossible to dodge, so one's only hope is that the bastard is far enough away from you that you can boomerang him to death before he reaches your side of the room.

And if you die against any of those bosses, you may as well reset the game then and there. The only hope of beating any of the last three bosses (or hell, the last three levels in general) is to have a fully-powered whip, the pickups for which can be periodically found in torches strewn throughout the levels. Die at any time, and all of your powerups are lost, meaning it's back to the tiny leather antenna you start out the game with. You simply are not beating any of the game's bosses with this weapon; it's just a fact of life.

So Castlevania is basically a one-life game. Die anywhere, and you're basically screwed. And dying happens to be extremely easy in Castlevania. Combine this with some truly ugly visuals (the backgrounds usually look like puke) and the aforementioned crappy controls and unfair enemies and you've got yourself a game that is devoid of any form of fun. If you want a good Castlevania game, play Symphony of the Night, any of the GBA games, or Dawn of Sorrow. The original is just painfully dated by this point, and thus there's no reason to play it.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/06


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