Review by RazorX3

"The Vampire Hunt has just begun"

Welcome to CastleVania, the 1987 NES classic by Konami, now released on Virtual Console for the Wii. But be warned, this game is not for the faint of heart, it isn't as impossible as other games for the NES, but it surely wasn't one of the easier ones. I will discuss and break this game into several categories, giving each my own individual rating. I won't be comparing it to the NES version itself, for I have only played this and the GBA version, but I assure you there were no intentional (or pretty noticeable) changes from the original. Let's get to it.

Storyline: 6/10

The year is 1691. You are Simon Belmont, a vampire slayer, and you're off to rescue Transylvania which has been put under a dark curse by an evil being known as Dracula. It is now your turn to slay him in whom your ancestors have done many times before you and carry on the Belmont Legacy. Armed with only your leather whip and courage, you open the gates which lead into the heart of CastleVania, and you must traverse it's horrors of ghosts, bats, skeletons, imps, fire-breathing statues, and more if you wish to face The Count in the highest room of the castle and hope to succeed. Not bad for an early NES game, it gets a lot better once the whole “CastleVania timeline” sorta kicked in and gave it more of a background. The story isn't much of importance to the game itself however, since it's not even mentioned in the game.

Sound/Music: 10/10

This is, without a doubt, some of the best music seen on the NES throughout its entire history. From the triumphant halls of "Vampire Killer" and heights of "Wicked Child" to the cold dungeons of "Heart of Fire" and the final struggle to reaching The Counts room in "Out of Time", these tracks compliment the game so greatly that it's no wonder why everyone praises CastleVania for its well composed music. The beats and rhythms Konami had produced really shows the time they've put into this game for what little technology they had. You can ask any casual NES gamer why CastleVania stood out and they should be able to tell you that a big part of it was the catchy music. There wasn't a single tune here I didn't like, not even the dying tune, which sounded dark and dramatic for 8 simple beats to get the point across. The sound effects are pretty nice too, such as Simon's whipping noise being the most common and noticeable. Some other things are pleasant too, such as when you open a door and you hear it slam behind you, and when you throw a holy water and it hits the floor, it makes a nice glass shattering sound followed by the burning of flame. As for the music, it's really great, and this definitely can't be CastleVania without it.

Game play: 9/10

This game surely was the first of its kind. It was a side scrolling platformer which required players to traverse through many stages with enemies, obstacles, and pits while you break candles containing all sorts of goods, all the while whipping the bejesus outta stuff. The basic goal of CastleVania is to guide the character, Simon Belmont, from point A to point B, while slaying enemies who get in your way using your whip, going through doors, escalading stairs, jumping over pits, and the like. You find candles which can upgrade your whip into the Morning Star, which increases its damage, and an additional upgrade which doubles its length making it easier to hit foes. There are also many sub weapons available, which include the dagger, axe, holy water (sorta like a flammable grenade), stop watch, and cross (boomerang). There are secret numerical icons that can be found in candles or secret walls which increase the rate of firing speed for these weapons too. Secret walls also may contain food to restore a great portion of your life along the way. The main item you'll find yourself collecting, however, is hearts, which are used up as you use secondary weapons, and they are also tallied to your score depending on how much you have at the end of each level. You also receive bonus points for how quickly you complete each level within the given time limit. There are a total of 6 levels in CastleVania, which are broken up into stages. They get progressively more difficult as time goes on, where inevitable cliffs or swarms of enemies can really mess you up. Probably the most famous instance is when Medusa heads constantly fly at you just hoping to knock you back into one of those nearby pits, which is frustrating. You either jump up, to the left, or to the right, no questions asked, and no controlling your character in mid-air either. When you make contact with enemies/projectiles, you do fall back, so be warned. This was one of the main drawbacks that made CastleVania so challenging. As if those pesky horrors, moving platforms, and spike traps (did I mention those?) aren't enough, there is a boss who must be slain in order to move onto the next level. Once a boss is beaten, a red orb appears, you touch this orb and onto the next level you go. This continues until you reach Dracs tower; where the final showdown begins and the fate of Transylvania is determined.

There are only a few reasons why I didn't give the game play the perfect 10, first off, this game can be cheap. Enemies may appear in spots which are deemed impossible to avoid, it's as if the game developers intended on you falling down all those cliffs. Next, some of the bosses are on the verge of being “impossible” if you don't come prepared. In Grim's stage, you must basically get through the entire level, without dying, with holy water at level 3 just to beat him. If you die midway through a stage, and hit a check point, there's no turning back, and that sub weapon (and level icon) you've had is now gone. You can either hopelessly try to finish the level (may the force be with you, young padawan), or die until you reach Game Over and start from the beginning again. Learning the level layouts and memorizing where certain monsters appear is crucial to beating this game. Thankfully, we've got unlimited continues on our side, so we don't need to worry about starting the game over from the very beginning. Final point is this game is really short, even for an NES game. It's probably the shortest console CastleVania out there, but that's understandable, seeing as it's the first. There are only 6 stages and they are pretty short, although they do provide variety with several backgrounds and locations. One moment you're in a dark cave filled with bats and sea-monsters, and then you are out on a long stretch of land leading deeper into CastleVania. They do make sense when you play the game, and nothing side tracks from the mood of the game, so don't expect frolicking through tulips and rainbows, if you're into that sorta thing. Thankfully, the game has a near impossible second Quest for those who manage to slay Drac on the first go to fill your craving for more once you've beaten it. So replay ability is a definite factor here, and the sheer challenge alone will have players coming back for more, which sorta makes up for how short the game is.

Controls: 7/10

I'll admit the controls aren't the greatest I've seen, but they are enough to get the job done. Playing on the Wii mote makes the game more fun for some reason; maybe it's the cool and portable look. It plays no different from an NES controller, and uses the “1” and “2” buttons to replace the A and B buttons. The game is also compatible with a Game Cube controller, and Classic Controller, for those who were wondering. Moving Simon around is crisp as a chip, and he stops right when you let go of the D-Pad right. To use sub-weapons, you need to hold up on the D-Pad and press the Whip button, since it is a third command and the NES could only take two with the A and B buttons. The biggest issues, however, are the uncontrollable jumps, and some sluggish response to certain actions like using your whip. The troubles are when you jump and accidentally land into some sort of pit (may it be water or an endless realm of darkness) or into an enemy, which has another chance at hitting you into something even worse. Another issue is cracking your whip. Simon has nice animations before cracking his whip forward, but this can also be a disadvantage, because he stalls when doing so and doesn't release the whip as soon as you hit the button. If timed too early or too late, chances are you won't be able to muster up another whip lash in time to defend yourself from an approaching enemy. Again, it isn't too big a deal; it's just something to watch out for.

Graphics: 8/10

This game has some pretty impressive display for it's time, and, in a way, introduced one thing not seen in some other NES titles, such as Metroid and Kid Icarus during its release; backgrounds. That's right, sometimes they look a little ugly, but for the most part you get eerie scenarios of the land surrounding CastleVania, and you can tell where you are within it's stronghold, whether it be a swampy cave or haunted dungeon filled with the bones of previous, unsuccessful adventurers who failed to stop Dracula. Simon isn't half bad looking either; his armor has nice detail, he climbs up or down stairs, his walking is fluid, as well as his whip motion animations. The enemies are detailed well, while they still could have used some more animation, but it isn't a big deal. They all have the same death animations, which are just puny flames, but hey, you gotta compromise to something when you're dealing with the undead, amongst many other monstrosities. The bosses are pretty nice too, such as with the Grim Reaper who holds this nice big sickle, too cool. Needless to say, some bosses (sorry Grim, gotta pick on you here) don't even have any animations what so ever. As long as people can understand that older graphics don't determine how good the game is itself, and that this game is now 20 years old (time flies, doesn't it?). If you were back playing this in the late 80's, you would agree that it's quite impressive.

Conclusion

CastleVania is a great, challenging game that deserves to be played by everybody of all ages. It has a cool concept with the medieval setting of the vampire slayer taking on the biggest horrors and spooks known to mankind and putting it all into a video game. It's creative outside the normal “broad sword this” or “fireball that” sorta thing since you use a whip. Outside of the controls and length of the game, CastleVania is surely worth the $5. Unfortunately, CastleVania itself had no save feature at all; it wasn't until its sequel, CastleVania II: Simons Quest, until a password system was used. But since you'd be buying this as a VC title, now you can save this game anytime, anywhere, simply by pressing the Wii Home Menu button on the Wii Mote and quitting. A “save-state” will be created and you will take off from that point the next time you play. It is very handy and beats playing the NES CastleVania from the beginning and in one sitting any day. The ending is epic, and it gives you that great feeling of accomplishment since this game can take a lot of practice and dedication. Its games like these we don't see anymore but have shaped the life of video games, and it's great to relive those times with CastleVania. It's a great start for anybody new to the series, or for CastleVania fans who have never played the original and who just want to relive some good times. As short as this game may be, its challenge and level of difficulty will always have you coming back for more, and it's one of the hottest game series out there for a reason. Who would want to miss out on the whip-it-good fun that started one of the most successful franchises in video game history? I sure wouldn't.

Pros.
+Great challenge for gamers with the craving
+One of the best NES VC downloadable games available
+Some of the best music heard on the NES!
+Cool theme involving monsters and horrors in one huge castle
+Use classic weapons, Holy Water, Cross's, and whips to vanquish your foes
+Fight the big name monsters who invented the horror genre such as the Medusa, Frankenstein, Dracula, and more
+2nd Quest after completing the game for extended replay
+Enables use of Wii Suspend points to save anywhere, anytime
+Play CastleVania with the Wii mote!
+It's only $5

Cons.
-Considered frustratingly hard, difficulty gap increases fairly quick
-Some boss fights can prove to be nearly impossible
-Plenty of cheap shots that kill you in the blink of an eye
-Controls take alittle getting used to for timing jumps
-Not that long of a game, can be beaten within the hour on a near flawless run-through


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/07


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