Review by dtm666
In 1987, Konami released an obscure game on North American shores called Castlevania; a fun little side-scrolling platform game that featured a number of famous monsters from classic horror films and various sources of mythology. Suffice to say, the game did rather well and spawn a whole bunch of games that lasted well over two decades. And with all of these sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots to choose from, one has to wonder if the original Castlevania which started it all is worth playing.
Well, the answer is yes. But let's go a little further...
STORY: Castlevania puts you in the role of the vampire hunter whose name is unknown until the end of the game... or at least the sequel that eventually got released or the Japanese original. As Sim- I mean the nameless hunter, you have to navigate through six levels of various monsters to rid the land of THE COUNT - who is later revealed to be Dracula. It is a break from the usual video-game plots of the time that required you to save the damsel or get some holy artifact. It's straightforward and it's enough to drive the game. Of course, these days you'd have cutscenes and fifty minutes worth of exposition between levels, but back in the day, the closest thing to a cutscene was a picture of a castle map displaying your current progress, all the while the hero of our story marched on to face the next challenge. And you know what? IT WORKED PERFECTLY. 9/10
GRAPHICS: The graphics are two steps above the typical NES graphics you'd see in most games. Instead of static colors with an occasional cloud here and there that other games would pass off as level backdrops, you had actual walls and bricks for level backdrops (most of which had little details such as wear and tear in the columns and more), decent use of limited colors to create an eerie atmosphere, and some neatly-design enemy sprites. The Simon sprite, colored in an ugly brown color palette, is the only one that has a sense of fluid movement, as most of the other enemies have two simple frames of animation, but that's nothing new as most games featured simple two-frame sprites. Castlevania's graphics aren't the prettiest in the NES library, but they get the job done. 10/10
SOUND: While the original Castlevania's soundtrack isn't much to listen to these days, it still comprises some of the better chiptunes of the era and it is the origin to some of the Castlevania series' most recognizable themes, including the more famous "Vampire Killer" theme which opens up the first level of the game and would be replayed in some form or another in every other Castlevania game released later on. As for the sound effects, they're somewhat simplistic and standard stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary, although not ear-grindingly bad. On the plus side, the grunt that Simon does when he gets hit sounds cool. 9/10
GAMEPLAY: Castlevania is fairly simplistic in its gameplay mechanics. It's your usual side-scrolling platformer much like other Nintendo games released during the day, where you have to navigate through each of the six levels hopping platforms, slaying monsters, and navigating stairways until you reach the end-level boss. You begin the game with a fairly weak leather whip that can be later upgraded to a chain whip that serves more damage to foes. In addition to this, you can also acquire a number of sub-weapons to attack foes that are out of your whip's reach. Although Castlevania is a strictly linear affair with no alternate routes to speak of, each of the six levels are littered with secrets scattered about that can be found by destroying blocks or kneeling by certain areas. They don't contribute much to the overall game (except for those that contain life-restoring pot roasts), but they do offer a sense of accomplishment when you find them and some of these hidden trinkets can help you out.
What will genuinely annoying a lot of newcomers to the original Castlevania are the controls. Quite simply, the controls are fairly functional but limiting. One button whips, another button jumps, and pressing Up and the attack button will allow you to attack with one of several sub-weapons that you may come across. It's a simple enough premise, but the problem is that to climb stairs, you also have to press up. This can become problematic when it comes to executing sub-weapon attacks while on stairs, because your button inputs have to precise if you want to shoot in the right direction. Getting past this little bug, the controls are fine as is. 9/10
CHALLENGE: Castlevania's a decidedly difficult game, made more punishable by the damage ratio system implemented. While the early levels are fairly simple, it does get progressively more difficult, with stronger enemies and end-level bosses that are not only more difficult to defeat, but are capable of killing you in four hits... something that sticks when you play through the game's second loop. Repetition of levels, learning the patterns of the various enemies, and effective use of sub-weapons in certain situations will make the game decidedly easier, but not so much that it becomes a cakewalk. All in all, a good challenge can be found here. 9/10
REPLAY VALUE: To say the very least, once you beat this game, there's very little reason for you to go back. Unless you want to try out the "hard" mode or see if you can make it to Stage 100 or something. 2/10
OVERALL: There is no doubt that Castlevania is an absolute classic on the original NES and while it's outperformed and improved upon by many of its later successors and remakes, it still ranks as one of the best games in the franchise. If you're a fan of the series and have never played the original Castlevania, you owe it to yourself to give the game a go... especially since it's available on a variety of services such as the Wii Virtual Console. Highly recommended. 10/10
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/10
Game Release: Castlevania (US, May 1987)
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