Review by Zylo the wolf
"Simon Belmont is still one the most badass characters that exist."
There are many series that people consider to be underrated, but can any series really be more underrated than Castlevania? The series has been going strong for over 25 years and is one of the most beloved of it's fans, but it's far from one the most successful series if we talk about cash. 20 millions shipped copies is nothing to sneeze at, but lets compare it to other classics like Donkey Kong or Tekken which can double that and you see that Castlevania really deserves better. But is the first game in the series really that good? Konami has always been a company that stands for quality so lets find out.
The plot is loosely based on the novel Bram Stoker's Dracula, one of the most famous stories of all time. Our main character is the vampire hunter Simon Belmont, a young man who hails from a big lineage of famous Vampire Hunters who defeats the evil count Dracula every 100 years. When Dracula is defeated, he will rest for another 100 years. Konami would later include stories that took place before this game, so it's safe to assume that Simon has known from the moment he was born that it was his destiny to slay the evil vampire.
The game is very like most of other nes platformers. The player must go through six different stages with full of enemies to kill, platforms to jump from and a million stairs to climb. The stages are inspired from classic horror movies and the whole game feels really haunted with fitting music to go with it, making it a nice unique experience for a system where most of the games tried to appeal kids in it's graphic. Each stages is full of candles which can be destroyed and then drop something good. A boss based on old horror movie characters waits for the player if you manages to go through the whole stage. There's the big bat, Medusa, Mummies, Frankenstein e.t.c.
Simon is equipped with a whip known as the Vampire Killer, a deadly whip which have been in his family for ages and can twice be upgraded to an even bigger whip. While it really wouldn't have mattered if it was sword instead it made the game a little bit different back in the day where every other character either fought with his hands, a sword or a gun. But there are other things that can be used as a sub weapon, you just have to find these in the candles. There's the knife, the axe, the clock which freezes the enemies for a second, the holy water and the cross. All of these costs hearts to use, which you also find in broken candles.
I'm sure that many already know this but games back in the day used to be very difficult, and Castlevania is not different from any other game. For example you do have a health bar with many points, but even the weakest enemies do a lot of damage so it's important to kill anything that moves before it kills you. This game also got a lot of small but annoying enemies that only needs one hit to die, but the real challenge is to kill them. One famous enemy is the flying medusa heads which flies in a specific movement. Even if you know how they are going to move towards you, you will still most likely get hurt by them.
The later boss fights will however make you scream in anger, because they are really difficult and they all move so randomly so there's no pattern to learn in order to make the fights easier. Another rule in the Castlevania games is that the bosses will do a lot of damage if their attacks hit you, but you will lose even more health if the hero's body touches the boss. In most games I've played I say that you have to have some skill in order to beat tough bosses, but in this game I think luck is at least twice as important to have if you want to finish the tough bosses.
Another thing that makes the game really difficult at sometimes and actually is a flaw is that Simon, while being one true badass, takes a lot of time to swing his whip. I don't know how many times I died because I was going to attack an enemy that where headed to me and managed to kill me because Simon was to slow to slash with his whip. This makes the classic "jump forward and attack in the air" move useless for most the time, and is more likely to make you take damage instead of killing an enemy.
But the thing that really makes this game difficult is the thing that happens if any enemy hits you. It doesn't matter what kind of weakling it is, Simon will get thrown back a couple of squares. In a game where every pit means that you dead if you fall into it, this is really annoying. Lets say that you are just about to finish a tough part in a stage and that you have a full health bar, then all of a sudden a humping jumper (a small enemy who bounces around all over the stages) touches you and you get thrown right into a bottomless pit and now you have to start all over. This game is full of these places and you will get a lot of unfair deaths. Annoying? Yes but that was how games was back in the day.
The last thing that I have to complain about is the stairs which are everywhere in this game. In order to go up through a stair you have to press up and the walk in the direction you want to go. This sound like nothing that would bother you, right? It wouldn't if you it didn't make you unable to jump, and no you can't jump from the floor to a stair either. It may sounds like I'm being a crybaby who kept dying in a game older than me, but really it makes no sense that you can't jump while you are standing in a stair.
But before I end this review I have to give the game some credit that even if the challenge is really tough, the programmers knew this and gave the player some motivation to keep playing. When you run out of lives you start from the beginning of the stage, but thankfully you got unlimited continues so you can just keep trying until you finish a stage and don't have to start over from stage 1 when you lost all your life.
So yeah I asked myself many times why I kept playing this game, and the answer was actually pretty simple, because it's the first Castlevania. The atmosphere is like no other game on the system, the music is excellent and you want to be able to say that you've finished the first game in one of the best series ever created. The game is by far not perfect, but it has it's moment and you will feel like you are the king of the world when you finally slays Dracula and enjoy the ending.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/12
Game Release: Castlevania (EU, 12/19/88)
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