Review by ShonenSentai
"A Tale of Whips and Vampires, Eternally Retold"
Ah Castlevania, it's been many years and the series continues to kick out amazing and somewhat decent games time after time. Since the popular Symphony of the Night entry the games in this series lost some of their platforming elements, instead opting to go with the RPG elements made famous by SotN, which is unfortunate because there was once a time when those who were brave enough tackled the Castlevania games as a challenge to be reckoned with. This game, is the start of that challenge.
The year is 1691, and a terrible evil has befallen the land of Europe. Monsters and horrors from beyond threaten the peoples of the world. Dracula the Lord of the Vampires has begun to spread his dark influence, and to stop this darkness is a warrior of light, Simon Belmont. The Belmont clan has always risen up to defeat the dark lord Dracula with the power of the holy Vampire Killer whip, which was sanctified in a ritual to become the bane of evil. With Dracula's power growing Simon knew what he must do, and set out to the dark lord's castle to fufill the duty of his family name.
Castlevania was release in America for the first time in 1987 and more recently for the Wii's virtual console. It is a simplistic platformer game based on many different horror movies, specifically the Hammer Horror Dracula/Frankenstein/Mummy series, as their influence can be seen everywhere from the enemies to the very level design. This leads to the game having a haunting atmosphere of stairways that lead nowhere to dark and mysterious passageways of the broken down Castle Dracula.
The game begins by setting our hero, Simon, directly outside the walls of the castle where the dark lord resides. The controls are your standard for an NES platformer of the time, the direction stick lets you move your character, the buttons allow you to jump and the other allows you to swing your whip. While jumping, unlike in games such as Super Mario, you cannot change the momentum of your jump or the direction in midair. This leads to some very tricky platforming segments that wouldn't be too bad if not for the recoil from enemy attacks. Simon Belmont suffers from a very deadly illness that makes it so that if he is hit, he is forced to recoil backwards from the way he is facing in the most overdramatic fashion (a trait shared by the protagonist of most of the Castlevania games).
This makes the platforming difficult (understatement of the century) as when you clear a pit you have to watch that you don't get hit anywhere near it or else you will be falling backwards and down the pit to your death. While we're on the subject of death, prepare to die many, many times in this game as when I said it was challenging, I was putting it lightly. If I had to give a level of difficulty to this game it would be "That brief moment before you throw the controller through the television and aim for the wall instead" difficult which being said doesn't mean that it is impossible, just really hard.
The game is divided up into stages and at the end of every few stages is a boss. However before you can get to the boss you have to get past their minions and while some of them aren't too bad, there are others that are insanely irritating to go up against, such as the medusa heads and the flea men which take the cake for irritating monsters. This coupled with the fact that there is a split second delay on when you hit the attack button and when your whip fully extends means that the player has to sometimes think ahead and attack where the enemy is going to be instead of where it is, how about that martial arts training Mr. Miagi?
The bosses themselves are not too hard to deal with but you do usually go into the boss fights with small amounts of health after slaughtering your way through the hordes of hell to get to them, mean you have to be smart about how you fight them. To assist Simon in the game are various sub-weapons scattered about which he can pick up by destroying enemies and candles throughout the stages. They all have different uses but are all powered by hearts which are also dropped by torches so building up a good supply of them helps immensely. The dagger travels fast in a line in front of Simon and does little damage at little cost, the axe travels in an arc above where Simon is facing and while hard to hit with sometimes it can be useful in many situations, the holy water fires a bottle out in front of Simon which when it hits the ground explodes and anything that touches the fire gets damaged, the cross which fires like the dagger but slower and acts like a boomerang returning to Simon after thrown, the stopwatch which stops time and enemies for a short period. Simon can also find 2x and 3x upgrades for the axe, dagger, cross, and holy water which allows for more of them to be on the screen at once.
Simon can only carry one sub-weapon at a time, meaning you have to strategize which sub-weapons to use at what time. For certain bosses like Medusa the stopwatch is very helpful whereas with Frankenstien the holy water is the most effective and it's this that helps to separate Castlevania from other platformers of the time. While this game is extremely difficult to the point where it is unfair, it is also a game that keeps pulling you back with the challenging draw and amazing music. Speaking of the music for a moment, Castlevania has a varied score with music that is both frightening as well as very memorable. The music is one of the driving factors for Castlevania and each stage theme feels like a reward for beating the last stage, as the game goes along the music gets better and better and sets the scene perfectly for your final confrontation against Dracula.
Castlevania delivers on many fronts in terms of gameplay and music and visuals and is a fantastic start to the series, setting the bar high for the games that would follow it. The elements that it borrows from horror literature and films is used well creating an interesting collaboration between all of these creatures of the night and finds a way to fit them in nicely. The story is a bit lacking outside of the manual and while there are no defining characteristics of Simon with the limits of the NES at the time the game was great and continues to be great though its legacy and infamous difficulty.
Castlevania is worth playing for anyone wondering how the series got it start as well as for those interested in a good old school challenge. The gameplay is very tight, uncomfortably so and it may be a little hard for newcomers to get used to the controls. The music is great and has stood the test of time and while there are things that the game is lacking such as an in-game story and character development, Konami did what they could with the limited technology of the NES and it delivers to this day. I give this game a recommendation, and a warning for the challenge, as well as a 7/10.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/12
Game Release: Castlevania (US, 04/30/07)
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