Review by Retro
"Simon says your NES collection is incomplete without this great one"
If there was actually a such thing as a vampire, most sane people would do everything they could to steer clear of the blood-driven beasts. Living forever does sound sort of tempting, but face it. Blood doesn't actually taste good, and having a nurse take your blood at the hospital is painful enough, let alone having someone pierce your skin with their teeth and drink it as if they were stuck in the middle of a desert with nothing to drink for several years. Simon Belmont is of a different breed. He is a vampire hunter. When he finds out that Dracula, the most famous vampire of them all is alive and kicking, Simon ventures to the dreaded castle in Castlevania.
In this fun one-player platformer that was an instant classic upon its release, you take the controls of Simon and explore the 2-D side scrolling environments of the haunted castle. Simon has really come prepared. He thinks jumping on top of the heads of enemies to defeat them is lame; he chooses to use a bruising whip instead. Whether it's zombies that looks like old women in the face, monkey-like creatures that hop around mindlessly as if they're trying to trip you, flying medusa heads, undead skeletons that throw their bones at you, or just an everyday flapping bat, Simon's whip will always do the job.
Dracula knows that Simon is a dedicated hunter and that he is one to be feared. So, on top of siccing all of those different kinds of enemies on him, he has also provided Simon with the challenge of defeating many different bosses. You'll have to match wits with an oversized bat, a Frankenstein who has an extremely frustrating pet, the Grim Reaper, and more. While you can always whip it good and even find extensions for your whip that make it stronger, it's just not enough. You'll need to crack a lot of candles in order to obtain the more powerful weapons such as daggers to throw at the heart of your adversaries, bottles of holy water that form small, temporary flames on the ground, soaring axes, and even loyal boomerangs that return to you once they're thrown. These weapons are not free-for-alls, however. More than often, a candle holds a small, floating heart or a large one that falls straight down when found. You must collect these hearts, not for energy (that's what the chickens are for), but for the ability to use any of the weapons.
One of the most memorable assets of Castlevania is the fact that there are a few well-hidden secrets scattered about. While you're climbing a flight of stairs, jumping over pits that are full of water that hold terrors from the deep, or just walking through one of the many dark dungeons, keep an eye out for these secrets, because they're few and far between. Strike the whip against some of the walls; you just may find a hidden piece of chicken or a Roman numeral tablet that allows for using your weapons at a much quicker rate. Kneel down in secluded spots. A gorgeous, shiny moneybag or crown just may pop out of nowhere.
The architecture of the castle and the corridors and various other landscapes that it holds look very basic, even for the time, but they hit the nail on the head by fitting in perfectly with the horror atmosphere that Castlevania promotes from start to finish. Just look at all the bricks in the background and how they look run-down with their mossy splits and cracks. Even more atmospheric are the enemies. I've never been one to be frightened by horror movies or video games, but when you see the huge medusa head boss with her flashing eyes and snaky hair, or the flying ghosts that resemble frogs, you can't help but to feel at least a little bit of suspense or fear.
Now here's the biggie. Perhaps what Castlevania is best known for is its music.
When I was a kid, I used to love showing off anytime I saw the chance. I was a gifted athlete for my age, known at school for being able to do the most pull-ups and for being the fastest runner, and I always showed off just to feel good about myself and to hear praise from my peers. It was a good feeling. But that was nothing. My favorite way to show off was by playing video games. I remember one particular sequence in which one of my friends was here at my house and I decided to play a little Castlevania. That very first stage I was strutting my stuff, walking along the lively paths, whipping every zombie and candle in sight. I noticed something. It was as if I was going along with the beat of the music perfectly with my whip. That piece of music (the track is called ''Vampire Hunter'', I believe) was so catchy, mood setting, and, well, just plain awesome. It made me forget all about my big-as-Jupiter ego. I just wanted to listen to that song forever as I kicked some haunted butt. Almost all of the other tracks you'll hear while playing this great game will do the same for you. Castlevania has some of the very best music for the NES, and I'll go so far as to saying it's some of the best video game music period.
Controlling the ruthless hunter during his quest is very easy. Getting used to Simon Belmont's jumps is a cinch, as is judging where the various weapons will go as soon as they're released. Even somewhat complex tactics such as jumping over a deadly pit while you strike a flying medusa head dead while you're in midair pose no problems. Castlevania is a pretty challenging game, especially when you get to the fiery level near the end that is full of unbelievably strong knights in shining armor and skeletons that you can only paralyze for a few seconds. By no means is the game impossible, though. It'll take several tries, but you'll likely complete the game before you know it.
Castlevania may not be the best game of the classic series, but this 8-bit gem made a name for itself, and it was perfect for paving the road for its later sequels. It might be a little clichéd to state this, but I'll say it anyway. Without Castlevania, your NES collection is incomplete. If you don't have it, get it as soon as possible. You won't regret it.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/09/01, Updated 03/17/03
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