Review by EOrizzonte
"Enter the legend of the resurrected Count"
Vampires are one of the most striking modern myths. Since John William Polidori's tale The Vampire, written in 1819, the figure of the devilish blood sucker has gone through a steady development, until it found its definitive incarnation in Bram Stoker's eternal Count Dracula. Such a powerful creature, and the infernal creatures surrounding and serving it, are a major source of creativity, and sooner or later videogames had to give players the chance to fight the legendary Count and his minions. This chance came from Konami, with the now-legendary Castlevania series.
Although the first true episode of the saga is the infamous Vampire Killer for the MSX, the wider diffusion of the Nintendo Entertainment System provided its spiritual successor Akumajou Dracula (Castlevania in the West) a much larger audience. Quite different from its predecessor, Castlevania is an action platform game where the player, as the great vampire killer Simon Belmondo, has to enter Dracula's castle and survive six levels of intense action in order to reach and defeat the evil Count. It's still a mystery how the heroes of the series are known as the Belmonts in the West, since the final screen of the first chapter clearly states that the hero's last name is Belmondo. Yes, our vampire killer is French.
Simon is armed with a short leather whip that can be upgraded twice, until he gets a long chain whip. Items are found by whipping the almost endless candles that outline the walls of the castle. Most candles contain hearts, which are needed to activate the secondary weapons available in the game. These include a dagger, a throwing axe, holy water, a cross-shaped boomerang, and a stopwatch. By finding a rare item, Simon gains the ability to use the secondary weapon more than once at a time, up to three subsequent uses at a time. Well-hidden meat helps the hero regain some much-needed energy, while money bags provide extra points that will eventually result in extra lives every once in a while.
The levels extend both vertically and horizontally, with lots of platforms and stairs to go past. Enemies are everywhere, each with a unique attack pattern. They range from the weak zombies to the powerful axe armors. Blood skeletons will revive soon after they're destroyed, but the most annoying enemy in the game has to be the flying medusa heads, which fly in a sinusoid pattern through the whole screen. Getting hit usually results in being bounced backwards and into a pit. Monsters obviously come directly from the most notorious horror tales. They are well designed and even better animated, and contribute to recreate the atmosphere of evil that permeates the castle.
Boss monsters are even more surprising. Most of them are so typical, they are found in almost all of the following iterations of the series, such as Medusa and the most faithful servant of Dracula, the omnipresent Death (also known as the Grim Reaper), who'll put up one of the most difficult battles in the game. Apart from these two, the giant bat in level 1 and Frankenstein at the end of level 4 are also hard to forget. And the final battle with Dracula will provide many a thrill to every player who'll manage to get to the highest tower in Castlevania, where the Prince of Darkness awaits.
Being an early title, it's surprising what Castlevania can do in the technical department. The graphics are exquisitely crafted, with excellent sprites, amazingly detailed backgrounds, and appropriate colors throughout the whole adventure. The action is very smooth, with rare flickering and slowdown, and the atmosphere is incredible for an 8-bit game. Anyway, what made the Castlevania series so popular is music. Since the very first game the saga has featured an array of majestic baroque tunes, that make the player feel as if he's really a vampire killer entering Dracula's castle at the end of the eighteenth century. It can truly be said that Castlevania is one of the most atmospherical games in history.
Castlevania is a short game. Six levels, albeit quite hard to complete (especially the later ones, with medusa heads flying everywhere and hard boss battles), can be quickly finished by a dedicated player. Extra lives are affordable, and the game can be continued a number of times, so it's only a matter of days before the player can finally defeat the Count. Once completed, the game can be restarted at a harder difficulty, with more monsters and weaker energy repleters, but at that point, it's unlikely that many people will want to replay the whole thing so immediately. In spite of this though, it must be said that Castlevania is a game that deserves to be played. The gameplay hasn't evolved much since the first episode, and still it proves as entertaining today as it was back in 1987. And this is undeniable proof that Konami's most exploited franchise is a videogame classic.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/04/02, Updated 09/04/02
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