Review by hangedman

"I await your poorly written hate mail with open arms."

I’ll ease into things slowly here. Chances are, you already noticed the score and had to suppress yourself from vomiting all over your pants and shouting ''Blasphemy!'' as soon as you saw it. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, or it would seem like this to my readers, but I know a few people that would knife me in the back for kicking around what they consider to be one of the greatest NES titles ever conceived. I’ll state very plainly what should be inherently obvious had you read the single-number synopsis of this whole thing: I don’t like Castlevania all that much.

I’ll spare nothing from this point forward.

Act I: The useless hero.

Your quest begins with Simon Belmondo, Simon Belmont’s Latin-American twin. Simon opens Dracula’s gate with the intent of murdering him just enough so that he doesn’t come back for a while; if the next several games are any indication, Simon fails miserably. It’s no surprise giving Simon’s ham-fisted proficiency at vampire hunting, which for most of the game will provide you with an unwanted source of difficulty. Simon doesn’t like complication, it seems: he can only whip straight ahead, and he can only jump for a fixed distance in either direction.

Simon’s whipping skills allow him to deftly strike down heart-filled candelabras, which replenish ammunition for his secondary weapons: a plain and weak knife, an oddly-shaped boomerang, flammable holy water, and an axe to deal with anything in the air that Simon lacks the intelligence to whip. Simon can also pick up a pocket watch to stop time itself, in which every enemy is suspended in limbo for the whipping. Too bad none of this stuff is exciting.

The use of special weapons will become a necessity considering that Simon’s repertoire of a single whip strike leaves much to be desired—it’s hard to hit anything moving, what with Simon’s wind-up time and near-buggy hit detection. You’ll find the peskiest of enemies clearly alive in some instances where your whip sticks through them on the first frame but fails to do any damage. Then again, I wouldn’t expect anything greater from Simon given his horrible reaction time for everything else; it would seem Simon’s reflexes are only sharp when he’s on the Super Nintendo.

Act II: Things that want to kill Simon more than I do.

Simon’s enemies are many, but there are really two varieties. First up are the slow moving enemies that show no real threat; personally I think the Zombies and armored knights are just there to show that Simon is capable of killing things by standing next to them and whipping as they shuffle at you like a geriatric. Second are the enemies that will frustrate you with their superiority in attack and movement (read: everything else). One need only mention ''medusa head'' to get a punch to the trachea courtesy of yours truly: these pathetic things careen at you with enough force to knock you into the nearest bottomless pit. How about flea men? These little ****ers jump out of the way during Simon’s wind-up whip time, hopping around and again sending you into an abyss. Oh yeah, and the skeletons later in the game that shoot out bones like they’re getting paid by the number of projectiles they fire at you.

Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with all this, because the better platformers hurl every enemy and fireball at you with no visible restraint. However, Simon lacks the dexterity to get out of the way of the multitudes of attacks and given his tendency to backflip into one of the multitudes of chasms strewn about if he so much as skins his knees… suffice to say that things don’t bode well at all in terms of his defense. You’ll take hits—lots of hits. On the later levels, Simon can only stomach about four attacks before he buys the farm. What’s to stop your foes from landing their attacks and kamikaze style rushes? Luck. Without it, you’re dead. You don’t have the reactions to deal with these problems.

The bosses are even worse; what’s more is that they further necessitate Simon’s addiction to his slightly less useless secondary weapons. The level one boss is a bat—thankfully they give you an axe beforehand because without it you wouldn’t be able to hit it… it being above you and all. Take our buddy Frankenstein (too many old monster movies in the Konami rec-room), whose little buddy Igor will bounce about the screen spewing fireballs like Karnov after snorting a fist-sized bag of cocaine. Good ****ing luck. The Grim Reaper is something else entirely: if he doesn’t waste you by awkwardly floating about the room, he’ll teleport sickles right next to you.

Two more things to consider: no health restores before boss fights, and should you lose, you’re booted back to somewhere before the boss. It’s a sadistic sense of difficulty for such a poor-controlling game.

Act III: The sensory experience.

I’m hesitant to wade into this part most of all: I don’t even like the graphics and sound. Castlevania amazes me with garish color combinations; it’s clear Castlevania is a very high-contrast game. The game opens with a walk through some ugly trees on some crayola-orange bricks that lead to a large hall with white walls, bright red curtains, and opaque blue windows. Ugly ****, man. It doesn’t feel scary at all for a horror game—any illusion of this is shattered with the assaulting blue skies of the third stage that just don’t fit at all. Spites suffer from a supreme lack of animation as well. Yes, it’s bland in both a technical AND stylistic sense.

I’ll say this for it, though: Castlevania’s graphics are far ahead of their time: it has pop-up even at this early stage in the game! See, enemies don’t appear from the far left and right—you know, off the screen as one would expect. No, instead they choose to appear suddenly about an eighth of the screen in. Are you jumping? Well, bad news there, Simon, because that thing that wasn’t onscreen when you decided to jump is there now, and it’s going to knock you into the very pit you THOUGHT you cleared. Even the game’s graphical engine is determined to kill Belmondo off.

And the most blasphemous part of all: the music. I don’t like it. It’s hardly atmospheric, and such basic of NES tunes are baffling in how they’ve been popularly revered by several of my contemporaries. There’s hardly anything special about it to me; I just can’t see what’s so magical about this particular assortment of sub-midi melodies.

Act IV: The competition.

Immediately, this game brings to mind several other games that have garnered similar heaps of praise: perhaps this is another reason why I dislike it so much. Let’s throw Ninja Gaiden into the mix for the sake of argument. Better—in every way: gameplay, music, story, enemies, challenge. Name it, Ninja Gaiden whoops Castlevania’s ass. I said a while back that Ninja Gaiden was like Castlevania on meth, but from the other side of the table Castlevania is like Ninja Gaiden on about a wheelbarrow full of meds. Ryu could also move around in midair, something that Simon distinctly lacks. If Ninja Gaiden was a Tecmo attempt at a Castlevania, it succeeded resoundingly in every area where its inspiration had failed.

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Castlevania, it’s that it graced us with several better games. Though Castlevania 2 was hardly a cause for celebration, the16 bit titles were very well done (and to a lesser extent, Castlevania III). As far as I’m concerned, compared to the later titles in gameplay alone, where the Vampire Killers’ skills and reaction times are increased tenfold, Castlevania withers and dies.

Act V: The Stake

The entire challenge of Castlevania rests squarely upon Simon’s pitiful abilities and faults within the game’s engine. Because of this, enemies that would have been good opponents in a game with less pop-up and more control become a more daunting stumbling block than they need be, sapping your life in giant chunks with nigh-avoidable onslaughts both projectile and physical. Beneath that, there’s not much to like amidst basic graphics and emotionally drained music.

And by the way, if you were smart enough to stop when the game became unfair, long before the final infuriating boss battle, know that the ending sucks ass through a garden hose. You may not have won in Castlevania’s crumbling world, but you did in real life.

If it wasn’t clear enough, I have very little emotional attachment to this game. Assuming that there are those of you left in the free world don’t view Castlevania as the start of a phenomenon (and one that was largely hit and miss with me), you might suddenly realize that you don’t particularly like this game. Style? That came later. Great music? I didn’t hear any. Gameplay? …So that’s what that was. This game was as ridiculously irritating as Simon’s last name; whether that was a joke or not, it was still pretty damned stupid.

Ready to kill me yet?

Bite me: 3 / 10
I’ll stick with Ninja Gaiden, thanks.


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*I like Castlevania IV a bunch, by the way.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 10/09/02, Updated 10/09/02


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