Review by plasmabeam
"Hard as nails... or stakes in this case"
The first game in the Castlevania series was released on the NES in the late 80s. Since then, the series has evolved into timeless classics such as Symphony of the Night, but the series had to start somewhere. The original Castlevania features platforming action set in a world with familiar horror characters, such as Dracula and Medusa.
Castlevania begins with a vampire hunter named Simon Belmont entering a mysterious castle. Simon is equipped with nothing but a whip, but he can pick up other weapons along the way. The whip is Simon's trusty weapon that he can use at any time. There are also upgrades for your whip that you can obtain in any of the stages. Upgrades make the whip more powerful the first time, and the length of your whip doubles when you get a second upgrade. As Simon makes his way through any level of the game, he encounters enemies that can be defeated by cracking the whip at them or using a special weapon.
There are a few various special weapons that you can obtain throughout the game. Throwing knives, axes, boomerangs, fire bombs (also known as holy water), and enemy-stopping watches. But don't think you can just run around using these weapons all the time. In order to use a special weapon, you must have a certain amount of "hearts." Hearts have nothing to do with your stamina. They are only used as a way to limit you from constantly using special weapons. Once you use a special item, you lose a certain amount of hearts. You can regain hearts by collecting them when an enemy drops them or when they appear after you hit a candle. Also, you are only allowed to use a special weapon once on screen (meaning you can't throw another ax immediately after the first is thrown), but there are hidden items in certain stages that enable you to increase your speed of use.
Our hero also has an energy bar with 16 units of health. If you lose health, the only way to recover is by finding a piece of food, which are usually rare and hidden in bricks. Sixteen units may seem like a lot, but most normal enemies take off two or three units with every hit. Later in the game, certain enemies knock off a whopping four health units per hit. Most of the bosses can really give you a hard time. They are arguably the hardest and most frustrating part of Castlevania. Although the first two bosses may seem like a pushover, just wait until you face the last ones. You have to focus on keeping your health high, and you'll want have an upgraded whip with a good special weapon to make it through alive. It takes a lot of patience to beat this otherwise short game on your first play-through.
As I mentioned, Castlevania is a quite short game. Although it boasts 18 stages, it actually only has six levels, with each divided into three stages. The game's intense difficulty extends the length of the game greatly. I literally had to replay some of the later levels dozens of times in order to beat them. You will die many times on your way through the game, and you practically have to memorize the layout of the levels to get to the boss with a decent amount of health.
However, all those deaths aren't always your fault. The controls could've used some work. Jumping is an absolute nightmare. Unlike in Mario or Metroid games, you can't change your direction in mid-air. Once Simon's feet leave the ground, he's committed to finished the jump in whatever direction you made him jump. This may not seem so horrible, but imagine jumping across a few small platforms, while enemies continually fly by. If you take a hit, you're going to fall down a pit and die. Enemies also can be very annoying when they hit you. Not only do you lose health, but you also get knocked backwards, even while jumping in mid-air. This is the main cause of frustration in Castlevania. If you lose to a boss, it's your fault, but there is nothing you can do when a flying enemy appears out of nowhere while Simon's making a critical jump.
Despite the few annoyances that I pointed out, Castlevania has great level design. Every level offers challenge and fun as you make your way to the boss. Enemies decorate every part of each level, and you have to make your way through by avoiding or defeating them. You often have a choice of taking a different path up a flight of stairs or continuing to go forward. This gives you a reason to go through a stage in different ways.
The graphics are extremely average, but the second level really hurts your eyes. Every background and platform is bright red and it's very irritating to watch. I'd like to know what Konami was thinking when they decided to make an entire level in blinding red. Most of the other levels are easier on the eyes, and the character and enemy models are decent enough.
Castlevania games have always been famous for having superb music, and the original is no exception by any means. Just about every level has a catchy theme, especially the 5th level, which easily has the best music in the game. The game isn't very big on sounds, but the outstanding music almost makes you forget about it in the first place.
Castlevania is a great game, but it's not for someone who expects to breeze through a game. If you plan on beating this classic, make sure you're ready to spend some time memorizing the layouts of the levels and the tactics of the bosses. This game has also been re-released on Game Boy Advance with a save feature, so you might want to look into that. It's a fine game, so give it a shot.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/07/05
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