Review by Arkrex
"Simonís back, and heís learned a few new tricks too"
God, Simon Belmont just can't catch a break, can he? He's already killed Dracula, revived him, killed him again, and now they want him to re-enact that very first killing as a showpiece for the SNES?! Damn. Dracula must be ROFLing in his coffin.
Super Castlevania IV begins as how most Castlevania games begin: Dracula is resurrected, the townsfolk are being threatened, a Belmont picks up a whip (and nothing else), and that same Belmont goes on a quest to put the Count back to sleep for another one hundred or so years.
What ensues is a classic action-platformer whose focus is on plenty of whipping and precision jumping; the road to Castlevania is not an easy one with a myriad of ghastly creatures and tricky pitfalls that would make Jesus cry. Luckily, Simon has finally got some better control over his jumps; he now has a degree of freedom of movement which means that he isn't immediately screwed should he hastily jump towards a bottomless pit. Again, he strides like a pimp, but a tad faster than before. And he can now jump onto stairs rather than having to start climbing from the very bottom. Simon has finally learned to be a competent human being. Congratulations!
What sets Super Castlevania IV from the rest of the series is Simon's highly functional whipping. Usually the Belmonts are only capable of swinging left or right, but Simon can whip it up in all eight directions. This means that if there's a pesky crow fluttering mockingly just above him, Simon can lash out at it without breaking a sweat. Deadly bone pillars lying on the floor below? Don't risk going down and facing them head-on; simply jump up and whip downwards as you fall. Simon can even leave the whip hanging out (limp whip) and twirl it around or force it in any direction around him. In this case, the attack power isn't as good as normal (that would just be broken), but the whip is able to stun enemies temporarily while Simon prepares to unleash a full-powered snap. With such a versatile whip, the only times Simon really has to jump is when he's faced with tricky platforming sections (which is fortunately quite often). However, having such an amazing weapon does mean that Simon's quest this time around is fairly easy going.
But a game doesn't have to be difficult to enjoy it (and these days, Generation Y gamers don't enjoy some games because how they are difficult). Super Castlevania IV is one of the best-looking Castlevanias - heck, it's one of the best looking 2D games to date. The visual style is a bit different to the rest of the series with a more cartoony look in contrast to a gothic or more anime-esque appearance. For an SNES game, it's amazingly detailed, with multiple background layers and occasionally a foreground layer of fog to really make it feel like you're in the middle of a vile wasteland. Enemies look just as good, if not better, with some that are composed entirely of blown leaves or exhibit a ghostly transparency. Death animations aren't just the usual disappear-into-thin-air type either. Skeletons will shatter into bits of bones and sand monsters will crumble into smaller sand monsters as you whip them up. (Gotta love those crumbling enemies!) And as for the bosses, they are just as beautifully grotesque as the rest of them.
Too bad that they are pushovers, though. As if the game wasn't (relatively) easy enough as it is, most of these seemingly daunting encounters are easily beaten down by repetitive mashing of the whip button. Simon's whip doesn't only stun enemies, it stuns the Medusa, the giant bat, and Death himself just as well. Most fights boil down to how fast you can mash which is quite disappointing compared to other Castlevania titles where a little more strategy is required. Don't get me wrong, it's still satisfying to bring them down; it's just that most of them are over before you know it, especially if you happen to have a handy sub-weapon in your pocket.
Once again, Simon has access to an arsenal of vampire-killing sub-weapons that include the usual holy water, boomerang cross, stop-watch, axe, and a couple of knives. He doesn't really need them much, though (*points to whip*). The enemies don't come thick and fast as they usually do, thus some rapid whipping should do the trick most of the time. But Simon doesn't just use the whip for killing things; there are hooks fastened into the walls in several spots that he can latch onto and swing across like Tarzan or a bionic commando. In keeping with the rest of the game's difficulty, it's not hard to perform, but it sure does look cool. In one instance, swinging around will trigger the entire room to rotate! This is how you get by some otherwise impassable spikes. It could have only been possible (at the time) on the SNES with its Mode 7 graphical manipulation. There are a few other instances of this technique, like when you're put in a rotating cylindrical room and skeletons burst from the spinning windows to surprise you. It does look somewhat out of place as the integration is a tad forced (and used infrequently), but it doesn't hurt the overall Castlevania experience in the slightest.
And no Castlevania experience would be complete without another stellar soundtrack. Super Castlevania IV doesn't disappoint in this regard. It's a bit different to the norm with less impressive sombre and ambient tunes taking precedence over the upbeat techno that most of the other games have. But there are still some classics in here. The empowering Theme of Simon and the intense Clockwork Mansion are definitely up there with the best of them. And then you have remixes of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and Beginning (from Castlevania I, II, III respectively); that's just too awesome.
Simon may be a bit worn from one too many adventures, but you'd be hard pressed to know that just by looking. He appears to be in fine form with superior jumping skills and ownership of the best incarnation of the vampire-killing whip yet. The trek through Transylvania has never looked more foreboding and various evil denizens more ghastly, but it is a shame that they aren't as murderous as they appear to be. Still, Simon should be proud that they called him in for yet another Castlevania gig for this is one of the best side-scrolling experiences ever made and it goes highly recommended to all.
VERDICT - 9.0/10 The second best classic-style Castlevania.
For all you curious few, Simon has appeared in the most games for any Castlevania lead. He began the journey with the original Castlevania (Vampire Killer in Japan was the precursor to this, though) and followed up that hit with the less then stellar Simon's Quest. Super Castlevania IV shares the same timeline as the first game and some would consider it to be a remake of it, but the levels are entirely new making it a completely different game (as opposed to the update featured in Castlevania Chronicles - originally featured on the Sharp X68000 which follows the original more closely). There was also Haunted Castle, but not only is it infamous for its breakneck difficulty, it's one of the worst games out there. Super Castlevania IV is the definitive version of Simon's original plight and you'd be fool, like Dracula is, to pass it up if you're any kind of action gamer. When will we next see Simon again? ...
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/07
Game Release: Super Castlevania IV (US, 12/31/91)
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