Review by bluberry
"It's like my pool is tearin' ass around the backyard!"
One of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone is the story of a thief who's killed during a robbery and moves on to an afterlife. He assumes that he's in heaven, since he hits the jackpot every time he gambles, is given whatever he wants, and thinks that all of the women are flawless. The perfection becomes tiring, though, and the thief demands to go to the "other place". His guardian angel then lets out a sinister laugh and bellows "This is the other place!". Well, Super Castlevania IV reminds me of that show. It seems great at first, but quickly becomes so boring and tedious that you'll want to play something else instead. Except no bellowing angel is gonna stop me from popping in Castlevania: Dracula X.
The most prominent change in this retelling of Simon Belmont's quest to defeat Dracula is that he can swing his whip in any direction. Controlling it is a breeze, and it's great fun to have that level of mobility for dispatching your foes. Of course, our hero still has command of a modest arsenal of subweapons (smartly relegated to the trigger button), such as axes, daggers, and holy water. Yeah, Simon grew up in the ghetto. Combined with better stair control, these improvements make SCIV's lead character one of the most fluid in the series. The first real area rides this positive note, starting you off in front of a fence with various obstacles on each side. To get through here, you can use little gates to go in front of or in back of the fence, and it's a swell opening to what should be a swell game.
But it isn't. As you trek onward, clever design cannonballs out the window. The forest, with such innovative things as spiders and leaf monsters, just requires you to mash the whip button and occasionally jump over a spike pit. The waterfalls are even better, with lots of jumping to go along with the button hammering. There's even gimmicky Mode 7 crap to compliment the bland combat. You'll get to enjoy a spinning room in which you hang on to a grappling target, which is conveniently placed in the middle. Okay, that's nice... but why does it have to drag on for two minutes? And once you get both feet back on the ground, the background begins to rotate cylindrically. Not only that, but it constantly changes direction. Unlike most of the game, this segment is difficult. Something to do with the fact that I'm throwing up an assortment of breakfast cereals.
To be fair, the level design has rare moments of not sucking. The treasury is a massive voyage packed with collapsing bridges of gold, treasure chest springboards, and a variety of well placed crows and skeletons. The final level is also a thrill thanks to its moving platforms and crumbling stairs, although it culminates in two of the worst Death and Dracula battles ever. Some challenge is presented in the last third of the game, too, but it's due to sloppiness. At one point, there's a grappling hook next to an enemy, which might accidentally cause you to send yourself flying into a pit. My favorite example, though, is in the dungeon. There are a pair of falling spikes, and if you don't continue walking straight as they appear on the screen, you won't be able to get through them. Everyone get their brooms, I call shenanigans.
This level design might be tolerable if SCIV had some well-designed enemies to go along with the **** sandwich. Or if it came with a leprechaun riding a unicorn. Aside from the usual smattering of skeletons and bats and the like, there isn't much variety to the enemies of SCIV. The most advanced foes you can hope to get are palette swaps and axe chucking mimes. They seem to be designed around the old whipping style, too, as they only have horizontal attacks. Once you get above or below them, they're toast. And you'll be above and below them a lot, because the enemy placement sucks as well. Bats and birds tend to lurk offscreen, able to pounce before you can even see them, while skeletons like to sit on a platform above you, ready to be whipped senseless from below.
Not that you'll pity their pretty faces enough to spare them. SCIV is one of those games that thinks looking dark requires a damper color palette, and as a result, the whole game is washed out. Instead of grass being a nice, vibrant green, it's gruesome and dark, and the game as a whole relies on a fugly red-orange color. You can tell that Dracula let his residence erode since last time, too. The interior looks more decrepit than majestic, as if it's about to fall apart. Hire contractors. Sprite quality is also pretty poor. Enemies like frogs look like a smudge on the screen, the skeletons are a blurry mess, and Dracula kind of resembles The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Even the animation pales in comparison to most games, as it's very unnatural. Birds look less like they're flying and more like they're being fired from a slingshot, and Simon seems to be holding his bowels in as he walks.
The majority of the bosses are also, to put it lightly, lame. For the first half of the game, the strategy is to beat up on them faster then they beat up on you. I think the only boss that "tactic" didn't work on was a boss who drops rocks from the ceiling. So original it burns. Then, in a surprising twist of fate, the last half of the bosses actually have patterns to them. Patterns such as "duck in the corner!" or "stay under him!". So effectively, the bosses pose no threat. Ever. The only cool bosses were Slogra, a giant skeleton pterodactyl that lunges at you with his spear, and Gaibon, a muscled flying creature who spits fireballs. Yeah, you could just see them in Symphony of the Night, but you'd miss out on the absolutely terrible boss names. The only example I need is the dancing spectre dubbed Paula Abghoul. I hate you, Konami. Passionately.
Contrary to most of its components, SCIV's soundtrack is quite good. It opens with a catchy, upbeat tune with drum beats and trumpets, and proceeds to hit lots of different styles that all fit pretty well. The level four music is an amazingly eerie tune, while the drum beat of the castle entrance (see, you start further out) is dark and foreboding. It takes a short quality dip for a little while, most notably a corny dance tune, but the treasury's heroic theme more than makes up for it. The obligatory remixes of earlier Castlevania tunes appear during the finale, and they're done surprisingly well. Unfortunately, the sound effects are a stark contrast to the music. Simon's grunts make him sound like he's being donkey punched, and his whip sounds vaguely like a fart. Enemies are basically soundless.
Of course, once you layeth the smackdown on Dracula, those sadistic bastards at Konami won't allow the "fun" (hemorrhaging) to end just yet. That's right, they included a second quest! DAMN YOUS!! ...wait, what? It's actually kind of good? Get out of here. Yes, the second quest graduates from "suicide inducing" to "mildly amusing", as it has more enemies and puts them in spots that actually provide some apparition of challenge. Nothing too game altering, but it's more fun than the first playthrough. My question, though, is why couldn't Konami have let us access this from the options menu as a "hard" difficulty option? Because they really are sadistic bastards. So sadistic that they turned the bloody dungeon of level eight into the... um... slimy dungeon of level eight for the American release. How patronizing.
Super Castlevania IV DOES have a few redeeming moments. A couple stages were fun, it controls well, you can shut it off, and the soundtrack is (inconsistently) amazing. However, those good qualities don't offset the fact that the level design, enemies, bosses, challenge level, graphics, art design, sound effects, and Paula Abghoul suck. It also bleeds Mode 7 effects out the ass; you'd think that a rock monster would chip away as you attacked it, not shrink. I'm going to take door two, the SCIV soundtrack CD, or, much preferably, that copy of Castlevania: Dracula X behind door three. Neither choice will burn quite like this one does.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 07/19/04, Updated 07/26/04
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