Review by Dark empathy
"If Dracula annoys you, showhim your cross!"
Big Game hunter!
Any retro game hunter knows well the exhilarating rush of chasing game to ground. First, the careful stalking as the quarry is identified across the wild and dangerous plains of the Internet. then comes the chase, often months or years, in and out of groves of dodgy second hand shops, all across E-bay and back again, the hunter ever vigilant for a site of the prey. then, the thrill! the unexpected pleasure of seeing your game direct in your sites, a lightning fast draw of the credit card, then Success! your carrying the trophy home to mount in the nearest console!
My introduction to super Castlevania was nothing whatsoever like this. I actually found the game by chance in a dodgy little shop, and bought it on a whim never having played any of the castlevania games before. But you can be certain, that thanks to my playing of Super Castlevania, it's brothers and sisters will be firmly in my sites the next time I go game hunting, In this review I'll try and explain why.
The plot of Super Castlevania is sadly not one of the huge antler's of goodness game hunters prise in their collections. In fact, I'm reliably informed that it's precisely and exactly the same plot as the first Castlevania game on the Nes. Since this is chronologically the fourth in the series, we do have to wonder what's going on? Is this game a more detailed and graphically updated dream the hero's having about his first adventure? A time loop? A magic spell? or just Conami's abysmal plot writing skills!
repeat or not, the plot is hardly inspiring. the year is 1691 and Count Dracula has arisen again, and on his to do list for the next few centuries he finds the item: "conquer Transylvania and cause general havoc". One thing missing from his Schedule however, is the Vampire hunter Simon Belmont. Heir to the legendary Vampire hunting family Belmont, Simon (Who's real name is not Barbara), has especially discovered that smacking vampires many many times with a big heavy length of chain causes them to stop being a problem (Vampires are obviously hugely different from ordinary mortals in this respect). Armed with his legendary whip and whatever other items he can gather on his way, Simon sets out one dark night (presumably after a long day's sleep and a good hot meal), to put a stop to Dracula's reign of terror before it even starts.
well what can I say about this plot. the word "standard" leaps to mind. About the only interesting part is the insertion of a legendary whip in the "magic legendary weapon" box, and Bram Stoker's creation in the evil monster slot. Thankfully, the game improves hugely from here on out.
Don't be afraid of blood, just be afraid!
One Whining point for many Castlevania fans about this game was the removal of all the blood and gore that appeared in the Japanese version. I have not played the Japanese version, and frankly can't see that a few drops of the red stuff would make all that much difference to the graphical feel of this game.
the atmosphere on the hole is dark, gothic and moody, with lowering towers and ancient battlements covered with never more hosts of bats and ravens. This theme continues inside the castle with candle lit chandeliers, fine carpets and furniture and stately sculpted pillars. But not everything is dark and gloomy, with such environments as Dracula's glittering ghost filled treasury, the feeling is nicely varied. If I have one problem, the first world does seem far too dull and dark to me, and there doesn't seem to be much variation inn the different stages. As this is the game's opening, I would have like to seem more made of it. I didn't really understand how graphically rich this game was until I got at least to world four, which took a while.
the special effects are also nice, with a host of ghastly ghosts as bosses, burning flames and some startling moments, such as the floor collapse in stage eight. While Graphics are never a motivation to play a game for me, the variety and richness of environments seen here makes Super Castlevania a true journey of epic proportions.
Friends, gamers, countrymen fear your ears!
the sound effects in this game are as much an atmospheric feast as the graphics. Not only do the enemies make a variety of sounds, such as the shattering of bones when you filet a skeleton or the squeak of bats, the environments themselves feature background noises that only help to draw you in. the Snes sound pallet is stretched to it's utmost to produce the drips of slime, the creaks of ancient timbers and the crackles of lightning. Even the generic sounds in the game such as the blasts of magic from bosses and explosions have a variety and depth all their own.
Beware the organ of doom!
the music in this game is one mixed bag, containing both the heavy stakes of true genius as well as the rancid useless garlic of a miss-written peace. the chief problem I felt was one of style and instrumentation. while Conami use many of the Snes's more orchestral sounds such as timpani, brass and woodwind, they combine these with a rather laughable base guitar, and a jazz organ which they attempt to force into the role of the evil horror film organ beloved by the Phantom of the opera. thus the music is often a rather strange mix of slightly shabby rock bass and jazz organ with synth strings and orchestra, and some truly wonderful straight jazz and orchestral stuff. Witness for example the hectic, unstructured boss fight themes that will truly get your blood boiling nice and hot for Dracula to drink! But then witness the first level theme, a rather sad attempt to force a jazz organ to turn to the dark side. The music improves throughout the game, and Many tracks suit the environment and atmosphere well, and will have you cringing in terror as they should, while others are just rather standard and sad.
One personal grudge I have against the music is that there are too many themes in the later levels that sound as if this world will be the last! this caused me hours of disappointment!
Dracula's bane, the chain of pain, shall end his reign!
the game play here is some of the best you'll see in a 2D platform game. While the levels do feel slightly linear when compared to Metroid or Mega Man, the variety of traps and enemies makes each new stage feel fresh. The game features enough foes so that even on the final stages, you'll be surprised by Dracula's higher ranking minions, which are not simply stronger colour swaps of his more lowly ones!
One minor gripe I have is that a few stages simply exist to show off the Snes's graphical capability and cunning design, and while they're fun to look at they're rather uninteresting to play. One of the fourth world's stages for example has Simon traversing the swinging skeletal tale of some large creature, but once you've utilized your sick bag thanks to the swirling back drop, the stage itself is just some slightly dull plat forming, with non of the enervation of other parts of the game. A similar stage involves swinging from chandeliers, which while it looks nice, doesn't really take that much skill or interest in the play department. thankfully, these show off stages are a minority, and most stages in the game do feature obstacles that it's interesting to avoid as well as look at.
It's generally easy to get Simon to respond quickly and effectively to the various threats, with jumps, flicks of the whip and walking performed flawlessly. in some of the later levels, enemies will appear who are too fast, or too numerous to be killed with one slow swing of the chain, but this is more a matter of Cunami's cunning than bad design, to quote the old saying, where there's a whip, there's a way! My only real gripe as far as control goes is with stairs. Walking forward you will sometimes walk straight past the bottom of stairs, unless you press up, and once upon the stair Simon can't jump (does he suffer from vertigo?), also, you can only walk onto stairs, if you fall down from above you'll plummet straight through them to your doom, obviously these are magic ghost stairs!
While there aren't many weapons to play with, Simon's legendary whip, is one of the most versatile weapons I've seen in any platform game. Pressing the button will produce a strong (but slow), swing of the whip, but holding it will let the whip go limp, and a press of the pad or stick in any direction will flick the whip out for a weak but quick hit. since this is a game where you can parry most enemy shots, mastering the flicking of the whip is truly worth while, and not merely an extra, unused game gimmick. Simon can also gather throwing weapons and other items (mysteriously hidden in candles), and while these are fun to play with, many of them don't seem much use. The knife for example flies out straight for a weak hit, while the holy water simply produces a little fire in front of Simon similar to the torch of super ghouls -n- ghosts, even the time freezing stop watch is comparatively useless. all weapons pale in comparison to the mighty cross shaped boomerang, which can be controlled in it's flight, takes off loads of energy and generally will have you eating bosses for breakfast every time.
Speaking of bosses, I really like the fact that the bosses in this game take the form of actual horror film monster such as mummies, skeleton horsemen and Frankenstein, this adds an extra element of satisfaction than defeating some unknown, game specific monster. While many of the early foes can simply be smacked to death with simon's invincible chain, some later bosses involve a deal of strategy, particularly when it comes to using the whip against them. I also love the fact that bosses can appear anywhere in a stage, not merely at the end.
the difficulty of the game also show's Cunami's attention to detail. While you'll find yourself breezing through the first few stages, slowly and gradually, like a seeping wound, you'll discover yourself using more and more continues, until you suddenly realize that the game has become difficult. nevertheless, you'll grimly soldier on, and since the game has infinite credits, your soldiering will eventually be rewarded as long as your patience persists.
One of my favourite things about this game is the password system. I generally hate password systems, as the passwords they ask you to remember are inevitably far too long and complex for you to easily memorize, or enter quickly enough to satisfy your hunger to plunge your fangs into the next stage. The password system of Super Castlevania, since it works by entering a few items on a grid, is both easy to memorize and only takes a few seconds to enter. This is in my mind, a major plus.
One slight problem with the game is the lack of unlockables, or exploration. When you've finished the game you may replay on a harder difficulty if you wish, but this doesn't really get you any new content like extra scenes, a longer ending or more levels. Personally though, I replay the game just to journey through the huge range of environments on offer, and have fun pounding the bosses again!
Super Castlevania is more an epic than a game, an epic that you journey through from it's dark and gothic start to it's climactic conclusion. Though there's no ongoing plot whatsoever, the game definitely has progression and style. If your one of those people who just plays games for challenge, you'll find super Castlevania a moderately interesting platform game that it took a while to finish. If your like me though, and play games as much for the sheer experience as the challenge, set this game in your sites and begin chasing it down right away!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/05
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