Review by CO Adder
"Difficult, frustrating, but darn, well worth your time."
Well well well... my first review, eh? Well, wouldn't be a bad idea to start with this game- quite the classic, it is. Most of you have heard the name Castlevania at some point or another- like Megaman, another game that got it's start back on the NES as a fiercely difficult platformer that featured (at the time) outstanding music, they produce sequel after sequel continually. However, that might be it- let's start with a bit of backround. In the first installment of what was to become a highly revered series, Simon Belmont began his quest to defeat the evil Count Dracula in his den of evil-dubbed Castlevania, a name that comes from the word Castle, and the region of Transylvania, which is famed for it's mythical connection to vampires. As you might expect, the game takes place in Dracula's castle (which is also in Transylvania). If you've read my ramblings this far, then you'll probably wonder when I'm going to start actually reviewing the game. I suppose it'd be best to start now.
A game doesn't have to be complex to be enjoyable- Castlevania proves that point quite handily. Being a two dimensional sidescroller, Simon's adventure in the Count's home is a fairly "Go forward and kill random crap" affair. This is by no means a bad thing- it's quite fun. Simon's (and all of the Belmont's past, present, and future, for that matter) is the Vampire Killer whip- a mystical weapon that can destroy all related to vampires and undead. By smacking the candlesticks littered about Dracula's domain, you can find upgrades to your whip- the first will upgrade it into a Morning Star type flail (as opposed to the fairly dinky leather affair you start out with.), and the second will increase the whip's reach by quite a bit. Having a fully upgraded whip is vital to survival- which is tough enough. As you romp through the given stage (which ranges from the simple yet monumental entrance hall to a diabolical torture chamber), and whip more candles for fun and powerups, you'll also find sub-weapons. As the name implies, these weapons serve alternate purposes to your servicable but somewhat one dimensional Vampire Killer. The dagger, for instance, provides a weak but fast projectile attack that's useful for taking out weaker enemies before you get into their range of attack. The axe, on the other hand, is another thrown weapon that instead of going straight forward travels upwards in an arc- veeery useful against pesky airborne foes. The mighty cross (dubbed boomerang to avoid religious connotations) travels forward at a slower pace than the dagger, and not quite as far, but it stops in midair, then comes back to you. Against large foes, this can be totally devastating. There are, naturally, drawbacks to your secondary arsenal. You can only carry one at a time- and if you accidentally grab a less than desirable weapon from an ill placed candlestick... well, tough. Also, unlike the whip, these require ammunition-in the form of hearts, which also drop from those ever handy candlesticks. Sometimes enemies do, as well. All in all, your subweapons should be used when necessary, but they should be conserved for situations where you need them.
In your travels, you can also uncover secret breakable blocks that contain large hearts, a special block that allows you to fire off two subweapons at a time (if you're lucky enough to find another, three at a time), or perhaps the most valuable: a drumstick. This restores health- so if you see one, grab it! While traisping through the castle, you'll be forced to make quite a few jumps, as well. This is where things get tough- unlike just about any video game of the time period I can think of, once you jump, you can't control anything in midair. Thus, it's very easy to leap right into a pesky medusa head and plummet to your doom. You'll also find quite a few stairs in the castle. On these cursed things, travel becomes slower, and even worse, you can't jump at all, leaving you rather vulnerable to enemy attacks. When a stage comes to a close, you'll face a much stronger opponent- a boss. These exceptionally strong foes provide quite a challenge. From a giant bat to the Grim Reaper, they'll give Simon a run for his money. As the game progresses, enemy attacks become a much larger danger. As opposed to the original eight hits our hero can withstand, four will do you in as you come closer to Dracula's quarters.
All in all, the gameplay is solid and enjoyable. However, it's not without it's flaws, like most things.
Of Castlevania's aesthetic elements, graphics are not the stronger of the pair. They're certainly serviceable, and easy on the eyes, but like all NES games, it didn't really look all that good even taking the time period into consideration. It's 8 bit, as you might imagine, leading to simple, fairly unshaded character and backround designs. Simon is clad in subdued light brown hues- you'll never lose sight of him, as most enemies are generally white and blue in some way. The backrounds are, again, functional and and solid. Stairs look like stairs, bricks look like bricks, nasty pointy spikes look like nasty pointy spikes- you get the picture. Still, they're generally unremarkable. Most NES graphical presentations are like that. There's really nothing of note about the visuals- they're nice in the fact that you can take them in at a glance, see what's going on, then proceed to kick ass.
Ah, the beginning of the serie's most cherished tradition-mindblowing music. Even with the NES's...underwhelming sound capabilities, the tunes produced are memorable, excellent in composition, and fit the stages they're placed in fairly well. In the era of Castlevania the first, composers for video games were... less than important in the overall scheme of things. They had little say in where exactly their music was going- the credits, a boss battle, stage one, stage two... they found out at virtually the same time we did. Regardless of this, the pieces are intense, they fit well, and are very easy on the ears. Considering this is an NES game, this is praise indeed. The immortal Vampire Killer song began here, along with Heart of Fire and Wicked Child. If you can't find a reason to play this game, then the music is definitely a good one to consider.
Yeah, I know, this isn't going to really detract from the overall score. Plots beyond "Save *blank*/defeat the evil *blank*!" were virtually nonexistant. Castlevania is really no different. Simon Belmont, the latest in the line of a family of famed vampire hunters, must defeat the vile vampire lord Count Dracula and prevent his evil from engulfing the world. ...that's literally it. There's no dialogue, no cutscenes, no character development... just that. Then again, it's really enough to function in the era, so it gets a three.
The controls are pretty simple. To swing your whip, you hit B. To jump, you hit A. To walk, you use the directional pad. If you need to duck, you can hold down on the d-pad and Simon will crouch down until you release the button. To use a subweapon, hold up on the d-pad and press B at the same time. To pause, hit start. Pretty standard stuff-functional and easy to memorize. Why the 6/10? Simple. Simon controls very sluggishly- there's a noticeable delay in pressing B and swinging the Vampire Killer. That delay can mean death in a lot of situations. Midair control is nonexistant, and Simon doesn't turn around quickly. If they had sped our hero up a bit, the controls would have done much better.
Difficulty balance: 2/10
This Castlevania's most glaring flaw- it's fraggin' hard. And not in a good way. Unlike the general "Blast, that boss kicked my ass. I need to analyze his pattern more carefully." kind of death, you get the "WTF!? Dude, this is friggin' impossible! He kills me in two hits and I can't dodge his attacks!" variety. The Grim Reaper fight remains to be one of the most difficult experiences in gaming I've yet to experience. Not even Megaman comes close to that amount of frustration. Naturally, you're getting a lot of game overs here. Fortunately, you don't have to start from the beginning again- just the beginning of the stage. As I mentioned earlier, enemies become stronger at an alarming rate- being killed in 4 hits at the end of the game makes for some harrowing experiences. Drumsticks, which heal you, are frustratingly rare, and never seem to come in convenient locations. You also have make an effort to whip any suspicious blocks you see- they're hidden there and there alone. Simon's jumping ability is horrible- he can't go far or high. He also can't change directions in the air, as I said. This leaves you quite vulnerable. Which is a shame, because you can't aim the goddamn whip- you have to jump to hit a LOT of enemies. The stairs also pose a significant problem. You only move slowly up or down on them- no jumping allowed. If you try to jump on them, you just fall. Often to your doom. This was remedied in later titles, quite fortunately. This is not a game reccomended for beginners. Start with Symphony or Simon's Quest.
Again, Castlevania falls short in this category. Probably because it's so difficult- you just don't want to go through all that again. Ah, but get this: if you keep playing after you beat the game, you start over. In HARD mode. Yeah, it gets harder. I haven't played it- don't want to, either. Each time through is much the same- it's nice to replay once and a while, but there's not much to keep you going after the credits have rolled.
No, I didn't take an average. Mainly because some elements are more important than others in a game, which can lead to confusing scores that one doesn't intend to give. Overall, Castlevania is a fun game that anyone with mad gaming skills can enjoy. If you don't have those, then... good luck with that. It's still enjoyable, but you'll probably find yourself quitting when the heat starts to get on because it's just too damn hard. If you make it through to the end, congratulations. Go and brag. Those who have bested Dracula's first castle are surprisingly few.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/14/06
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