Review by Celtic Forest

"The Belmont clan's NES debut: As good as it has always been"

Castlevania is a series that few NES players are unaware of. Its crispy mix of platform jumping, frenzy action and gothic Transylvanian elements have tempted most of the gamers thirsty for action into the dark depths of Dracula's castle. The NES series wasn't the beginning of the vampire tale, but it was certainly a very important stepping stone for Konami to gain worldwide fame with their new adventure games. While all the three games share the same basic concept, they were all developed a bit differently. This time we'll begin with the first game in this interesting bloodline (pun not intended).

The first Castlevania game puts us in the shoes of Simon Belmont, a member of the Belmont clan famous for hunting vampires. The evil lord Dracula awakens once every thousand years, and now he has resurrected inside his castle to once again bring terror over Transylvania. Simon wields his legendary whip named "the Vampire Killer", a holy weapon inherited in the family line for hunting vampires, and embarks on a journey to seek out the count in his castle. Eventually, he stands before the gate that separates our peaceful world from the depths of darkness.

This game, traditional and old as it is, is a classic platform action game. The game holds six stages of powerful battles and tricky platform jumps. All levels are based inside the castle of Dracula, starting out with the courtyard and the entry hall, leading up to the gardens, down in the dungeons, and eventually into Dracula's home domain: the clock tower. You walk, jump and slash yourself through the stages, using your trusty whip as well as various sub-weapons. These extra items are a nice collection of daggers, holy water, axes and boomerangs, also added by an invisibility potion and a holy cross. Quite a good mixture of tools and toys. After facing all the traps, enemies and mazes, you will encounter a boss at the very end which provides a difficult challenge. The enemies and bosses are a vast array of the most horrid creatures known to man, and provides a nice cocktail of classic horror elements. How about zombies, bats, mummies and mermans? Or maybe skeletons, snakes and ravens? Oh, and let's not forget the Medusa, Frankenstein's monster and the evil Dracula himself!

With its nostalgic vibe and increasing age, Castlevania is truly starting to gather some dust in the collector's box. Yes, the game is not very big and original, yes, it retains the crazy challenge level of those old games, and yes, it does look a bit rusty in its graphics today. But still! No one can deny that Castlevania is still one of the better games when you look at it and compare it to most other action games that came out around that time. The graphics might be a bit blocky and grimy nowadays, but they still have their own sweet touch and identity that few other games at that time ever bothered with, save maybe the Mega Man games. The dark and creepy layout of the dungeons, with skeletons stacked up in the background, the still and majestic gardens with their nightsky horizon and grass-clad stone walls, and the chaotic clock tower at the end with its maze of cogwheels, pendulums and platforms. All thought out and constructed with an architect's mind. The music is also another high-five, and the classic tunes of the '80:s still hold on strongly today. While they are a bit poorly arranged and do not take use of the full capacity of the NES sound cartridge, the melodies are still catchy and unmatched.

While the aesthetics can still be admired today if you don't put on your most well-polished "critic glasses", the programming can't. The controls that were acceptable back then are now just a pain in your hands. Simon's movement is stiff and his jumps are extremely unprecise. He also has his famous move of getting knocked back a few feet whenever he is hit, often making him fall down into a bottomless pit and lose a life. There is also no password feature available, so every time you shut off the system, it is right back to the castle entrance. The two last levels also pack a challenge high enough for two Castlevania games on their own. The battle against the fifth boss, Death, is totally unmanageable. On this guy, it all boils down to pure luck if you want to defeat him.

Still, if we put the nostalgic vibes aside and watch the pure product, the game still has a nice construction and an identity of its own. While having a lot of flaws that most players point out already at the first stage, it still captures the player and entertains as long as the console is on. With such a charisma, a game can linger on even though its standards are far away from the ones of today. To sum it all up: the first game of Castlevania is: a game that holds value both as an important game for the action genre of the '80:s and as a nice nostalgic replay. A game that has tasty parts that equal to its flaws. A game that just sits there, not craving attention, nor going away. The perfect tag for a classic old game. This game can always be picked up again and replayed, with its ups and downs relived the way it has always been.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 10/30/06

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