"White Man Can’t Jump!"

The family business is usually a blessing for a child. His greedy and rich father will be tenting his fingers together and telling the fruit of his loins about the junk yard or dental office that he’s created for his namesake. Unfortunately for Simon Belmont, his family is in a different line of work. Instead of pulling teeth or selling garbage, the Belmont family has been killing vampires for generations. I can just see it now. Little Simon is rolling around his crib, drooling all over his Vic Viper™ blanket, and his father standing over him with open arms pointing to his various whips, stakes, and bottles of holy water telling young Simon, “Son, one day all this will be yours.” What little chubby Simon didn’t know was that this was one hell of a job to take on. As the middle aged Simon, you’ll soon be venturing into the decrepit castle of the infamous Count Dracula. What horrors await Simon? Bats? Flesh eating zombies? Demonic creatures that are just indescribable? Or perhaps the worst of them all: lawyers!

Castlevania is essentially a simple action game with a whip rather than some hackneyed weapon. You basically progress through a level killing everything that comes in your way then challenge a rather difficult boss. The enemies are a wide arrange of many various oddities such as skeletons, midgets (aka flea men), and armor that hurl giant axes. The enemy AI is rather dumb with randomized actions that can easily be counteracted or avoided entirely. Actually you really wouldn’t have much trouble at all during the game had it not been for the fact that Konami loaded the screen up with a slew of all these monsters. Boss fights are a lot more interesting however because they have a much better set of attacks to make mincemeat out of poor Simon. What’s a vampire killer to do?

A plumber with only one tool isn’t going to get much work done. I mean he can unclog a toilet with a plunger, but how’s he going to fix a leaky faucet with that thing? The same goes for everybody’s favorite hunter of the undead. Simon’s has to take along some of those trusty tools if he wants to survive this deadly game. There are several sub weapons in Castlevania that will come in handy against all sorts of foes. These include the familiar bottles of holy water, axes, and even the trusty clock. Unfortunately Simon can only carry one at a time (Hey, you try holding a bunch of that junk while fighting the minions of Satan!) and there are problems with accidentally utilizing the sub weapons. As with the later games, you use a sub weapon by holding up and the attack button. I always found it annoying when I’d be walking up some stairs, see a Medusa head, and want to whip it only to by mistake stop time with my clock. The problem with this is that each use of an item eats away at your precious stockpile of hearts (that’s not good).

The level design is most excellent. Watch Simon as he pumps those legs of his down the many stairs only have birds carrying flea men swoop by and attack our hero. Then watch as Simon must leap across platforms watching out for Medusa heads and nasty bats. Castlevania doesn’t use any lame straight lines for their levels to invoke some nasty “video game hypnosis”. You’ll be going up, down, to the side, and all over the damn screen while trying to avoid all these monsters that just try to sneak up on your ass. In addition there are hidden power-ups throughout the levels including tasty meat to regenerate your health or vials to make Simon invulnerable to attacks.

Many gamers talk about how Castlevania is pretty difficult. I would actually have to disagree. The first several levels are a real breeze, but yes, you will start feeling the pain during the last two stages of the game. It’s not that Konami packs in more enemies or boosts the AI. No instead they did the cheap way of making enemies inflict a lot more damage. By the end of the game, Simon can only take four hits before he keels over and dies. But you can still easily vanquish all those demons without taking a hit, so in fact, the game isn’t all that tough. Then when you beat the game, they just make a harder bersion by making the enemies deal even more damage. If want to talk challenging, let’s go on to the controls.

What the hell is this guy wearing on his feet?! Are those boots solid steel?! My lord, the man walks so utterly slowly and can barely jump. Basically Castlevania can only be challenging due to it’s sloppy controls. Just picture this: you see a pit, you walk toward it, you hit the jump button, but then Simon walks into the pit. That’s happened to me a couple of times. There are other flaws with the control such as Simon’s inability to move amidst a leap. You’d better be sure you want to jump, because once that man hits the air, there’s no turning back. If you jump and a Medusa head appears, you will be hit by it. It can be incredibly annoying; especially during the later levels.

Here’s where we come to our final flaw with this cranky old cartridge. Apparently vampire hunters don’t work for many hours because this is one brief game. First of all the title only sports a mere six stages to progress through. That’s just not nearly enough. Second of all, the first four stages won’t take you very long. There wasn’t even a pebble on the road going through those levels the first time I popped in that game into my NES. They were just pathetically easy. It wasn’t until I made my way to the fifth stage that the game proved to be of any difficulty.

Graphically the game looks spectacular for its era. Simon and his ghoulish pals are all well-crafted with appropriate detail and color. The backgrounds are just awe-inspiring. You’ll see wondrous scenes such as dilapidated stone walls with individual tabs and grand windows. There are even wide pillars complete with cracks and everything. Outside the castle you’ll see haunting moons and spooky dark clouds. The animation is nothing to poke fun at either. Unfortunately there are some nasty clipping problems when the action gets too intense, but luckily slowdown is minimal. The sound effects are simply classic and memorable (who could forget “the door”?) and the music simply rocks. Each stage has its own unique classic Castlevania theme that fans of the later games may recognize. Unfortunately there is no Bloody Tears played anywhere in the game. How terrible!

I wouldn’t want to be a vampire hunter (especially if I had to wear iron boots), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find Castlevania to be an entertaining action game. The level design and action is nicely done as well as the fabulous sound and visuals. But you will be knocked off your chair a few times by the annoying jumps. Then there’s the fact the game is just too short. Don’t quit your day job to run off and slay vampires, but why not try it on your free time? Check it out!

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/11/04, Updated 03/11/04

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