Review by charlamain

Reviewed: 07/06/05

Not that exciting

Castlevania is a franchise that has achieved near-legendary status over the past couple of decades. The adventures of Simon Belmont and friends occupy the memory of many a nostalgic gamer. This game was where most got their first taste of the series, and as such it is spoken fondly of often enough. I, however, was never that enamored of this one. While I am usually as biased towards all the old-school games as anyone, lately I've been replaying some of these games, and let's just say that, in the case of the Castlevania series, the light of truth has pierced the sentimental fog.

In Castlevania, your objective is to kill Dracula. That's about it for story. None of those old NES games had much in the way of story though. Even though Konami goes for a minimalist Gothic Slavic Europe feel almost exclusively, they still include Medusa (as both a boss and a regular enemy) and mummies for some reason. Drop in Frankenstein and it starts to feel like we're spoofing the horror genre or something. But no matter, Castlevania is ultimately a platformer, and as such it is not important what the enemies are, but rather that they exist and hurt you.

Speaking of hurting you, you have a life bar with 16 units. While this looks impressive at first, and is certainly better than Mario's one or two hit deaths, you will soon find that it is less useful than imagined, due to many enemies taking off three and four units per hit. If Simon were an agile dude, and attacks were easily avoided, this would be one thing. However, Simon has all the dexterity of a penguin. He moves at a decidedly slothful pace, and can only jump enough to double his height. Additionally, once you jump, you can't change your direction, meaning that if you jump and all of a sudden a Medusa head pops onto the screen on a collision course with you, you're pretty much screwed. The reason for that is because, in addition to not being able to control anything while jumping, when you get hit you will be knocked back about 3/4 the distance of a jump. So when you're jumping to that platform and that random Medusa head (or bat or whatever) hits you, you WILL fall in a pit and die. It's a given. There are also stairs in the game, and you climb/descend them by pressing up/down respectively. The bad news is that Simon is even slower on stairs than when walking. The good news is that when you get hit on stairs, as you inevitably will, you will not be knocked off to your doom.

Your main weapon is a whip, which swings straight out in the direction you are facing. The whip can upgrade, with the first upgrade increasing power and the second increasing range. I can't figure out why this was included, since you achieve a fully upgraded whip within 15 seconds of starting. The whip is fine as long as your enemy is either directly to the right or left of you. If not, then you have to use a secondary weapon. These come in five flavors: an axe, a dagger, a cross/boomerang thing, holy water, and a clock. The dagger and the cross thing just go horizontally, and consequently add nothing but range. The holy water however is tossed downward, and burns when it hits, potentially hitting an enemy more than once. The axe is tossed upwards, making an arc and then coming down, potentially striking enemies both above and below you. The clock just stops the enemies for a few seconds. This all sounds good, but there's a couple of problems. First, rarely does any enemy past the second level die in one hit. So, even if you can aim your weapon to hit them (which isn't always easy), it's going to take more than one hit to kill them. This is a problem when they are moving, due to the awkward attack pattern of things like the axe. Also, you can only hold one secondary weapon at a time. So if you wanted to dagger a bat across the screen and then switch to holy water to kill an axe knight, you're out of luck. The secondary weapons all use hearts, which are located in little candles that you can whip. This normally isn't a problem, since there are plenty of hearts scattered about. However, if you die, it's a different story.

That is, if you die, you lose your upgraded whip, secondary weapon, all hearts but 5, double and triple shot upgrades (allow you to throw 2 and 3 secondary weapons at a time, respectively), and are set back to the beginning of the current stage (stages are demarcated by large wooden doors). Even if you are in a boss fight, you will be set back to the beginning of the stage when you die. What this all means is that if you found this part of the game hard enough the first time that you died, it will be that much harder the next time, since you start with basically nothing. Old NES games loved to do that to you. While you can heal yourself using meat, all the meat in the game is hidden. So, unless you attack every single brick you see, you might go the entire game without finding any meat. It is, of course, questionable whether you should really eat meat found in Dracula's decaying castle, but what the hell.

The graphics and sound are pretty par for the course. Nothing is very detailed, but it isn't hard to tell what is happening. I don't remember there being a great deal of flicker or slowdown. The sound gets the job done, while not being anything memorable. Sound is rarely memorable anyway. The music is famous among the old-schoolers. The first level music in particular is one of the favorites, but I was more impressed with the second and third levels. At any rate though, the music is rather well done, and is far better than most games at the time.

It's not incredibly hard, but it is made more difficult by the lackluster control. Nearly every enemy has a wider range of movement than you do, and also move faster than you do. When under attack, you just don't have that many options of what to do. Luckily, every missile can be attacked and destroyed. Basically though, if you know what enemies are where, then it isn't a long game. If not, then you might have some trouble. There's not really any reason to play it again unless you enjoyed it the first time or for nostalgia. Back then, games didn't really worry about replay bonuses.

To sum up, Castlevania is a standard platformer with an interesting theme and lousy control. If you can get past Simon's lackadaisical attitude, then Castlevania might be the game for you. I found it to be interesting, but not interesting enough that I really cared to play it that much.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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