Review by hangedman

"Evolved masterpiece to some, hideous freak to others."

Ahh, nostalgia.

The jump of a series from a home console to a technologically superior one is always a joy to behold. Well, if it’s not Tomb Raider or the Army Men games, that is. A title like Castlevania is revered by many as a timeless platform game that’s blended a certain feel, musical superiority, and gameplay experience that’s thus far been unmatched by any contenders.

It’s good to be a gamer when you see that a series like this one flourishes when it jumps consoles, giving you even more of the experience you admired while traversing the worlds its predecessors offered. Super Castlevania IV evolves nearly every aspect of Castlevania that I disliked, and stands as perhaps one of my most-played games of all time.

The game is as easy to get into; the gameplay largely unchanged from past Castlevanias barring a few key points. As the master of vampire slaying, Simon Belmont, you journey into the heart of Dracula’s again-rebuilt castle in order to slay him once and for all. The goal is unattainable, assumedly, but a vampire hunter has to pay the bills. Despite knowing that he’s as essential to the series as Konami itself, Dracula has filled his castle with all manners of skeletons, bats, and the undead in order to stop Simon. Every level has some new foe determined to kill you, and at the end of it all is a boss.

Buttons: your gameplay providers.

Simon Belmont controls much like he did years ago, with one button assigned to whip straight-ahead, another mapped to jump. Special weapons with a finite supply of ammunition, hearts, found throughout destructible candelabras in the level are now used with a third button. However, Simon has learned a few new tricks, such as being able to control one’s jump in mid-air, and being able to whip in eight different directions. The gameplay significance of these inclusions is tremendous.

For one thing, it limits the frustration immensely. Castlevania games are notorious in the fact that small, quick moving enemies are the largest cause of death, especially in levels which have a lot of small ledges staring into a bottomless chasm (read: every level). Despite the danger and challenge of it, Simon and Trevor were ill-equipped for this task years ago: blame enemy pop-up and disobedient jumps for that. Your jumps have more control than an unmanned dump truck this time; though different from past games it’s very fitting for a title that at heart is a platform game.

Simon’s whip has matured as well. Now our faithful vampire hunter can slay things both above and below him, and can attack enemies that suddenly appear unexpectedly. If you can see a bat rocketing towards you as you jump from ledge to ledge, there’s a damned good chance you can whip it, and thank god for that. It’s as if someone at Konami had been sent a letter containing all the profanity I directed at past Castlevania games over the years.

I hear this happens to a lot of whips.

The problem is that Simon’s whip may have matured too much: it can go limp now. Hold the attack button as opposed to tapping it, and Simon’s whip will flaccidly droop. While not a problem, per se, the addition of this feature to the gameplay is minimal at best. Though it can be used offensively, the result is weak and often fruitless against the more persistent foes. As a defensive option, the limp-whip is considerably more palatable: swinging the whip around can absorb projectiles and other inbound missiles that could cause trouble otherwise. Certain bosses are substantially easier to beat like this, but the majority of the game doesn’t require your use of this function in the least. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s there.

As would be expected with the console shift, the graphics have been given a major overhaul. Simply put, the game is beautiful. Though perhaps somewhat unfaithful to its 8-bit antecedents in presenting a gothic look, the striking color combinations are visually impressive. Exquisite sunken courtyards, lavish treasuries, decaying dungeons, and cluttered libraries never fail to win me over: a grand achievement for an early SNES title. The sprites are equally as magnificent in personality alone, though limited somewhat by few frames of animation each.

And while everything else is in order, the audio is equally superb. For many, Castlevania has stood as a watermark in terms of game music. While I myself would be in doubt of this from the NES games alone, SCIV has some of my all-time favorite video game themes. Playful, yet dramatic; gothic, yet lively at the same time, SCIV’s score is a magnificent accomplishment. From the dramatic score that punctuates your insignificant name entry screen to the Treasury’s solemn melody that transforms into a catchy number, SCIV has all of the musical bases covered. Even expectedly hokey sound effects are masterfully done and fit the mood.

''You critics aren't normal people!''

It’s hard for me to find any overt flaws in SCIV. If there was any large criticism to render unto this fine product, it could be that Simon’s evolution has not been matched by any of his opponents. While we may have been given the ability to attack in multiple directions, block normally harmful fireballs, and compensate for a long jump, few non-boss enemies have been able to fight back to this. Previous opponents that shuffled back and forth on a small ledge may have been dangers before, but now serve only as harmless obstacles to be whipped. For being able to use the “limp whip” to absorb projectiles, more projectile users are strangely absent. There’s a small feeling of some potential frittered away through not fully matching Simon’s destructive yin with the yang of more challenging opponents, but it’s a stretch to me. The game is psychotically fun even with this fact in mind.

SCIV does more right in a 2-d action title than I can fully comprehend. Even to acknowledge the valid complaints of some, as the graphics are too vibrant, the game too easy, and the feel too distanced from past Castlevania games, it’s still an excellent title; to me, more excellent than most anything else on the SNES. From the time I push that button up on the SNES until I whip Dracula in his malformed face for the last time, SCIV has my attention and adoration by a big-ass meat hook, and it doesn’t let go for anybody.

OVERALL: 10 / 10

*I never fully understood how the medusa heads could fly.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 04/30/02, Updated 04/30/02

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