Dawn of the vampire
Castlevania is, hands down, my favorite series. I was what you would call a Castlevania kid. While everybody was well into Mario, Sonic and Mega Man, I was the one who hyped up the latest Castlevania release, even to this day with the immenent release of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow. Damn, that game is going to rule... Anyway, this is the game that got me into the series, and holy hell, I loved it. Nowadays, I still like it a lot, but can't seem to get over a few things. What are they? Let's find out...
Story: The year is 1691, and Dracula has been risen from his grave. It is up to Simon Belmont and his vampire slaying whip simply known as the Vampire Killer to slay Dracula. To do this, he must traverse through his castle, killing off every monster that stands between him and Dracula's re-deadening. It allowed for a Gothic and horrific atmosphere, which was new for good Nintendo games at the time (don't bring that dreadful Dr Jeckyll And Mr Hyde game in my presence, for it does nothing good). In short, it managed to stand out from all the damsel in distress plots with a damn good atmosphere. Not Metroid-good, but good regardless.
Gameplay: Castlevania plays like that of a typical sidescroller where you must move from Point A to Point B, while clearing obstacles and killing enemies with your whip. The basics of this game work well enough, managing to flow from one end to the other. The designs of each level is made to challenge you and your skills in jumping with some rather stiff jumping controls, as you encounter bottomless pits and moving platforms, as well as enemies placed strategically to screw you over if you're a bit headstrong.
As usual, to keep yourself afload against the undead, you have power ups. By destroying candles, you can get two upgrades for your whip, making it into a strong chain whip (though death reverts it back to a rope), as well as some items. From a knife, to an axe, and even to a cross, you can unleash a ranged attack at your foes. They cost hearts, but they also happen to be in candles, and they are the most common thing to come out of them, so don't think you'll be low on ammo, unless you either spam ranged attacks, or are nearly up to a boss later in the game. It manages to add quite a bit of strategy to the game; should you use the knife, or collect that stopwatch and stop time to own the zone with your whip? Your call.
So what about health restoration? You're very well out of luck here. Unless you're lucky enough to smash open a wall with food in there (you're fighting against the supernatural; I'm sure eating food rotting in the walls is perfectly logical too), you pretty much have to complete levels without getting hit too much. Losing a life will start you back at the beginning of the level, and losing all your lives starts you back at the beginning of the section (say you died in level 8... back to level 7 you go). It makes for a good penalty, ensuring that death will feel like half a ton of bricks, and hopefully, it will get you to perform better on the stage. The game isn't a complete prick in this sense, since you have unlimited continues, so you won't be sent back to square 1 every few deaths.
Although, what's to say it's 100% fair? 70% of deaths will be due to your own screw ups like mistimings of hits against bosses or because you weren't paying attention, but what of the other 30%? They'll be due to two things; jumping, and hit recoil. I'll start with jumping - if you jump, you'll be going that direction, and you can't change in midair, or even face the other way, so make sure nothing is going to come from behind and make sure you know you'll make that jump before you press A. As for damage recoil, when you get hit, you'll be sent back a fair bit, and this gets really chessy, since enemies can hit you near a pit, and send you packing. This is especially annoying when it comes to the most annoying enemies known to the old school Castlevania games: MEDUSA HEADS! EVIL SODS! They're placed usually near pits and hazards, so you know you'll get smacked around quite a lot by these buggers, and usually end up dying!
So what you got here, is a rather challenging, yet fun game. Yeah, it's fun. It's fun in the sense that, although you're dying, you're not always dying due to cheap shots. You're having fun trying to figure out how to beat a boss, or how to get over that platform. It will get very tough towards the end, especially the bosses, but with persistence, you'll manage to get some really fun times out of this game.
Controls: You have the usual left and right to move, down to duck, A to jump, and B to attack. Each command responds, however stiff. Movement is quite rigid, not allowing any room for navigational error, especially when it comes to jumping. Jumping has zero control once you hop off the ground beyond the whip, so you're at the mercy of a moving platform that may miss, or a Medusa Head or fireball that will swing you off course into a pit. In short... they're a little stiff.
Graphics: Looks pretty good. The foreground designs are fairly detailed, the backgrounds look interesting and crispy clean, the enemies definitely feel supernatural and evil as if Dracula himself revived these creatures, and the overall look of the game suits the story of the rise and fall of Dracula. It's dark, Gothic, and might actually be considered scary to much younger children (I know I was when I was about 2 or 3 playing this game), though today, it's all a fine example of how to create an atmosphere with inferior technology. My only complain would have to be the animation. Everything feels a bit stiff, just like the controls. It's as if they used 3 frames (or even 2 frames) for Simon's animation, and for some enemies' animation. It's not terrible, but when everything else is so awesome, the stiff animation sticks out like Santa Claus's gut.
Audio: No matter how much the game frustrated me with some cheap deaths, it never went to the point of snapping controllers. Why? Because the music didn't fuel the hate. What it does fuel, however, is the dark atmosphere provided by this game. Each tune, at least for the technology used for the NES, managed to create a sort of dark atmosphere, supporting the storyline and the graphics. The tunes, themselves, are quite memorable and catchy, with the intro and first level tunes being the ones that everybody remembers fondly. Overall, an amazing soundtrack.
Replay Value: It's certainly one of those games you'll find yourself playing through again and again, just to try and see if you can do better. It may be a tough cookie, but it's that toughness that keeps you coming back, just to try and beat the Nintendo.
Overall: Castlevania is a great game. Overcoming some real cheap hits and some stiff jumping controls will be required in order to really get into this game. Once those obstacles are overcome, you'll find it to be an enjoyable challenge, chock full of Gothic atmosphere, and excellent simple gameplay to boot. You pretty much owe it to yourself to try out Castlevania.
Replay Value: 7/10
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