Super Castlevania IV review
Resharpened stake, ready for the next level
It's time to head to the next Nintendo system for the series. Konami decided to take the original game, redesign the levels, enhance the graphics and soundtrack, and tune up the controls to try and make it a different game. Super Castlevania 4 is a pretty damn impressive game, both for its time, and even nowadays. While I would place Castlevania 3 over this one, this is still recommended, especially if you're new to the series due to the refined controls and not so high difficulty level. What an excellent game!
Story: Unlike the gameplay, the story is basically the same as what we were given on the NES. 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 compliments the graphics and soundtrack very well.
Gameplay: What stays in this game is the main objective - Point A to Point B, whipping the undead back to death, collecting hearts for weapon ammunition by destroying candles, and jumping across tricky looking jumps. You know, all that happy stuff we've done in Castlevania games, and it manages to stay fresh throughout. Everything seems to have this huge feeling of refinement, like they're polished up to feel pop and fresh, all ready for the new generation of gaming, though it could just be the controls, graphics and soundtrack making me think that way...
Konami adds a few things to the mix, like the ability to whip a hook and swing it Indiana Jones style, and multi-directional whipping, which is extremely useful in dealing with enemies that come from all over the place, especially those pesky Medusa Heads. Of course, this can place a lot of importance in the fine art of multi directional whipping, but not to worry - weapons like the cross and axes are still useful against the bosses. Now, you may be thinking "how do we use items if we can whip upwards". With the push of a shoulder button, there, you throw your cross. Genius.
It's unfortunate that the enemies can't keep up with Simon's whipping abilities. They get annihilated so easily, even the bosses. Oh, they're tricky at first, but since they get stunned by your whip, it feels more like a symphony of mashing the attack button, rather than a simple case of dodging attacks and whipping them back. When you finish the game, you get a hard mode, which balances out the difficulty more, but it's still not quite as hard as the first game. The only real tricky moments come from some of the jumps, and even so, thanks to the much improved controls, they're not quite as hard as you've come to get used to, if you've come to this game after playing the third game, that is.
With that said, it's a pretty fun game to blast through. Thanks to the controls, it no longer feels like you're dying due to rigidness. You may die due to the recoil, but it's not as deadly as it was before, as you don't go back quite as much. Level designs do leave a bit to be desired when they get a little spike happy during the platforming segments, and can be a bit show-offy of the new technology, but they're not a huge upset when you're having fun, whipping the undead into submission.
Controls: What's this, excellent controls? You can MOVE while you're in the air? You can whip in different directions? The R button to use items? Damn, I love these enhancements to the controls! They manage to become a godsend, especially after dealing with the stiff controls of the original trilogy on the NES. As well as this, you got the same usual controls, and they all work extremely well, as usual, though they feel more fluid, as you're not feeling like you're wading through with stiff controls.
Graphics: Ooh, boy, this is excellent. Some creepy backdrops amongst some detailed settings, objects and sprites make for some excellent looking graphics, and the animations are a lot more fluent than in the NES Castlevania games. There seem to be more than 3 frames per animation, which is a major plus in this department. The colors compliment both the setting, and each other, as they create an atmosphere previously untouched at the time. The intro scene is especially a sight to behold, with lightning and a gravestone. Doesn't sound like much, but just think back to video games in 1991/92... yeah, get in the zone. There is a bit of stutter in the framerate when there are a few too many enemies, but that's the only wrong the graphics have committed here. One interesting note to keep in mind is that if you crave some blood, hit the Japanese version up. The rest of the world had to experience the censored version, until the day when emulation came into fruition and we downloaded the Japanese versions of every game out there!
Audio: It's a bit different to the norm with less impressive sombre and ambient tunes taking precedence over the upbeat techno goth-y tunes that most of the other games have. But there are still some classics in here. The empowering Theme of Simon and the intense Clockwork Mansion are definitely up there with the best of them. And then you have remixes of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and Beginning, all from the original Castlevania trilogy - that's just awesome.
Replay Value: This is based more on whether you had a lot of fun with it, rather than playing again to see how much better you can get. There aren't any alternate pathways and endings, either. Really, if you had a lot of fun with it, you won't be too fussed, but if you didn't - I don't see how that is, but whatever - well, there's not much, isn't there...
Overall: Super Castlevania IV may have been dumbed down a little in terms of challenge, but in terms of everything else, it's a staggering improvement, and definitely worth the purchase. The graphics and soundtrack manage to intensify the atmosphere a bit more than the NES trilogy ever could, and the improvements to the controls and gameplay make this one easier to go through than said trilogy. It's a perfect place to start if the Castlevania series peaks your interest, mostly due to the fact that it's not quite as tough as the NES games.
Replay Value: 8/10
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