Castlevania. The name alone evokes countless images in the minds of gamers. Everything from the creepily atmospheric castle to the monsters you fight just ooze adventure. This game cemented my love of the horror genre. So when I heard about a 16-bit ”remake”on my favorite system, I made sure it was one of the first games we owned for it. Like Contra III, I never beat it back then, but after recently beating it for the first time I can say without a doubt that this is the BEST Castlevania ever made. Symphony of the Night be damned! (Kidding, as I love that one as well!).
Let’s just get this out of the way. There is an ongoing debate whether or not this game is a remake of the NES original. They are nothing alike in terms of level structure. They are both the telling of the SAME story, following Simon Belmont on his quest to rid the world of the evil Count. However levels and gameplay are significantly different from each other. I hope that this clears up any confusion.
Longtime fans of the series will immediately notice how much more user- friendly this game is. The way the first games controlled was a major source of frustration for many gamers, myself included. Have no fear, as every gripe that I had about how the NES iterations controlled has been dispelled. Simon can now change the direction of his jump, can move more effectively on stairs, and can now whip in eight directions! He even does the moonwalk! This amount of mobility was never revisited, making many of the future games seem like they were going backwards. As a famously angry reviewer once said, “It’s as if you ARE Simon Belmont!!”
Heart powered weapons make a comeback, though Simon’s whip renders many of these less useful this time around. Weapons like the knife are still useful for taking out enemies like those damn Medusa heads, and the axe and boomerang are still the weapons you won’t want to drop! Enemies match Simon’s arsenal and there are many varieties of every monstrosity you can think of. Mud-Men, Harpies, Spiders, OH MY! While they give the game flair, you will always have the feeling that none of Dracula’s forces are up to the challenge of defeating the Vampire Hunter. Most of my deaths came from the bosses and the lethal traps that are spread over the castle grounds.
The bosses are spectacular and many. Each encounter will bring you face to face with horror movie icons and massive monsters that will test your reflexes and gaming acuity. All of them (both new and revisited from the first three) will give you a trip down memory lane to a time when a boss was a challenge and not just a roadblock! I cannot count how many times that damned treasure bat killed me before I finally bested him! Eventually you will reach the final climb toward Dracula’s throne, and in many ways these final two areas of the castle are a great illustration of the game itself, throwing many classic bosses and tunes from years gone by. It is a celebration of the old melded with the innovations of the new. Even when Dracula breathes his last, it’s not over. Your victory merely unlocks a harder second quest with stronger and more numerous foes, a fitting reward from a great game.
Graphically, the game utilizes the power of the SNES to add some nice touches that make all the difference. From the detailed backgrounds to the transparent ghosts floating around the treasury, to the spinning Mode 7 showoff rooms, everything just clicks together. I have also always loved the way this game flows in such a natural way. Every level seems like a progression through these cursed lands, beginning in a damned village, then climbing up to the gate of Castlevania. Even after you enter Dracula’s domain, there is a genuine sense that you are traveling through a castle, starting in the main hall before being dumped down into the dungeon and treasury, then finally making your way back up the tower to Dracula’s keep. It just feels much more like an adventure than many other games that like to whisk you from level to level with no continuity whatsoever.
The music sells the atmosphere in this game, imparting a sense of horror and isolation and reinforcing Simon’s desperate quest to rid the world of Dracula. You will hear all of your favorite vampire killing songs, as well as many great new pieces of music made just for this adventure. My favorite has to be the cave and cliff songs, where you can just hear the depression and sadness. This is one of those rare games that speak to you through its music, and this soundtrack ranks with the best the SNES has to offer.
Super Castlevania IV stands with the likes of Contra III as one of Konami’s finest titles. It is far and away the most accessible game in the classic series, and easily the most atmospheric, taking the gothic roots of Bram Stroker’s classic tale and reformatting it perfectly in video game form. And though I adore the new Castlevania games as well, I can’t help but feel a little sad that this game was the end of an era. From here on out the series would shed its classical roots and rebuild itself into something more resembling anime. While this is by no means a bad thing, it did have a diminishing affect on me. This game is unequivocal evidence that it is the small things that distinguish a great game from a legendary one. Castlevania IV enables us to play from dusk till dawn and thinking to ourselves as it ends that 100 years is too long a wait for the next eternal battle with Count Dracula.
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