Castlevania (NES) review
"Castlevania, considered by many as one of the best action series Konami came up with, made its debut on the NES when Simon Belmont, a guy with time and guts to spare, thought about defying Lord Dracula in his old and crumbling castle. Like most gamers who indulge in action games (who doesn't?), I too am a fan of the Castlevania series. It may not look like it since I'm about to bash the original title, but I adored the SNES and Genesis titles, and while I wasn't particularly enthralled wi..."
Castlevania, considered by many as one of the best action series Konami came up with, made its debut on the NES when Simon Belmont, a guy with time and guts to spare, thought about defying Lord Dracula in his old and crumbling castle. Like most gamers who indulge in action games (who doesn't?), I too am a fan of the Castlevania series. It may not look like it since I'm about to bash the original title, but I adored the SNES and Genesis titles, and while I wasn't particularly enthralled with the PlayStation versions, I nevertheless found them fun. Basically, I like the Castlevania series…except the NES titles. And this first Castlevania, although it did introduce the concept which would make the series such a success (beyond NES, as far as I am concerned), is NOT enjoyable.
In Castlevania, as everybody knows now, your alter go is Simon Belmont, a vampire-hunter intent on making raw meat out of a horribly drawn Dracula. Simon, who obviously feels confident enough that he's on par with Dracula's legions of minions, thus walks into Dracula's castle without giving the count further notice of his visit. Where are your manners, Simon? Of course, it could be that our poor adventurer intended to surprise the count in his sleep, but it seems someone has already warned the latter about the upcoming opposition…which is why Simon has to deal with dozens of enemies that never know when to quit.
This also introduces the game's main flaw; no, not the game play, but the atrocious controls. First, let's take a look at Simon's artillery: a whip. Simon isn't as deft with his whip as Indiana Jones, and that's for sure. He can only whip forward, and the range is meager. Keeping in consideration that the whip you'll be utilizing if you don't die is an upgrade of the normal weapon, you can imagine just how well prepared Simon is for this adventure. Thus, if you die, you can prepare to mash on that button in the hope that it'll actually suffice to take care of the red skeleton that just resuscitated a few steps behind you.
Provided you do have the time to slash the foe at least once, you will then discover that Simon isn't as adept with his whip as you would have thought at a first glance. Simon has style, but lacks efficiency. He takes way too much time to slash forward, and the ensuing lag means anything can show up directly in front of you and help you to a pitiful demise. Given how Simon can whip in only one direction and how he is inferior to any fiend that can fly, you just imagine how it is when the bum is confronted to bats and other predator-like birds.
Thankfully, Simon can rely on optional, limited side-weapons. Opening this array of necessary special weapons is the knife, which is thrown straight forward. It is handy only against the first enemies such as skeletons, but it is still better than your one-inch whip in any case. Simon can also throw holy water, which when properly used, is a kick-ass item, axes and boomerangs, the latter being the most useful out of the lot. To be able to use these items when he finally obtains them, the vampire-hater must collect hearts that are left behind by monsters and that can be found in chandeliers. See a chandelier? Whip it; most of the time, a small or big heart will come out of it. Completing this ecclesiastic list of special weapons is the time clock, which, as its name implies, will bring everything on screen (except bosses) to a halt. I also find it terribly useless.
You will soon learn that these special weapons are Simon's only bet against the numerous threats Dracula sends forth to stop him in his tracks. The poor hit detection of the whip means any normal enemy is like a powerhouse if that's the only weapon you have. Unfortunately, if you waste all of your limited side-weapons on normal enemies, you're going to get roasted by the end-of-level bosses. With the poor game engine, most bosses in Castlevania seem cheap. Leading the way is the Grim Reaper who never gets close to you while making sickles appear out of nowhere. Destroy the sickles to see more appear; destroy those to have even more show up. Lather, rinse, repeat…until Grimpy laughs at your death. Of course, that's still nothing compared to Dracula himself, but you probably will have stopped playing even before you first see him.
To make thing even cheaper, keep in mind that Simon is clumsy. He doesn't walk, but limps forward, this being the sole part of the animation that I don't like. It's as if he wants to hurl. Given how the monsters found in Dracula's castle are so disgustingly over-powered, I'd hurl too if I wasn't cursing and struggling with my control pad. The thing is, even with its poor controls, Castlevania nevertheless presents an action-packed atmosphere. Medusa heads fly all over the screen as you limp through the various stages, skeletons throw bones at you, and bats hover around you, waiting for your blood to spill from your corpse. In a game with proper controls, all this would have resulted into damn fine, frantic action. With Castlevania's sloppy controls, it's typically frustrating.
Another point brought forward by Castlevania fans is the game's graphics. If I was still ready to listen to these gamers before as they attempted to convince me this game is great, they can just forget about me now. Castlevania isn't a visually pleasant title; the backgrounds are blurry and look as if a baby spilled paint all over the screen while rummaging in his toy box. Too bad he forgot about Simon though, as the latter suffers from a distinct lack of personality and color. Thankfully, a handful of enemy designs manage to save things, but I'd rather insert pins in my eyes than look at these backgrounds again.
In spite of all the hatred I have for this game, I nevertheless agree with yet another point (yes folks, the list just never ends) brought forward by angry fans: the music. Castlevania's music, which was to be remixed for the subsequent titles, ranks among the best on the NES. The opening theme itself is a powerful orchestrated piece that will try and make you forget about the game's cheapness. Even better is the third stage's music, a vibrant entity that, alone, tries to carry the burden of this shameful beginning. If anything else, play Castlevania to listen to the original themes that spawned (almost) everything else. Or you could just go and download the midis somewhere. It isn't as pain-inducing as playing through the whole game and fighting to death against its bosses.
With all this ranting, I hereby end this review that I intended to post a long time ago, but that I nevertheless withheld at the request of a good friend to give the game a final chance. This last play through didn't change anything in my perception of the first Castlevania; I was disgusted by the graphics, and the sloppy control still bothers me to no end. Replay value? Not unless you're a masochist. Don't believe the forty or so reviews claiming this game is a brilliant start to Konami's revered series, this game is not worth your time.
Community review by siegfried (April 26, 2003)
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