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Super Castlevania IV (SNES) artwork

Super Castlevania IV (SNES) review

"Action-platforming atmosphere in the 16-bit era"

Super Castlevania IV is an astounding evolution of the Castlevania series. Indeed, its superior design puts it not above not only its predecessors but above most of its contemporary and subsequent peers. Better visual direction, better sound design, better controls: this is a better Castlevania.

From starting up the game, Super Castlevania IV makes one of its chief strengths very evident: atmosphere. An introduction rolls as ominous fog creeps onscreen, instantly establishing the grim, supernatural tone of the game and providing the first of many great music tracks that are more tonally consistent with its influences while still being highly memorable. More than any other game in the series, Castlevania IV pays homage to the great Gothic works of the past, and this sets it apart from the Haloween-ish levity of its peers (Ghosts 'N Goblins and the like) as well. On the visual front, gorgeous detail that often makes use of color to contrast against grimy dungeon walls and decaying castle interiors succeed in making the game a sight to behold, as hero Simon Belmont traverses aquaducts, haunted forests, and many other locations boasting great setpiece moments (such as the spinning room and the treasure chamber) and smart enemy placement.

These innovations would be worthless if the gameplay failed to impress, but Super Castlevania IV exceeds its NES predecessors here as well. The NES titles suffered immensely from constrictive movement, especially the fact that any given jump was largely uncontrolable upon leaving the ground. While Castlevania IV still suffers from some of this bad design (stay used to knockback into pits killing you more than fair fights), it is aided greatly by utterly superior attacking options. In olden games, you had one main attack and could utilize a secondary attack by pressing up and the attack button at the same time, making accidental inputs common. Here, Simon can attack in the eight compass directions by pressing the attack button and the relevant direction, with subweapons being relegated to a separate button entirely. You can spin the whip in a circular motion for quick defense or offense, as well. All of these attacks are accompanied by good animations and fantastic 16-bit reinterpretations of relevant sounds, giving satisfying visual and audio feedback to the player. The improved system allows for more approaches to combat, and therefore better gameplay and replayability.

These innovations make Super Castlevania IV a big improvement for the series, but many ingenious aspects, such as multi-directional attack options, were neglected by subsequent titles (though those games opted to increase mobility to accommodate this). However, this does help make this game stay unique in the decades that followed its release. Fantastic atmosphere, user-friendly controls, great setpieces, and careful contextual touches make Super Castlevania IV arguably the best official classic-style Castlevania game and the ideal point of entry to this wonderful series.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (January 11, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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Masters posted January 12, 2018:

I enjoyed this review, Freeman. SCIV is one of my all-time favourites. I'd take out the "my opinion" disclaimer though -- just a thought.
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Follow_Freeman posted January 13, 2018:

Thank you! And thanks for the advice; I changed that bit to "arguably" the best so and so to retain the subjective nature of my declaration whilst being less awkward. Stayed tuned for a review of a great Castlevania fangame in the near future!

Incidentally, I challenged myself to write this review in four paragraphs, which forced me to neglect something great I found in the manual. Apparently the reason why we have octo-directional attacking in this game but not the others is that Simon found a tome that taught him how to do more than just hit whatever's right in front of him. Do we want that kind of intellect saving us from a demon lord who sustains the six realms of the Abyss (Dawn of Sorrow) with his power? Did someone steal the tome to prevent its use in Simon's Quest and by future Belmonts? What is going on? Guess that's why one shouldn't sweat the details too much.

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