Castlevania (NES) review
"Could Konami have known? Did they have even the slightest inkling that their clichéd tale of a stout, brave-hearted adventurer up against a haunted house and all its various and typical denizens would spawn over a dozen incarnations? Surely not. Yet, something like fifteen years after the first adventure featuring Simon’s side-scrolling simplicity, we are playing Castlevania in pseudo-3D, jaded as we watch impossibly real polygonal presentations of Simon’s pretenders to his legacy doing their thing, while big budget orchestrations sing along sweetly. "
The extraordinary tale of a man in leather and his whip
Could Konami have known? Did they have even the slightest inkling that their clichéd tale of a stout, brave-hearted adventurer up against a haunted house and all its various and typical denizens would spawn over a dozen incarnations? Surely not. Yet, something like fifteen years after the first adventure featuring Simon’s side-scrolling simplicity, we are playing Castlevania in pseudo-3D, jaded as we watch impossibly real polygonal presentations of Simon’s pretenders to his legacy doing their thing, while big budget orchestrations sing along sweetly.
Despite how far the Castlevania series has come, it can’t run away and leave behind the game that started it all (Castlevania wasn’t the first game in the collection, but it’s certainly the one that began the legend). No matter how beautiful a game Symphony of the Night is, no matter how it might put our NES original to shame in terms of sights and sounds, it cannot dull or detract from the excellence found here. Castlevania is simply timeless.
By now, you know what has to be done. Take hold of Simon Belmont, vampire killer, and enter Castlevania. Prepare your whip, which you can power up by lashing candles. These mystic candles also bear special weapons with finite use: arcing axes, darting daggers, stopwatches to freeze foes, firebombs to break them down and the inimitable cross boomerang that crushes going both ways. Hearts left behind by candles or dead enemies enable use of these weapons. Will it be enough?
The threat is certainly overwhelming: Dracula has risen, called up from black dust to become whole again on the Earth. Evil creatures flock to defend him, to act as sentinels in his home. His presence will take hold of you as you enter his chambers; don’t be afraid, the powerful, popular Vampire Killer song that has gained such celebrity throughout the years will accompany you, and thrill your heart. Lithe, longish black panthers attack and bats swoop down. Rip through zombies and take out the Great Bat, perhaps one of the lamest of all Castlevania bosses. But this is just the beginning!
We meet the infamous Medusa Heads in red-themed level two. They fly up and down in a graceful, undulating pattern, but you won’t notice that when the hate kicks in. You’ll see them and despise them the instant that you realize their uncanny knack of knocking you backwards into pits and into the path of other enemies. Get used to this frustrating phenomenon - for better or worse it’s a Castlevania staple, and here, it’s at its most diabolical. Finding your battle with Medusa too difficult? Use your stopwatch to wrinkle time and improve your odds.
The blue skies of the third stage mesh surprisingly well with the orangey paths and light blue, crumbling architecture. This level is as beautiful as it is difficult. Bone Pillars appear here, firing left and right, and high and low, before you grind them to marrow. Don’t hurry through the painful jumps - the pair of mummies will just have to wait. And wait they will - they’ve got a lot of catching up to do with you.
Take the low road through the murky waters that encroach the castle’s outer reaches. Fight the slow-moving Frankenstein and his infuriatingly nimble pet, Igor. Enter the depths of the dungeons where some skeletons are crushed to earth while others roam about throwing the chalky limbs of their sleeping comrades. One of the toughest Castlevania bosses is your company at the end of this gloomy area: The Grim Reaper. Only by crowding the very air with boomerangs while employing some deft dodging will you fell the one called Death.
Amazingly, things only get harder. Follow the yellow brick road - lofty and broken as it may be - through massive vampire bats that seek to force you down. Don’t let yourself fall through the cracks! Navigate the clock tower and prepare yourself for perhaps the most difficult of all incarnations of Dracula. It might well be that the cartoon rule of thumb rings true: the first appearance of a bad guy is when he’s at his strongest. Always.
Dracula's inaugural NES Castlevania is very hard, and looks very basic. Unfortunately, those factors might be stressed to a fault. The tunes though, are remarkable, and that certainly elevates the experience, and makes the trip seem that much more legendary. Castlevania's Simon manages to stand up well to his much younger, much better-looking children. He’s mostly forgotten, but when nostalgia, curiosity, or boredom find the original, brown-clad vampire killer on his feet, he defies you to forget him again.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 31, 2003)
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