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Super Castlevania IV (SNES) artwork

Super Castlevania IV (SNES) review


"The game exhibits useless imagination from the very beginning, with two-tiered levels (walk through a gate and traverse the background — pass back through the gate and you're in the foreground again) and new enemies such as a skeletal knight riding atop a skeletal horse. This cart's got some serious style. Too bad it's so damn ugly."



"This is not the way Castlevania should be."

--M. DePasque

DePasque is a spiteful man, unable to cope with the enormous impact that Super Castlevania 4 had on the gaming world during the SNES's infancy. Unable to recognize the game's burgeoning imagination, focusing instead on admittedly silly details such as the absurdity of Dracula installing whip hooks in his castle despite knowing that his eternal foes, the Belmonts, favor the whip in battle. What's up with that? I'd have figured the Count for a smarter man. Or rotating castle corridors -- a moment of completely illogical Mode 7 tomfoolery. And look at the way Simon Belmont's whip appears so pitifully flaccid when brandished!

"Give the boy some Viagra! Give that whip some stiff!" DePasque might cry.

Looking past the tree and admiring the forest, Super Castlevania 4 is a bonanza of creativity, a literal treasure-trove of imagination. Literal? Yes: one portion of Dracula's domain is even fashioned primarily from gold -- an exorbitant blast of insight into the mind of an Immortal Noble. One no longer has to wonder what the Count has done with all the wealth he collected during his lifetime.

Alas, that's the first good level of the game, prefaced by eight boring stages filled with flashy-but-empty layouts and creative-but-pedestrian enemy encounters.

The game exhibits useless imagination from the very beginning, with two-tiered levels (walk through a gate and traverse the background -- pass back through the gate and you're in the foreground again) and new enemies such as a skeletal knight riding atop a skeletal horse. This cart's got some serious style.

Too bad it's so damn ugly. Oh yes, the game has some beautiful details: transparent flowing water, parallax fog across the lush backgrounds, and the like. But those details are the cute bunnies in a rotting forest. You'll see plenty of bright green mixed with feces brown -- nothing wrong with those two colors, but a terribly garish combination. Bright blues atop reddish-orange scenery -- another ill-matched combination. And I certainly hope you like reddish-orange, because of all the colors of the rainbow, that's the one you'll be seeing the most. The garish, clashing coloration is tragic, because the designs of the enemies and backgrounds are quite intricate, and the effects (water, transparent ghosts, and the like) are impressive.

It's nice that Konami added some cool animations -- skeletons falling apart in a heap of bones, rock golems bursting into shards of rubble -- but they also overtaxed the system. Each time you finish off one of these ornately-animated enemies, the game will slow down a lot, unable to cope with the dozen bits of bone or boulder flying about the screen. Combined with the rampant color abuse, the slowdown makes for an unsettling visual appearance.

Adding more salt to the festering wound, Super Castlevania 4 can be pretty boring. The enemies are doled out in easy-to-handle chunks, and the much-touted "improved control", which lets you whip in eight directions, makes the enemies even easier to handle and, ultimately, less memorable.

Consider the flying skull boss. Yes, this is one of those old-time "remember back when flying skulls were cool?!" games. He's got horizontal attacks: tongue-lashings and acidic breath. Moreover, as you battle, the ceiling crumbles, sending spiky blocks at your head. In any other Castlevania game, I can only imagine the intricate strategy involved in leaping from one platform to another, dodging the skull's razor tongue and the falling granite. But here, thanks to the "improved" control, how does Simon win? He simply stands beneath the skull and keeps whipping upwards. That does not make for an epic battle. It took me a long time to beat Frankenstein (level 4 boss) in the original Castlevania: I remember it well. I only remember the skull battle from part 4 as one example (of many) where a battle amounts to nothing more than "stand still and whip until it dies".

The flying skull is reddish-orange.

Some great, trademark Castlevania tunes could have helped things. A lot of Castlevania fans like the soundtrack, so when I say the serene, ambient pieces (excluding occasional faster tracks, ie "Theme of Simon Belmont") serve only to accentuate the meandering, laidback pace of the game... I could be the one who's wrong. Or perhaps I'm not a true Castlevania fan, since I prefer later installments in the series, such as Symphony of the Night and Bloodlines.

In any case, Super Castlevania 4 is not the action-packed, invigorating experience that I found in other episodes of the series (or in other action-platformers, such as Shinobi 3). This is more of a walk through Castlevania Park -- admiring the scenery and exploring the nooks and crannies. Except that the scenery, while inspired, isn't particularly pleasant, and there are a lot... a lot... fewer nooks and crannies than you'd find in Dracula X on the Turbo or Castlevania 3.

HOWEVER!

The last two levels are pretty freakin' awesome. Sure, like most of the music, the SNES version's chorus of "Bloody Tears" is too soft-spoken for my tastes, but several melodies near the end drop the ambient act and go for the ear-gouging gusto. There's even a really good rendition of "Beginning" in the final level. That's an odd name for a final level tune, but considering that's where the game actually becomes good, it's still somehow appropriate. The song's fast-paced and builds on the already-intense platforming going on. Crumbling stairways? Spinning buzzsaws? Leaping from one rising platform to another, avoiding spikes on the ceiling? Fending off bone-tossing skellies and lurking golems? Oh yeah, it's all there. All at once. I'm in gameplay heaven!

Even the lowly whip hooks serve a productive purpose in the penultimate Clock Tower level, attached to revolving conveyor belts: timing is of the essence, to advance from one to another while avoiding bouncing gears and sword-swinging Deathknights. The idea of whip hooks is still incredibly stupid, but it makes for a fun experience: flinging yourself from one belt to another, while avoiding the Mad Gear Gang.

Four or five good-to-great levels and half a dozen dull ones -- yes, much of the game is left wanting, but that's what the passwords are for! Yes, that's right: find a FAQ, grab some codes, and skip the crap, because the best parts of Super Castlevania 4 are actually moderately entertaining.

//Zig

Graphics: mediocre
Music: mediocre
Levels one through eight: poor
Levels 9 through the end: awesomeness!
Unwarranted Hype: mind-blowing

Rating: 5/10

zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (January 16, 2004)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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