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Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES) artwork

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES) review

"I really liked the first Castlevania. I figured even with the lack of a password feature and the clunky game mechanics that it was cool to finally see such an atmospheric game integrate classic monsters and gothic myths into it seamlessly. I couldn't wait to see which baddie I'd be facing around the next corner -- would it be the Grim Reaper, or maybe Frankenstein's Monster? There was even an aura of spookiness about the whole game that I wouldn't have thought possible with so many advers..."

I really liked the first Castlevania. I figured even with the lack of a password feature and the clunky game mechanics that it was cool to finally see such an atmospheric game integrate classic monsters and gothic myths into it seamlessly. I couldn't wait to see which baddie I'd be facing around the next corner -- would it be the Grim Reaper, or maybe Frankenstein's Monster? There was even an aura of spookiness about the whole game that I wouldn't have thought possible with so many adversaries being trivialized at the crack of a whip. Times were good.

Then came the second, and I was disenchanted with the whole franchise.

My feelings were, ''okay, it tried to innovate, but there was way too much waiting around and other nonsense to justify playing through it,'' and so I didn't even finish the thing. The third piqued my interest through word-of-mouth, and I optimistically decided that maybe I hadn't really experienced The Real Deal with the original. The rest, as they say, was history. Until now.

My initial impression was that it was incredibly similar to the first. I never liked how Konami rehashed so much of their music in this series, and in that regard Castlevania III irked me from the start. The next beef came about as I discovered that so many of the third's bosses and enemies were indistinguishable from the first's. The game mechanics were identical, too, and I began to wonder what, if anything, had been innovated here. I got my answer soon enough, though. CVIII is much open-ended than the first(almost as much as the second, but then it doesn't have any of the boring RPG elements either) and allows for something especially cool: multiple characters.

Castlevania III is technically a prequel to the first and so as a result we find that our familiar protagonist from the earlier games, Simon Belmont, has not yet been born. Instead, we have control of Trevor Belmont, Simon's forefather and a good as any indicator that perhaps the Belmont blood-lines don't run too thick -- both wield whips, look identical and have been given the same task of exterminating Dracula. There are some others, too. Alucard(Dracula spelled backwards) has something against his antagonistic father and joins the cause after a deceptive boss battle, the Hayabusa-wannabe Grant Dynasty will be happy to anti-up his wall-climbing abilities if only you defeat his demonic side, and the feeble Syfa might just be able to lend a hand with some magic spells provided you free him from the captivity of a Cyclops.

Only Alucard is a sure-shot companion, though. Gathering the others requires divergence from the main route, and that might not be worth all of the trouble. Weapon power-ups are not mutually inclusive, and it becomes a bit of a bother to shuffle between characters to get everyone on the same level only to slip into a pit or run out of health. Also, even though, for example, Trevor's whip boosts don't have a similar effect on the the power of Alucard's energy balls, if Trevor gets hit and then the player switches to Alucard, the health lost is still missing. The energy bar is shared. This renders the whole idea of the harmonious traveling war-party rather impractical as the characters who take the most damage are unfortunately the ones who will end up getting the least playtime, their weapons -- though not particularly bad -- unable to offset the benefits of going solo with a hardier character like Trevor. Grant and especially Alucard still have utilitarian purposes, though, and Syfe can even be an asset during a particularly tricky boss fight provided you take the time to power her up.

Powering up is as simple as attacking the many candles strewn about the lands of Castlevania III. If a character is still using their base weapon, the first candle they destroy will invariably drop a weapon power-up, and from there they can power-up one more time to acquire their final implement of destruction. Most likely though, candles will drop hearts. These fuel auxiliary tools like stop-watches, holy water and axes, items that incidentally are also found inside candles. Then there's meat -- a health restoration item -- and extra-lives, which can be found by smashing open tiles in the wall. Collecting these things can be a huge asset to conquering the game, which is fairly obvious with the extra-lives and meat, but one might be surprised just how much secondary weapons can turn the tide in a particularly nasty boss battle. Some bosses even necessitate them, or come damn near close to doing so.

Castlevania III isn't an easy game by any means. It's a bit more difficult than the first and significantly more so than the second(we're talking legitimate challenge here). I feel that part of this is still due to the sometimes bothersome mechanics the series has always had, with the movement being slow and clunky, and the enemy patterns being far less static than your average NES platformer, but there's also a new and much more frustrating type of challenge introduced in one of the stages -- the waiting game. I was inching along nicely through CVIII; it was taking its toll, but frequent breaks and a lot of practice eventually found me three stages away from the final level. I was genuinely elated that I had come this far, and I had big hopes of completing the game sometime in the next few days. Then disaster struck. I encountered one of the most irritating levels I've ever run across in NES gaming. A level far worse than Ninja Gaiden's 6-2, more grating than the gold mine in Dragon's Lair and twice as disheartening as the Battletoad's Turbo Tunnel. I had encounter Ascension.

And why was it worse than all of these? Not necessarily because of its difficulty, its boss or anything as eventually surmountable as that. It was because even with immense practice there was no way to get through certain parts of the level faster. Most notably, there are two segments of block-falling where you have to repeat the same movement over and over until enough blocks have fallen to allow you to leave the scene. The first wasn't too bad -- it was actually rather stimulating as there were also gargoyles to contend with at the time -- but the second; oh man, what an awful idea. This section should have never made it past the drawing board because its nothing more than a huge downer. One can expect to spend up to five whole minutes walking back and forth in this segment before they reach the top, and it's not at all challenging. No, when you know the pattern it's cake, which is mostly the problem. It's not stimulating or thought-provoking enough to be anything but a huge chore. And I'm playing games to have fun. But being the maniac I am when it comes to finishing NES titles, I drug CVIII off the shelf where I had thrown it in frustration several times and eventually got through that level(I must have had to replay it 30 times), beating the particularly sinister triad of bosses at the end and making it to the next one which was quite a bit easier.

It wasn't that bad from then on.

My conclusion pretty much amounts to this: Castlevania III is engaging enough and the sights cool enough(if a bit retreaded in places) to make for an enjoyable experience through and through despite the occasional bothers. It's hard to say whether or not the experience was more or less pleasurable than the first. It certainly seemed to be a little more exciting aurally and graphically and a little less formulaic, but I think it's safe to say that all of that was balanced out by the cons. In any case, fans of the series will like this one, and it's probably a better starting place for newcomers as well because of the added convenience of a password system. But don't expect an experience more or less enjoyable than the first unless the lack of a password system was particularly bothersome to you -- in which case it might be a tad more finishable.

sapharos's avatar
Community review by sapharos (May 21, 2004)

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