"In Castlevania III, Death still is a brutal opponent (and making it a two-part battle doesnít help), but a number of blocks are strategically placed in his room, so a skilled player can chase the reaper from one corner to the next. Trevor might have no safe places to hide, but neither does his undead foe! It might not seem like a big deal, but trust me ó the odds are a lot more even here than in Castlevania."
Staring at my screen, I was transfixed with a combination of shock and dread. I thought Iíd done it....I thought Iíd bested Death and without even expending too many lives in the process. But then it happened -- the rotted curtains and macabre piles of skulls serving as the reaperís home furnishings faded into darkness, heralding the arrival of a gigantic skull. After slowly spinning towards me, the beast stopped, radiated an eerie light and shot a sickle out of its mouth, directly into my grievously wounded body. With scarcely a whimper, I slumped to the floor, another victim of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.
Over the years, Iíve beaten more than my fair share of games, but I can't think of one single victory that gave me more jubilation than this. While a number of the original Castlevania's challenges could be frustrating and unfair, those in the series' third game (for this discussion, letís avoid mentioning the pathetically easy Simonís Quest) were simply addicting. Yes, dying more times than I can count would frequently drive me away from my NES, but the knowledge that I seemingly was only one move away from making it one step closer to Dracula would always bring me back.
Under my control was Trevor Belmont, an ancestor of Simon, but for all intents and purposes, his identical twin. Trevor uses the same whip Simon did in Castlevania, collects the same sub-weapons and has the same lack of control over his jumps. Fortunately, while a bit annoying, Trevorís mid-air mobility issues arenít quite the pain that Simonís were, as this game isnít as sadistic due to a number of subtle alterations (and one not-so-subtle one -- the inclusion of a password system, so failure doesnít mean one must start from scratch).
I noticed that some of the more annoying foes like Medusa Heads were used only in certain situations, as opposed to being constantly thrown at the player to ensure a seemingly simple hop from one platform to another would ALWAYS be a challenge. Or, to revisit that battle with Mr. Retro Reaper, veterans of the first Castlevania skilled enough to survive the brutally difficult corridor (Axe Knights and Medusa Heads together.....fun, fun, fun) leading to his chamber were confronted with a seemingly impossible battle, as Death had no qualms about flying out of Simonís range while the vampire hunter ineffectively flailed with his whip, hoping to simply survive the next set of sickles as they homed in with lethal accuracy. In Castlevania III, Death still is a brutal opponent (and making it a two-part battle doesnít help), but a number of blocks are strategically placed in his room, so a skilled player can chase the reaper from one corner to the next. Trevor might have no safe places to hide, but neither does his undead foe! It might not seem like a big deal, but trust me -- the odds are a lot more even here than in Castlevania.
To help Trevor further, unlike Simon, heís not a lone wolf. Early in the game, after toppling an ape-like boss at the top of a clock tower, Trevor meets the small, nimble Grant, who offers his skills. Later in the quest, Trevor may be approached by magician Sypha or half-vampire Alucard. All three have their uses: Grant can climb walls, change direction in mid-jump and move much faster than Trevor; Alucard can fly away from danger and Syphaís magic spells provide a devastating offensive onslaught.
These allies give Castlevania III an element of strategy. Trevor can only have one ally as a companion at any time, but all three have their uses....and weaknesses. Just look at Grant (my favorite). Heís nimble and his wall-climbing abilities are quite handy in getting through a few automatically-scrolling vertical sections (even if heís a bit tricky to control when scuttling along walls and ceilings) and make besting one particular boss childís play. However, his basic attack has no range, he takes more damage than Trevor and his enhanced leaping abilities can prove detrimental in tight corridors, as heís quite capable of bouncing off the ceiling, falling far short of his destination and ending up dead in a pit. A skilled player quickly learns when an ally is useful....and when they're a liability.
Of course, thatís assuming said player can find the ally theyíre looking for. Castlevania III delivers a few forks in the road on the long path to Draculaís castle. One companion lurks in a completely optional stage, while another can easily be missed depending on which direction the player goes when confronted with a decision midway through another level. All told, there are three different paths that can be taken to the "Killer Ds" (Dracula, Death and Doppleganger), each offering their own challenges.
Traveling in one direction allowed me to take a pleasure cruise on a haunted pirate ship, followed by a jaunt up a tower defended by hordes of strategically-placed monsters. Taking one of the other paths, I never saw those stages; instead paying a visit to such popular vacation spots as a desolate swamp and a flooded city taken over by skeletal dragons. Castlevania III has more than its fair share of replay value -- itís tough enough to beat the game once, but one has to accomplish that feat three times to see everything!
But doing so was a joy, as this is arguably the most atmospheric game ever released on an eight-bit system. Coming out late in the NESí lifespan, Castlevania III benefited from the rarely-used MMC5 chip that allowed (among other things) more colors to be displayed at once than the average NES game could handle. The end result was Konami crafting well over a dozen beautiful stages, ranging from dark forests to crumbling castle corridors. Perhaps even exceeding the quality of the graphics was the soundtrack, which boasted some of the greatest tunes Iíve ever heard in a NES game. I still vividly remember triggering the sound test just to listen to my favorites for a few minutes before sitting down to play (especially the incredibly epic ďRiddleĒ, the theme to the next-to-last stage).
Then again, virtually everything about Castlevania III brings back pleasant memories for me, as it seemed like Konami did everything within its power to ensure its final eight-bit Castlevania would be an unforgettable experience. I still vividly recall the sense of anticipation I felt as I first entered the undead-infested village that opens the game.....just as I remember the sense of foreboding that came over me as I slowly climbed the staircase leading to Draculaís chambers. After expending every last ounce of energy to survive the devilish obstacle course leading to that point; after overcoming Death, Frankenstein and other monstrous bosses and after surviving brutally difficult levels that at times seemed more a test of my will than my playing ability -- well, I just knew the vile vampire would have a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure Iíd never forget him, either.
I was right. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 20, 2006)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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