Super Castlevania IV (SNES) review
"If youíve been playing games for any length of time, youíve probably heard of the Castlevania series. If you havenítÖ well, thatís absolutely tragic, because aside from being one of the most memorable franchises from the NES era, Castlevania is still one of the most enjoyable series around today. Thanks to the Wiiís Virtual Console, itís possible for people who missed the older, pre-SOTN games to finally experience those classics, and there are few entries more worthy than..."
If youíve been playing games for any length of time, youíve probably heard of the Castlevania series. If you havenítÖ well, thatís absolutely tragic, because aside from being one of the most memorable franchises from the NES era, Castlevania is still one of the most enjoyable series around today. Thanks to the Wiiís Virtual Console, itís possible for people who missed the older, pre-SOTN games to finally experience those classics, and there are few entries more worthy than Super Castlevania IV.
Super Castlevania IV is about a Belmont (specifically, Simon) killing Dracula with a whip. If you think youíve heard that premise before, it's because you have in the more than 20 Castlevania games that have been released since the seriesí inception. And thatís all the plot you need, because Castlevania has always been about the gameplay, and this entry delivers in spades. Like its predecessors, Castlevania IV is a linear side-scroller consisting of killing all manner of enemies with your whip and jumping from platform to platform in order to reach the boss at the end of the level. Thatís nothing new, but SC IV does introduce a few new wrinkles into an otherwise simplistic series. First, your character has significantly more mobility with the whip than before Ė you can now whip in eight different directions. Additionally, holding the attack button will make the whip go limp, and you can then fling it in whichever direction you wish, which is a surprisingly useful tactic. There are also some instances where youíll need to whip hooks located above chasms in order to latch on and swing from one side to the other, which is an interesting addition to the straightforward platforming. The vastly improved whip mechanics make the game play much more fluidly than its predecessors, which is good because that was the one major area where previous entries were lacking.
The level design is top-notch here and some of the best of any of the old-style Castlevania games. The game is composed of 11 lengthy stages, many of which actually take place outside of Draculaís castle. This ends up being a good thing because the stages are much more varied and interesting as a result. Since the game isnít confined to a Gothic castle setting, the stages are designed differently from what past games offered and SC IV is left with a level of uniqueness that it otherwise would never have had. All of the stages have an excellent blend of platforming and combat and there are thankfully far fewer frustrating segments here than in past games. While you can still get knocked off of a ledge you worked so hard to get to by a measly bat, these instances are always avoidable with some basic strategy. Thatís not to say that Super Castlevania IV is an easy game, though, because it most assuredly is not. Once you hit stage four, both the enemies and the platforming become extremely tricky. The game only gets more difficult as it progresses, yet youíll find yourself wanting to surmount the obstacles the game throws your way because they arenít cheap or unfair, but rather enjoyable challenges. Itís a true rarity to find side-scrollers where the challenge is part of the fun rather than a deterrent, but CV IV is absolutely one of those games.
The one frustration in this game is the same problem thatís plagued all of the older games in the series: stairs. While Simon Belmont might be capable of killing monsters of the night without any problem, he seems incapable of climbing a flight of stairs without struggling immensely. To move up or down a flight of stairs, you have to hold up or down when youíre at the staircase, which is far less intuitive than you might expect. From there, you canít jump off (you can choose to drop down from the stairs, however), but you can easily get knocked off into a pit by an enemy or a projectile. This would be a meaningless issue if climbing stairs werenít such a major part of the game. As a result, this becomes a definite nuisance, and considering what an upgrade the whip mechanics received, thereís no reason why this cumbersome aspect of the series should have remained as it was. It doesn't cripple the game by any means, but it is the one remaining gameplay element that really needed to be altered.
Despite being made more than 15 years ago, Super Castlevania IV holds up well from a technical standpoint. The 2D sprites are well-detailed and decently animated, and thereís nothing that stands out as looking particularly bad. The graphics canít compare to what games produced later on in the SNESí life like Super Metroid offer, but theyíre definitely sufficient. This was also one of the first games to use the SNESí Mode-7 effects, which admittedly werenít all that easy on the eyes. However, theyíre used minimally here for things like rotating rooms and they surprisingly manage to enhance the brief segments in which they appear. The audio aspect of the game manages to hold up remarkably well. The Castlevania games have always been renowned for their musical scores, and Super Castlevania IV was the first to demonstrate what the SNES sound chip was capable of. The musicís instrumentation still sounds good, and the compositions themselves are still excellent Ė time has done little to hurt the game in this respect.
While the Castlevania games have long since shifted to the Metroidvania formula pioneered by Symphony of the Night, thereís still a lot to be enjoyed here. It may be old, but Super Castlevania IV is still one of the seriesí strongest entries. Now that the game is available once again on the Wiiís Virtual Console, thereís absolutely no reason for side-scroller fans to miss this supremely enjoyable adventure.
Community review by Daisuke02 (September 07, 2007)
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