Super Castlevania IV (SNES) review
"It must be a case of brainwashing. For, if any doubts ever entered the rabid SNES fan's head, they'd be soon shaken away by the word ''Super'' in the game's title. No game with such surname hyperbole could ever be second-best. "
It must be a case of brainwashing. For, if any doubts ever entered the rabid SNES fan's head, they'd be soon shaken away by the word ''Super'' in the game's title. No game with such surname hyperbole could ever be second-best.
The game is ''Super,'' alright. It's ''Super'' the way Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts was ''Super.'' It underwent a transformation from its classic themes to better fit the mold Nintendo envisioned for its machine; cookie-cutter visuals and superfluous game mechanics to wow magazines and eager, non-discriminating fans. It lost its way as a Castlevania game; it feeds off its boastful name to remind people that it is ''Super.'' Realistically, it's a handicapped, deviating effort mysteriously cherished by, perhaps, the easily amused.
The game unfolds the story of Simon Belmont yet again; so cursed is he that he must face down Dracula once every other game. Unveil the story of a new Belmont or birth the future of following clans? Not this time. Konami dredged up Simon yet again in a plot-hole filled, vague story of another confrontation with the hellish presence, Dracula. Simon takes whip in hand, tail between legs, as he marches through this meandering mess of missed potential and awkward ideals.
Super Castlevania IV begins as you trudge towards the wretched grounds of Castle Dracula. Here you can discover the game's numerous, notable, highly differential game mechanics. It seems the Belmonts are no longer dedicated in their jumps; Simon can now control his jump in midair, changing as many times as he likes in mid-jump. It's even possible to jump out in a direction, sail for a moment, and return to the point of launch. A vast change, to be certain, but Castlevania has always been infamous for its sometimes frustrating jumping mechanics. Score one for SCIV.
Simon also has gained the ability to whip in multiple directions; from a standing or kneeling position, he can strike left, right, up, or the directions in between. While airborne with his physics-defying powers, he can whip in any cardinal direction or its diagonal variants. But the whipping doesn't just stop at getting better; it goes even further to get... worse.
Should you hold that attack button down, Simon will rest his whip, waiting for you to twirl around on the directional arrows. This results in twirling on screen, a concert of twirling from yourself and Simon. You twirl, he twirls, I twirl, the world twirls. And we all look stupid as hell doing it.
Why twirl his whip? It's pointless. Can you imagine the effectiveness of twirled twine? It's a weaker attack; twirling results in taking 2-3 times as many strikes to kill an enemy. Accidental twirling will likely get you struck by some hapless, droning enemy. Should you lash out with the whip and accidentally make the most minute of directional input, the whipping becomes a ''weak'' attack by default, no longer strong enough to hurt even a lowly bat, costing you a piece of your life meter and a piece of your patience. Be prepared for this malfunction to occur; it can, and most frustratingly will happen.
But, such are the basics. Simon is better and worse now. As with all Castlevanias, you win some and you lose some; the game itself must compensate and take advantage of the balances of character design.
As Simon is moved across the entombing drawbridge to face the armies of undead; all seems promising. The excellent, tense, and dramatic Theme of Simon clashes in the background as you battle across an evil garden. Super Castlevania IV appears to be a Castlevania game evolved. Get further in, though, and it loses this promise.
Soon, you'll be surrounded by color schemes and background designs entirely out of place in a Castlevania game. Castlevania atmosphere becomes nonexistent, giving way to the most generic of 16-bit presentations as you wonder why ''medieval castle'' structuring was crafted out of green or purple stone. Lushness prevails in the game's many outdoor sequences, areas that are bright and brilliant, using awkward pastels to improperly deliver the supposed concept of death and desperation. Placing the game as Castlevania would be impossible without the whip; remove it, and this is just any other SNES game.
Gain more ground and the largest flaw in the game's fluidity is discovered. The solace found in whipping enemies and jumping platforms grinds to a halt as Simon stares at the awkward, slightly pulsating metal object floating mysteriously in the air. The game seems to stand still as Simon discovers this ''whip hook.'' Latching onto it with his whip, he can swing around, covering an expansive gap he'd not normally be able to. Then, back on to platforming and whipping.
The out-of-place nature of the whip hooks never disappears. The whip hook stares back at you, forcing you to strike it. You can go nowhere without it, and it knows. It knows that Konami put it there to be the most obtuse of game designs; an entire play mechanic created specifically and exclusively for this single sprite. There is no swinging that does not employ a whip hook and there is no whip hook that does not employ swinging. Simon and the hook glare at each other, as if enemies in the way they must work together, interrupting the game as a whole as the mindless, pointless nature of the instrument cannot be ignored.
Further still, the game relents itself and submits. Area after area involves little challenge or foresight; play through a level once, maybe continue and start over, but never again for will it be of concern. It begins to drone on as promising but dull levels like the first and simply boring levels such as the third give way to the game's undisputed money-level, the much touted fourth level. This fourth level, this ''Clockwork Mansion,'' is the ace in the sleeve of SCIV. It is discussed and revered and gushed over by the legions of faithful swearing allegiance to the game. But don't play it with a discerning eye, or you'll never understand.
The fame level four receives is for its ''spinning rooms,'' a truly brilliant, brief interlude of ingenuity surrounded by some of the most boring level design ever. To reach these almost cheap thrills, you must wade through insipid, mundane expanses of boring execution. As you pass the ridiculous Skull miniboss, with its laughable tongue attacks, you stand at the edge of the game's shining moment. Stairs lay out, and ascending them finds Simon in a room suddenly in motion. The entire room begins to rotate, and Simon must lash out into that glorious whip hook to survive. Defeating this room continues Simon into a string of platforms spreading on through a room with a spinning, cylindrical background. A visually impressive, tense, and slowdown-ridden sequence, and then on to more mediocrity once it has passed. No more spinning rooms, even on the level, and no more reason to love the game.
As SCIV drones on, it never again rises above itself. Routine Castlevania-esque mandatories from there out serve to provide a routine experience, minus the atmosphere. Stairs, trap doors, platforms over spikes; all levels are full of such average predictability (minus a decent chandelier sequence), causing lust and yearning for those 2 fleeting moments of inspiration that broke through the dryness.
As failed as I saw the level design, I was ultimately even more surprised at the graphics. THIS was the game that so visually blew the world away? This, the most common-looking of 16-bit games? The game's first half neither wowed nor displeased me; it was so average in appearance I kept waiting for the extraordinary to happen, to validate what I'd been told. It happened, in the second spinning segment of the 4th level, never again to be seen. Super Castlevania IV is nothing special to behold.
Simon is an under-animated sprite of decent size. Marginally bigger than his counterpart in Bloodlines, he stands lean and proud. He has no idle animation, though, so whenever stopped, he appears ready to challenge anyone to an arm wrestling match. He jumps as if his ass was just ''towel-snapped,'' arm still cocked and ready to go ''over the top.'' Colors throughout the game are bright and almost chartreuse, varied across the spectrum but wholly out of place in a Castlevania game. How are green and purple stones supposed to haunt the soul? Or such bright, orange-ish-reds everywhere? The game lacks in darkness, something which a game like this needs. Without, it ends up as it was delivered: a colorful game, of average sprite composition, indistinguishable as its own breed of game. Fortunately, though, the soundtrack fared much better.
The quality of the music's delivery can't be denied; the SNES chip was pushed and prodded to deliver compositions of dynamic and crystalline quality. Theme of Simon, although later bested by the Bloodlines rendition, is the perfect opening for the game, a resonating melody leagues better than the level it accompanies. The Caves is a Zelda-esque, foreboding piece, perfectly matched to the nature of the underground sprawl ahead of Simon on the level. Some tracks miss in their arrangement; the Vampire Killer rendition is terrible, and other originals such as The Entrance Hall start out strongly and then drone on into pretty uninspiring tracks. Regardless, the quality of any given track's performance on the SNES chip is immaculate.
But soundtracks do not decide the fate of a game. Too much has been said in false praise of the game, and too much of it has gone ignored. It is nowhere near its purported quality, this game which is barely ''above average.'' So much of it is simply basic Castlevania conventions with nothing to make it rise above, a composition ignored in favor of foolish praise over its minute moment of magnificence. It's worth a trip across its landscape of challenge-less levels just to reach its fourth, but can be turned off content with the knowledge that its best has been displayed. Super Castlevania IV is not super at all; it's merely a stripped, aspiration-less collection of Castlevania commodities, worked into a package complete with requisite, typical SNES graphics and excellent sound work.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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