Castlevania (Nintendo 64) review
"This game cheated me. I had originally started playing on the normal difficulty, but finding that its spastic camera and inane method of fighting led to more deaths than I deserved, I decided to restart and play on easy. The game became slightly more tolerable, and it would not be inaccurate to say that I, on some occasions, did not hate it from the depths of my soul. This ended when it came time to ascend a certain tower. Believing that I was to continue playing, I hopped onto an elevator o..."
This game cheated me. I had originally started playing on the normal difficulty, but finding that its spastic camera and inane method of fighting led to more deaths than I deserved, I decided to restart and play on easy. The game became slightly more tolerable, and it would not be inaccurate to say that I, on some occasions, did not hate it from the depths of my soul. This ended when it came time to ascend a certain tower. Believing that I was to continue playing, I hopped onto an elevator only to be greeted with a message declaring that the game cannot be completed on easy, and that if I wanted to see the next level I must start again from the beginning and play on normal.
That experience effectively ruined Castlevania 64 for me for quite some time. I shelved it for about 10 months before even considering to play it again. To rob the player of the satisfaction of completing the game is just asinine, regardless of difficulty. It felt like I was playing a demo rather than a full game. However, now that this initial sting has subsided, I am unfortunately willing to play once more. This time I was sure to play on normal, which is apparently not very hard at all considering that any difficult mode will be artificially inflated in this game for the same reasons (i.e. its incompetence).
There are two characters available for play, a quintessential man with a whip and a little girl. I picked the little girl, partly because I found it easier to identify with her, but mostly because she fights much more effectively than her brutish male counterpart. In contrast to his short attack range, stiff aiming, and pathetic secondary attack, Carie is capable of firing glowing green things that home in on their target and do more damage. Unfortunately about 1/3 of the game is specific to each character, so much the same way easy mode cheated me out of an ending, the player must play through Castlevania 64 at least twice to see every level.
The difference in the difficulty between characters has nothing to do with developer intent but rather with poor design. Bubsy 3D aside, Castlevania 64 might be the worst 2D to 3D transition made by an established series. It blunders the camera, the controls, the physics, the level layout, and pretty much everything else that a 3D game can screw up. This is rather puzzling when one considering that Konami had previously pioneered 3D game technology with Metal Gear Solid. The only plausible explanation for this discrepancy is that Castlevania 64 is simply not finished, a theory strongly supported by the release of Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness a year later.
Your character will follow a linear path from level to level, generally solving simple puzzles such as finding a key or pulling a leveler. Despite this simplicity, the design for many of these levels can be really counterintuitive. For example, one part required me to retrieve a key from some guy clear on the other end of th level. The key was for door near the starting point, so I trekked back there, opened it, and got an item that I needed to use back where I had gotten the key. So I go back there, use the item, and discover that I need to go back to the entrance yet again. Now, if the player isn't sure of the order in which to perform these tasks, they will likely backtrack several more times before they figure it out.
Another level had me wandering through a hedge maze as I was chased by two immortal dogs that ran faster than I could and a Frankenstein monster wielding a chainsaw that did massive damage. This emphasizes another major flaw: Castlevania 64 is cheap. There aren't any enemies that are particularly difficult or intelligent, but the camera is so poor that the player is very frequently blind-sided around corners or from behind. There are also many places with infinitely respawning enemies, including medusa heads that literally appear out of thin air and exploding skeletons that that pop out of the ground and run towards you while you're trying to figure out where the hell you're supposed to go. This gets old, like immediately.
There are three different camera modes and none of them function properly. Expect to make many blind jumps and to fight enemies you can't see. There is some semblance of something like Z-targeting from Ocarina of Time, but it is so poorly implemented that Miyamoto should be offended. When the player holds the R-button, the camera focuses on the nearest enemy – which causes the player to freeze in his or her place. The player can jump backwards and laterally (though the camera goes ballistic when you try to do this), but walking, strafing, or doing anything useful is not part of the equation. This alone makes it needlessly difficult to fight enemies or jump on platforms since it is the only way to directly manipulate the camera, resulting in deaths through no fault of the player.
Following this theme, the controls leave a lot to be desired. Walking and running is slippery, while jumping is stiff, which is problematic when one recalls that this is a platforming game, and while consequently involve platforming. Add to this the poor camera, and the player will be making far too leaps of faith to distant platforms that are farther/nearer than they initially appear.
If you can get over these faults – and that in itself is quite a feat -- Castlevania 64 may provide small glimmers of brilliance. It's atmosphere is both distinct in chilling, showing uncanny aesthetic skill in an otherwise poor game. From the haunting violin solo on the title screen to the familiar leitmotifs that seamlessly weave in and out, the music remains inspired up until the end. It posits a much different style from other Castlevania games in that it is more ambient and far less heavy on the dance/trance, but it still manages to capture the Castlevania atmosphere nicely.
In the same spirit, the drab environments and sedated colors really suite the horror theme nicely. For example, at one part the player stands in front of a large door that slowly opens. On the other side is a large, motionless skeleton. Lightning strikes and suddenly the skeleton charges with an oversized clubs. At moments like this, there is something thrilling to be had, like the player is part of a classic horror film.
However, to get to a point when its flaws can be forgiven, one must be able to tolerate unfair gameplay, an incompetent camera, and some genuinely asinine design decisions that ruin any atmosphere that the game successfully creates. If one can indeed get over all that, one may enjoy the horror atmosphere despite the mediocrity of the game itself. The average player, however, will not be able to tolerate these failings for any extended period of time.
It is worth mentioning as an aside that there are skeletons that ride motorcycles in this game.
Community review by dagoss (August 11, 2008)
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