195th played so far
Year of Release: 1991
Castlevania’s one of those long running standard-setting series. You know, like Mario, Mega Man, Sonic and Kirby. Videogame series that have delivered several times and tend to be reliable enough to do a good job most of the time.
It’s a bit of a miracle then that neither of us has ever played a game from the series, despite the praise it often gets. You say miracle, I say that it’s a bit of an embarrassment that two gamers such as ourselves haven’t done so.
Neither of us are fans of survival horror games. I mean hell the zombies in the story levels of Timesplitters 2 make me jump so heaven knows how I am going to survive the time we eventually play Fatal Frame 2. With that being said I do love the horror elements these games bring to the table. Hell, that’s the only reason why I am kinda looking forward to when we get around to playing Siren Blood Curse.
So far we have seen graphic depictions (Splatterhouse) and humorous depictions (Zombies Ate My Neighbours) and Super Castlevania IV plays it straight and gothic. The whole point of the game is that you are venturing into Dracula’s castle in order to take on epic boss fights and to defeat the evil dark lord himself (seriously, who keeps resurrecting this creep?) So, there you are. Hero vampire hunter Simon Belmont traipsing through Dracula’s castle so you can put an end to him once again. Before you can do that you need to battle your way through his castle which is demonic in itself.
Games like this rely a lot on three things: setting, bestiary and armoury. In order to be great to play they all need to be beyond good. So why don’t we start with the first one; setting. Dracula’s castle could easily be a dull place to be. Castle levels in certain Mario games can feel sparsely furnished and fairly dull. I mean if you are going to build a castle level into a platformer you need to think more of Amityville Horror rather than Count Duckula. For those more versed in the universe, by the way – this setting is the same as the original Castlevania, just upgraded.
Luckily Konami have decided to not emulate (the amazing) Count Duckula and have created a house and grounds with a life of it’s own. Roaming medusa heads, skeleton soldiers and other such lovelies maraud through the rooms and grounds trying to maim you mercilessly. All the rooms are varied with the uniting feature that they feature platforming sections, dimly lit candlesticks and the occasional hidden sections filled with hearts and chicken legs (the latter of which restores your health meter).
One of the nicer additions here are the different weapons. Yeah, we see a variety of this in plenty of games, but here they’re both thematically appropriate and nicely varied. Rather than a boomerang, you throw crosses (yeah, you are fighting vampires), there’s holy water and throwing knives (okay, that’s less interesting). It adds a bit of variety, although your standard weapon – the whip – is already enough to set it apart from many other games. It makes for a nice variation in an otherwise challenging game. And don’t get me wrong – it is tough. Maybe not Kid Icarus tough, but tough nonetheless.
The bestiary itself is varied enough to warrant a few merits. Nothing is too far off the beaten horror path since you will be encountering the stereotypical crows, zombies and gargoyles. In a strange tangent you will also be attacked by small frogs, porcupines and tentacle things that fall from the ceiling to cause maximum death. It is always good to see a mix of things which are standard with others that are fairly surprising. The boss fights too are varied mix of the expected and the unexpected but none of them are particularly taxing…
It’s good to finally get around to a decent traditional 2D-platformer. It’s a genre that we really have been neglecting as of late and we will be endeavouring to get back up to date with. Personally I am looking forward to some of the older Taito ones. That’ll be ace!