Slightly Late Game Reviews: Castlevania

Posted by | April 9, 2007

If you’re anything like me, you know that life is full of simple pleasures. Little joys, moments of happiness caught fluttering through the air. But, among these, some fly higher than others, and few joys reach the lofty altitude of the pure and wholesome love a true gamer holds for beating down vampires with a whip. Castlevania, for the Nintendo Entertainment System, stands tall and proud as the source and root of this wonderful feeling.

Castlevania is an action platformer where you take on the role of Simon Belmont, vampire hunter. Your goal is to smash through a haunted castle and wax the biggest baddie of the night crowd, Count Dracula. On the way, you’ll face down everything from a giant bat, to Medusa, and even Frankenstein’s monster with his little hunchback pal. There are no guns in this game, no swords, and you damn well don’t jump on angry mushrooms. You’re facing down high evil with your courage and a whip, like God intended.

What a whip it is, too. Many games fail because your weapon just doesn’t have the range to fight the good fight. Not here. You’ve got three full levels of whip; the short and wimpy, the short and thumpy, and a nice, long ball and chain affair that’ll put the hurt on anything that walks, flops, or slimes its way through Drac’s lair. But, nice as your whip might be, not every problem in the castle can be solved by a good beating. That’s where your special weapons come in.

These things are neat. Special weapons make your whip-slinging vampire killer into a true badass. You can only pack one special weapon at a time, but all are handy. There’s the throwing knife for a fast ranged attack, holy water to burn down those nasty evil ickies in your way, and even a stopwatch that freezes time. Very damn useful.

There are also secrets. Putting the whip to creatures of the night is hungry work, so look for breakable stones that hide turkey dinners that restore some lost health. This was before you could just throw things in the fridge, after all. Beyond health, ancient treasures will rise up from the ground if you perform the right move in the right place. Collect those for major points towards an extra life.

So that’s the kind of firepower Simon brings to the table. On the other side you’ll find a shambling horde of unique enemies, all with their own tricks. Some, like the zombie, just stumble blindly into your whip. Some jump up and shoot fireballs at you. Then, there’s the medusa head. Oh god. These horrid things fly through the air in a wave pattern, precisely timed to knock you off a ledge, down a pit, or into the claws of some nasty critter. It’s uncanny. Expect to bounce through a rousing game of Belmont Volleyball at least once a playthrough. Then we come to the bosses.

Castlevania offers a number of creepy levels, with a monster at the end waiting to be your special friend. Things start off with a giant bat, not too hard. Then there’s Medusa, also cake. Mummies come next, a pair of them. Just when you’re feeling cool and rocking out after all that, Frankenstein’s Monster and his buddy Igor come along to put you in your place. Fear that bastard munchkin Igor, for he will ruin your world. Just to add some fresh insult to a very hefty chunk of injury, the next boss happens to be the Grim Reaper. He comes down on your face with a scythe. Four scythes, in fact, the sort that fly through the air at angles you can’t reach to carve you up like a Christmas turkey. Mr. Reaper flies, too, by the way. Finally, there’s a goddamned clocktower, and if the cartridge survives being hucked into the wall when that part kills you for the thirty-seventh time you’ll come face to fang with the big guy himself, Dracula.

Although the Castlevania series has gone on to bigger and greater things, and although Simon Belmont has faded away in favour of random anime prettyboys, the original game still stands alone. The play control, while a little stiff, is not imprecise. The levels are colourful, unique, and present a solid rhythm as you whip and burn your way up Dracula’s castle. The music kicks seven shades of ass. There are options and secrets and no right way to make it past the challenges you’ll face. To play Castlevania is to play one of the best games of its generation, and one of the best games made, period. So curbstomp those bishi prettyboy punk pretenders, grab the original Castlevania, and prepare to learn the pleasures of the whip.

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