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Castlevania

by Zachary Miller - April 12, 2013, 6:59 pm PDT
Total comments: 27

5

Reliving an unlikely ancestry.

As a paleontology buff, I’m constantly faced with amazement that animals around today (or even extinct, but long-lived lineages) survived at all given their meager origins. The most obvious example is mammals—while they dominate almost every large-scale ecosystem today, mammals started out under the ever-present shadow of early dinosaurs and large, carnivorous crurotarsians. Once the Triassic period ended in a blaze of extinction-event glory, early mammals found themselves competing with dinosaurs, and we all know how that played out over the next 150 million years. Mammals survived by being small and largely nocturnal, living in places dinosaurs didn’t bother occupying. Things didn’t turn around until another major extinction event—at the end of the Cretaceous period—once again wiped the slate clean. All the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, and suddenly mammals were the dominant life forms.

So now we come to art imitating life: Castlevania. This video game franchise is one of the oldest that’s still around today. The original NES game came out on the Famicom in 1986 and trudged forward, barely changing, until the franchise was largely retooled, with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, to emulate Super Metroid in 1997. That template proved as sturdy as its forebearer, ending with 2008’s Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. After that, control of the franchise moved from Konami to MercurySteam, who relaunched the franchise, mixing it with God of War action in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. So the franchise has seen three distinct periods: the original series, the Symphony series, and the Lords of Shadow series.

Through all these sequels and reboots, it’s easy to forget the original game. Like the first mammals, it’s difficult to see how Castlevania survived into the modern day. Though you could previously purchase the NES cart, the Wii Virtual Console emulation, or the Game Boy Advance port, you can now get your whips on the 3DS eShop. It’s the worst five dollars you’ll ever spend. The roots of the franchise are here, unearthed and glistening in the poorly rendered moonlight: whipping enemies, using sub-weapons, collecting hearts by destroying candles, and fighting cheap bosses. The game’s flaws are immediately obvious: Simon Belmont walks slowly, jumps slowly, and whips slowly. He can be knocked off platforms very easily. You don’t automatically walk up or down stairs—you have to press up or down on the D-pad to do it. You can’t jump onto or off of stairs. About halfway through the game, enemies start doing more damage to you for no reason.

Boss battles are exercises in futility and frustration. Death, especially, seems to have been designed by people unfamiliar with how Simon moves or attacks. Dracula’s second form is similarly overpowered in the face of your limited abilities. One wonders how players actually got through the game before the advent of restore points. Beating Castlevania is a Life Achievement you should get flowers for accomplishing.

It is an ugly game filled with browns and sickly blues and reds. Super Mario Bros. looks like a living rainbow by comparison. The soundtrack is memorable, however, in that so many classic Castlevania tracks are instantly recognizable, even in their most basal forms.

And yet, I was compelled to complete the game. Perhaps my will was strengthened by virtue of being stuck in the hospital with nothing else to do, but despite its ridiculous difficulty and poor design decisions, Castlevania deserves a certain amount of respect, if not for what it is than what it eventually became. You might not say too much for Eomaia, but without her, Homo sapiens wouldn’t be around today, so nod your head and pay your dues. I can’t say you’ll like Castlevania, but you should give it the old college try—just see how far we’ve come.

Summary

Pros
  • Restore points make the game semi-playable
  • The music is great
Cons
  • Boss fights generally, Death in particular
  • The brutal, unforgiving difficulty
  • The graphics are horrible

Talkback

GrabMyBoomstickApril 12, 2013

Yeesh, a 5/10 for one of the greatest, old school, 8-bit NES classics because you think it's ugly and too hard...wow. Let me guess, you're too young to remember (and appreciate) the glory days of 8-bit gaming I take it. I suppose other classic Nintendo games like Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and Metroid look "horrible" and are too difficult as well huh?

TJ SpykeApril 12, 2013

Actually, the original Metroid DOES look ugly now and has aged terribly. Some NES games hold up and are still great decades later (like Super Mario Bros. 3), others should be left to your memories because they are no longer good at all (like Metroid). This is true of every generation, some games hold up to the test of time and some dont.

supergttApril 12, 2013

Zach is as old as I am, 30, and he's right. This (and many other NES games) don't hold up. They were born of a mentality that said "make it harder to increase game length so they feel they got their money's worth" or "make it hard so they have to keep putting in quarters"

I'll mostly agree here. I've completed the original NES Castlevania trilogy, albeit through some kind of masochistic drive to finish the titles that began one of my favourite franchises.
They look ugly even by NES standards and play like pants, and I find the soundtracks to be infinitely more memorable than the games themselves.
I'll continue to play them despite the balls-to-the-wall difficulty, but I can appreciate when someone calls the game out for cheap enemy placement and devilish platforming designed to exploit the awkward, slow and clunky movement just to make the game harder.

But to say it doesn't hold up is another matter. It's a great discussion starter for the industry in general, and a good reference point when comparing how games today often baby the players with lengthy tutorial segments and hint systems that cut in when the player fails repeatedly.
I will never resort to Super Guides.

GrabMyBoomstickApril 12, 2013

While I agree with the comment about arcade games, it's a moot point since NES Castlevania is well...not an arcade game. And yes games were generally more difficult due to the fact that the technology did not allow for a 20 or 30 hour experience like it does today. My point is that any fan of classic games knows there are a ton of cheap, ridiculously hard games on the NES. Just watch any episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd to see that. But putting a classic gem like Castlevania in the same camp as something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Top Gun, or Friday the 13th is simply ludicrous. Even though I like a game like say, Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, I'd be more understanding about someone not liking it today because of it's overly cryptic puzzles. What about something like Castlevania 3? Because it's basically the same challenging experience but with more characters and multiple paths.
    Oh and Metroid IS still a great game. But I will admit if I were recommending it to someone for the first time, I'd probably direct him or her to the superior remake, Zero Mission. But that wouldn't take away from the fact that the original NES Metroid is still a classic in its own right.

TJ SpykeApril 12, 2013

Zero Mission is a good game, is fixes all the things that make the original Metroid not good anymore (ugly graphics, bad gameplay, etc.).

I've never been a fan of Castlevania games, they just never intrigued me.

I think Boomstick and I (and a few of you) are having a fundamental philosophical disagreement about how classic games should be viewed through a modern lens. Of course I played Castlevania when I was a much, MUCH younger man, as well as other NES titles of the day--Metroid, TMNT, Kid Icarus, Stanley: the Search for Dr. Livingston (yes, that's a real game), etc. To hold these games in some sort of high regard because of technological inferiority is a strange beast to me. Especially considering that other NES games released around the same time are far better. Super Mario Bros. 1-3 are all higher quality in every regard. It's not like the technology limited QA/QC.

You bring up Castlevania 3, and while that is, admittedly, a more interesting game, I'd argue it's not really much BETTER. Trevor Belmont has the same problems that Simon did, and it's only through manipulation of his comrades that Castlevania 3 becomes a really playable experience. Even so, there are some real roadblock moments in that game no matter who your character of choice is (the Ghost Ship in particular is filled with cheap enemy placements and bad platforming).

For me, the fact is you can't always go home again. What we considered amazing back in 1986 just isn't amazing anymore. Maybe that's because I'm a jaded gamer who's become used to infinite lives and multi-directional whipping. But it might also mean that those old games weren't as great as we thought, and 22 years of exposure to other games has helped me realize that. For the record, if you go back through NWR's Virtual Console Recommendations, I gave a "Not Recommended" to the original NES Metroid. That game is neigh-unplayable today for a variety of reasons. The fact that it's a "classic" doesn't give it a free pass.

Just my take.

S-U-P-E-RTy Shughart, Staff AlumnusApril 13, 2013

Curse y'all casuals

Also if you thought Castlevania III was too hard, try the Japanese version. They made the USA one harder because, I don't know, what Iwata said, maybe. Or weird preconceptions about American gamers.

For the record, I think Castlevania 1 is pretty awesome still.

azekeApril 13, 2013

^ but iwata is everything that that is bad about nintendo, he killed every good series and never makes new stuff why would you quote him

S-U-P-E-RTy Shughart, Staff AlumnusApril 13, 2013

stopped clock.jpg

StogiApril 13, 2013

I always laughed when I watched my friend play this back in the day. It was like watching someone try to walk with hamster wheels for shoes.

But karma got me back because the game I broke several things over was double dragon. So many times I would die just because some asshole decided it was a good idea to make jump a two button command.

In terms of how hard a game should be especially in those days, I would look to contra. Not only was it not cheap, but if you thought it was you could bring a friend along to help you out or do the now famous code and bump up your lives.

Pixelated PixiesApril 13, 2013

Castlevania and Castlevania 3 are among my favourite NES games. They absolutely do hold up, and that's coming from someone who only played them for the first time when they were released on Virtual Console.

joshnickersonApril 13, 2013

Quote from: azeke

^ but iwata is everything that that is bad about nintendo, he killed every good series and never makes new stuff why would you quote him

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw6ndZNLYUA

Back on topic, Zach, I'm curious to know your opinion of Super Castlevania 4, which is kind of a remake of the original game.

smallsharkbigbiteApril 13, 2013

I just beat Castlevania like 4 months ago and I thought it was great.  I actually think the block look of NES and SNES games look pretty good on a HDTV.  It's the N64 which I think looks pretty hideous with its first generation of 3D gaming.  It just looks terrible. 


Castlevania has some pretty difficult boss fights and sometimes cheap enemy placement.  But I think it does parallel arcade games pretty well.  The game can be beat in a couple of hours and generally repetition is the way to get better at the games. 


I thought the control was pretty solid despite being limited to say whipping in one direction which is something I found enjoyable.  Clearly the reviewer didn't find the game as enjoyable as me.  The final comments seem to indicate that the game is worthwhile.  I think that's why I generally prefer reviews without a score.  People have a hard time getting past 5/10.  There are cons to this game, but there are positives to this game as well.  I would recommend it to people that miss old school game design. 

TenserApril 13, 2013

I think the larger issue is that you're trying to look at Castlevania through a modern lens. There are very valid reasons why the game was considered outstanding back in 1987 which I shouldn't need to reiterate ad nauseum here.


I will however make this one small point: early NES games (and May 1987 is a very early NES game since the NES didn't truly release in NA until 1986) are very different from the later NES games like SMB3. Three years may not seem like it would make much of a difference now but back in the 80's gaming tech was progressing much more rapidly than it is today.


Just look at the games that were releasing around that same time period: Pro Wrestling, Ikari Warriors, Kid Icarus, Rygar, etc... Castlevania was the third platformer to be released for the NES, the other two being SMB1 and G'n'G.


The only thing that's holding me back from an eshop purchase is that I can beat the game without save states in one life because it's still a favorite of mine. That would make for about a 40 minute experience. Though this is also just a modern gripe and I'm certain to give-in and purchase it eventually.

LudicrousDa3veApril 14, 2013

I love this series, and this game is no exception. The stiffer controls (compared to later entries like SCV4 and Rondo of Blood) aren't really an issue. Let's be honest, you don't exactly face a horde of monsters, or particularly hard platforming. The game is meant to be played at a slower pace. Look at the fight with Death, who is in my opinion the hardest boss in this one. Ignoring the fact that you can triple shot cross the hell out of him, watch his scythes. Learn to predict them, and he's quite beatable.
    Besides that, here's a little protip; do some point pressing. The ghouls in level one, red skeletons level 5; if you're having a hard time, farm out some extra lives.
    All in all, the original Castlevania is pretty rock solid. It's less dynamic than later entries, and its straightforward design may not appeal to fans of the Metroidvania titles, but it still holds up well.
To each his own.

"The original NES game came out on the Famicom in 1986 and trudged forward, barely changing, until the franchise was largely retooled, with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night".

Come on man...

- Castlevania II was a Zelda II-style adventure game that introduced a day and night mechanic
- Castlevania III returned to the original game's style, but featured branching paths
- Super Castlevania IV featured a whip that let you attack diagonally, huge for the series at the time


The series did nothing BUT change through the first four games.

Pixelated PixiesApril 14, 2013

Quote from: NWR_Lindy


The series did nothing BUT change through the first four games.


This.

The first three Castlevania games followed the rule of three. The first game set down the basics, the second one completely changed up the formulae, and the third one refined and polished the ideas of the first two. As for Super Castlevania IV? The way the whip works in that game changes everything.

That meandering opening paragraph was unnecessary build up for a statement which isn't even true.

CericApril 15, 2013

I've played all of them back in the day.  I only owned 3.  Which I think I beat.  I know I didn't beat 2.
Here's the rub though I remember more of 2 then 3.
Seriously if you asked me to talk about Castlevania I could hum you the tunes, talk about the stairs and how big of a deal it was when you could jump on them (Also did anyone else notice that Guacamelee towns are mimics of Castlevania 2 town design?), how you break bricks magically in places to find fully cooked Meat, annoyance with the Sub-Weapon system (Don't get that useless sword I have holy water... Darn it.), the enemy placement that were meant to get you hit.

That is what the games are to me now.  After all these years.  This will still appeal to the folks who want Cloudberry Kingdom for example.  The games in this first set are unapologetically cheap.  No one can really say otherwise and be honest.

Do they hold the test of time?  Probably not.  Where they designed to? Definitely not.  Did they set precedents that rippled to now?  Yes, yes they did.

Eh, I feel I can say honestly that the first game isn't cheap. I beat it for the first time maybe one year ago, and while yes, the stilted movement of your character and his unimpressive jump are jarring at first, you quickly come to realize that you DO have all the tools necessary to tackle the challenges ahead. I can't think of a level or segment of a level in that game where I think "well that was just cheap". No such moment comes to mind, I'm sorry.

Pixelated PixiesApril 15, 2013

Quote from: Pandareus

Eh, I feel I can say honestly that the first game isn't cheap. I beat it for the first time maybe one year ago, and while yes, the stilted movement of your character and his unimpressive jump are jarring at first, you quickly come to realize that you DO have all the tools necessary to tackle the challenges ahead. I can't think of a level or segment of a level in that game where I think "well that was just cheap". No such moment comes to mind, I'm sorry.


I can honestly say the same.

Ian SaneApril 15, 2013

I find when I go back and play NES games the ones that hold up the best are the ones where current games of the genre are hard.  Contra and Life Force hold up incredibly well because if you played a modern game of that type you would expect that kind of difficulty.  The shmup genre's hook is the adrenaline rush of facing impossible odds.  But if you play Dragon Warrior it is incredibly archaic compared to even 16-bit RPGs as no one plays those games to have menu commands to go down stairs.  Metroid just doesn't have the kind of difficulty you would want from that type of game.  You expect to be able to aim diagonally and have a map and not restart the game with hardly any health every time you die.

I think for reviewing these games, I am fine with grading how fun it is to play today because some games don't hold up very well.  I only ask that the reviewer acknowlege the historical significance.  You don't want some punk kid saying "this game sucks because its old".  You want to feel the reviewer is familiar with the legacy behind the game.  That gives the reviewer some credibility.  I can trust that he's in the same frame of mind as me.

Games in the NES days were often hard in a very cheap way.  Now they're so damn easy I'm surprised we haven't seen games with Doom-style God Mode on by default.  We went from one extreme to the other and I think we had a pretty good middle-ground in the 16 bit era.  A Link to the Past and Super Metroid are often considered the best of their respective series and those games require some skill to beat and for the player to figure out the puzzles on his own, but he is still given hints and isn't severely handicapped by stiff controls against nimble and overpowered enemies.

Quote from: Pandareus

Eh, I feel I can say honestly that the first game isn't cheap. I beat it for the first time maybe one year ago, and while yes, the stilted movement of your character and his unimpressive jump are jarring at first, you quickly come to realize that you DO have all the tools necessary to tackle the challenges ahead. I can't think of a level or segment of a level in that game where I think "well that was just cheap". No such moment comes to mind, I'm sorry.

This strikes me as a Ghosts 'n Goblins style debate. Meaning, some people hate GnG for being a rigid, unforgiving game that demands near perfection. Others love it for those same reasons. This game seems to be similar; it's just what kind of game do you want out of it?

For me, this review kind of crystalized that I don't really want to go back and replay this game. I'd rather replay Super Castlevania IV (which I own on Wii VC and hope I'll be playing it on my GamePad this year), because I think that improved some of the tougher parts.

You might have all your tools, but that doesn't mean the tools are a blast to use for everybody. Some people hate GnG's jumping, while other love it. It's all perspective and preference.

Quote from: NWR_Neal

This strikes me as a Ghosts 'n Goblins style debate. Meaning, some people hate GnG for being a rigid, unforgiving game that demands near perfection. Others love it for those same reasons. This game seems to be similar; it's just what kind of game do you want out of it?

For me, this review kind of crystalized that I don't really want to go back and replay this game. I'd rather replay Super Castlevania IV (which I own on Wii VC and hope I'll be playing it on my GamePad this year), because I think that improved some of the tougher parts.

You might have all your tools, but that doesn't mean the tools are a blast to use for everybody. Some people hate GnG's jumping, while other love it. It's all perspective and preference.

I find IV harder and more cheap in parts than the first game, to be honest.

I don't think the review is an accurate description of playing the game at all.

Luigi DudeApril 15, 2013

Quote from: Pandareus

I find IV harder and more cheap in parts than the first game, to be honest.

I'm sorry but how?  Super IV is the least cheap old school Castlevania since the 8 directional whip allows gamers to hit any enemies now, so you don't have to worry about being cheap-shot by the diagonal flying enemies anymore.  It also give you control over your jumps so there's no more cheap deaths from accidentally jumping into an enemy because you jumped a pixel too early but the game has to make your character move the same amount of space every time you jump like every other old school Castlevania did.

KobeskillzJuly 02, 2017

Hahahahahaha at this review!!!!' Save points. Hahahahahaha! Children have gotten soft.

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Castlevania Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Konami
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Castlevania
Release Apr 04, 2013
PublisherKonami
RatingEveryone
jpn: Akumajō Dracula
Release Oct 17, 2012
PublisherKonami
RatingAll Ages
eu: Castlevania
Release Feb 14, 2013
PublisherKonami
Rating7+
aus: Castlevania
Release Feb 14, 2013
PublisherKonami
RatingGeneral

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