Castlevania was just released this past Thursday on the Nintendo eShop for the 3DS. I’ve been on a shopping spree lately purchasing tons of virtual content. I find it awesome to be able to constantly play multiple games without having to switch carts, or change consoles. When Castlevania hit the virtual console, I knew I had to get it as it was my chance to go back and revisit the birth of one of my favorite action series. I didn’t play much of the original CV back in the day, as I didn’t have it, or didn’t know much about it because of my young age at the time. I only really got into the series with the release of Circle of the Moon (an amazing launch title for the Game Boy Advance). After that, I went back and played parts of most of the games in the franchise. Castlevania was the first one I tried. Since I didn’t have access to the original NES cart, I had no choice but to download an illegal ROM and try it with that. I thought it was a pretty fun game, and was hooked right away. I quickly moved on to other games, but was glad to have experienced it.
Experiencing the game again some 12-13 years after is even more engrossing. The game is a classic for a reason. The visuals, the music, and the enemies all make an incredible retro package that’s a blast, even today. Navigating that castle just feels awesome, and the whip is probably one of the best main weapons ever featured in a videogame. However, the game is known for being one of the hardest games ever created. While videogames were a lot harder back in the day for many different reasons (the arcade mentality being the most common one), Castlevania is known for not only being challenging, but also for also being largely unfair. Simon controls like crap. He has zero agility, is incredibly slow to react to your actions, and cannot change directions once he initiates a jump. This will lead to your death literally hundreds of times, especially considering the game is largely a platformer. Trying to dodge Medusa Heads while jumping from one platform to another is no easy task when you can’t move at all once you press the jump button. Another annoying factor is that every time Simon gets touched by an enemy, he gets thrown back a few feet. More often than not this makes you fall to your death.
All of this doesn’t take into account the game’s bosses. While the first two are basically a joke, things get really complicated after that. I’ve got to give the game credit for this though, as the boss fights are instant classics. There’s a level of satisfaction to slaying Death or Dracula that cannot be matched. One thing I have to praise the game for is that it offers unlimited continues. Granted, those won’t help much in the later stages as you have to start over from the beginning of the level if you lose all your lives. Getting killed takes seconds in the final stages as the screen is filled with enemies and with Simon’s limited skill set, you’re bound to die more often than not.
For $5, I strongly suggest experiencing one of the genre’s defining games. It’s made a lot easier thanks to the virtual console’s restore points. Use them however you like as they do reduce the challenge, but they make a classic game like Castlevania much more accessible to everyone. Don’t be fooled though, this game will still kick your ass even with this advantage. Castlevania is a classic, even with all its faults. Even today, it’s still worth experiencing again and again.
What can I say about the original Castlevania that Steven didn’t already mention? I suppose I can start by saying that I actually played the game way back in ’87, and vividly remember having an extremely hard time with the game. Back then I could get through Super Mario Bros. with the best of ’em, but for one reason or another I would die non-stop in this game. After inviting friends over to play, I realized that we all sucked at this game, and that only made me want to play it that much more. Fast forward to the day I completed it, and it’s a memory I’ll never forget. Like Steven said, this game is so challenging, yet so rewarding at the same time. The boss fights are some of the best on the NES, the setting was picture perfect and the soundtrack holds up so well that you can listen to the 8-bit tracks today and hum along with delight. If you don’t consider this game a classic, I have no idea what you would.
From the moment you turn the game on, either via the original NES cart, or via digital download, I adore the way you see a film-print overlay on top of the title screen. That screamed something special years ago. It sort of showed kids that maybe this was going to be more horror movie than what we were used to with Super Mario Bros. Funny thing is, that’s exactly what ended up happening. It was as if Konami had gone to Universal Pictures and grabbed some of their classic franchises and brought them to life through the game. You had the Mummy, Frankenstein and Dracula. It was about as epic as you could get, and the game quickly became the talk of the schoolyard. Everyone who had an NES at the time had heard of, or was playing Castlevania either because of these classic monsters, or because of the now infamous difficulty. It was just one of those things that you couldn’t ignore if you were into NES games back then.
In order not to regurgitate everything Steven already said, let me just add that Castlevania stuck with me from the moment I first played it all the way up to this very day. This game transformed into one of my very favorite videogame series, and I continue to look forward to each new installment, although the magic has dwindled a bit in modern times, it was this original NES classic that started it all.
Coming back a few days ago at Steven’s behest, I didn’t know what to expect. After all I have completed this game several dozen times since that original outing back in 1987. The last time I actually sat down with the NES cart was back in the early 2000s, so it must be at least a decade or so since I last grabbed ahold of good old Simon Belmont and took the fight to Drac. After paying my $5 for the 3DS version on the eShop I immediately began my journey. The very first thing I noticed was the restore points Steven mentioned. Restore points work exactly like most ROMs do, basically they allow you to save your progress whenever you want, and start back at that point at a moment’s notice. This essentially means you can reduce the game’s difficulty by about a hundred times. That said, if you think you’re just going to be able to walk through Dracula’s castle, you’ve got another thing coming. Even with the restore points, Castlevania remains an extremely difficult game. Sure the first two stages are a breeze, but once you start getting to the infamous Fleamen things go from steady progression to all out madness. What’s worse is that eventually you’ll have Fleamen and Medusa Heads together, plus other enemies. Needless to say, good luck to you.
After making my way to the fifth stage, which I just did right now actually, I can tell you the game is still as hard as I remember it, and not just for the awkward jump mechanics, and the terrible push-back enemies do to Simon whenever they hit him. This is just a tough game, simple as that. Boss fights require precise timing, and dodging skills, stages require the perfect combination of platforming skills and proper weapon utilization. That’s something else I want to mention, weapons are a must. The secondary weapons can make the difference between ripping your hair out, or bringing a big smile to your face. For example, if you can find and keep holy water and a triple shot, and make your way to the Grim Reaper (Death), you can actually pin the son of a b to the right side of the screen. If you’re quick enough you can down him without him ever attacking. Bring other weapons, or change your tactics and you could have a screen filled with deadly sickles. This is what makes the game so appealing though, you’re left to figure out which weapons work best under different circumstances.
I could go on and on praising the game, especially on its audio visual presentation, but you already know how incredible the graphics and the audio were for 1987. They hold up incredibly well to this very day, but I have to admit the controls are extremely cumbersome. Pressing up and action button just isn’t as intuitive as pressing the R button on the SNES controller to perform your secondary attack, as we saw in Super Castlevania IV. The push-back mechanic makes every leap a potential death, and later on you’ll basically want to jump and whip every single time. These archaic designs do make the game frustrating for the modern spoon-fed gamer, but having grown up with them I easily adjusted and will likely finish the game tomorrow when I have more time.
So, bottom line time, is it worth it for you to check out a videogame classic? The answer is a resounding yes. It doesn’t matter who you are, you should give this one a try. I don’t call it a classic lightly, it really deserves the title. Much like the original Metroid, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Contra, and countless others, Castlevania is worth your time and money, just make sure you make use of those restore points if you’ve never experienced an NES game before, because this one is punishing.