Content of the article: "Castlevania I, “II”, III & IV"
("II" referring to the other "Castlevania II": Belmont's revenge.)
I enjoyed all these games a lot (even though I don’t have the skill, or rather the patience to work up the skill, to beat them without relying on savepoints, but even then they’re all quite generous with savepoints and opportunities to get back subweapons and such). The gameplay is fun and easy to get into. There were a ton of incredibly annoying enemies across the titles. I also like the fun, campy horrormovie-feel that the games, the first one in particular, have.
While mostly similar in gameplay and style, all four titles feel a bit different from each other and bring different things to the table. Out of the four, the first Castlevania is my favourite and the one I keep coming back to just to have some fun and see how far I can get. It’s also a game I have a lot of respect for – it does what it sets out to do with near perfection, and while it can be really difficult – and annoying – its challenge feels fair and encourages the player to try again. I also had a lot of fun with Super Castlevania IV, although it can be a bit hit or miss, it generally was a good time and had lots of variety.
Some individual thoughts on each:
Castlevania – As mentioned earlier, pretty much everything about this one comes together amazingly and the more time I spend with it, the more I like it. The gameplay and controls feel satisfying, the little secrets here and there are nice and there’s something really neat about working one’s way through the castle to get to Dracula. I’m not too keen on the bosses, though, mostly because that sort of battle of endurance isn’t up my alley. The soundtrack’s great and “Vampire killer” is instantly iconic.
I also adore how this game looks – some environments, like the first level, perfectly captures the spooky but cozy atmosphere, and some, like the garden, are seriously gorgeous. The bold colour palette is awesome and I appreciate how it also takes care to make Simon and the platforms he can interact with stand out in the foreground. There’s something about the artstyle, its colours and lines and shadowing, that makes the game look almost like a bunch of interactive paintings.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge – A solid entry to the series and THE Castlevania experience for Gameboy. It adjusted the gameplay and level design well to the hardware, with a clear, easy to read artstyle and more focused screen where not much is going on at the same time. I enjoyed the variety with the different castles, and how the game made them feel different with small means. I liked most of the bosses, they were generally fun to fight and had neat designs. The second to last fight was brutal, both gameplay- and storywise. I wasn’t too keen on the Dracula fight however, it was pretty boring and I typically don’t enjoy that kind of boss where there’s a long pattern to memorize with hardly any room for mistakes.
I enjoyed the artstyle a lot, clean with a lot of empty space and some well-chosen details to give atmosphere and a sense of place. If Castlevania looks like paintings, Belmont’s revenge is like minimalistic pencil drawings. I didn’t like the look of Christopher’s sprite, though. The feature-less face came across way too blank and smooth here, and that combined with his outlined limbs made him look more like an action figure than a human. It was especially jarring when he was next to Soleiyu, who does look like a human. Speaking of him, I loved how much poise and personality he exuded just from his posture and poses. I wish he had helped fight Dracula in some way, at the very least symbolically by “weakening” him in dialogue/cutscene, revealing a weak spot or been there for the final blow, anything. (And I kinda wish he would’ve gotten his own game.) The music in this game is absolutely stellar and very memorable.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – This one’s largely similar to the first one, but more. The three available companion characters offer some replayability and variety in playstyle. Out of the three, I teamed up first with Grant and then Sypha, and I liked both. They’re often more well-suited to the more “platform-y” challenges that this title, with mixed results, introduces. On that note, I’d assume Trevor Belmont would control the same as Simon in the first game, but when I briefly went back to the first while in the middle of this one, I was surprised at how light and nimble Simon felt in comparison.
The branching paths and higher amount of levels in various locations (I loved the ship for one) makes the game feel more like a big adventure, but also takes away the first game’s feeling of cramped horror and closing in on an epic showdown. Most levels play similarly and the environments are eye-candy backdrops, and the artstyle retains and builds on the first one’s to great effect. Some places look a bit awkward, but when Castlevania III looks good, it looks absolutely spectacular. The music is fine but nothing really stood out to me.
Props to Dracula’s three phases – count, five-headed goo-drooling flying thing and giant bird-man-monster – for their sheer randomness and having absolutely nothing to do with one another.
Loved the throwback level to the first Castlevania.
Super Castlevania IV –Some stages just pissed me off, while others were really fun. As mentioned, I liked the variety between stages and how the environments informed the level design. I liked how epic it felt to finally enter the castle and how its levels put everything the player’s learned to the test, such as the grapplehook-points to swing with the whip from, that mostly seemed like a little novelty at first but became more relevant for later stages. The return of some classic tunes from the NES games in the last level was great as well.
The eight-directional whip took me a little to get used to, but eventually it became a lot of fun to use. I can definitely see the argument that it “breaks” the game but I enjoyed playing around with it, and while it might not be what people come to the older Castlevania titles for, I don’t see anything wrong with being a little overpowered at times – if anything, it felt quite good coming fresh from the previous titles. It does make the subweapons mostly redundant though. The bosses, with some exceptions by the end, are generally easy and can be beaten by just wailing on them and taking care not to die. Maybe not great from a design-perspective, but honestly I kind of digged it as that’s usually how I roll with bosses and it was neat to have it be a working “strategy” for once. I liked their designs, too. Not a fan of the Dracula fight, it wasn’t very fun and although I had as much problems with earlier Dracula encounters, this one in particular frustrated me because I had no idea what I was doing wrong. The eerily calm music was cool though, especially contrasted with the reprise of Simon’s theme at a certain point during the fight. In terms of the regular enemies, I love that one of them is just some guy (ok, he’s a ghost, but he doesn’t really look like one until you whip him, and he’s just walking around casually).
The game makes good use of the SNES/Super Famicom’s capabilities, mostly to show off, and it’s sort of tacky from a modern perspective, but an endearing sort of tacky, and some of the effects genuinely are cool. I liked the look of some stages, such as the cave or the treasure rooms, but in general I find the game quite ugly. The semi-realistic artstyle can be a bit drab and awkward, and Simon himself is oddly proportioned and shiny. The colour combinations on some stages are off-putting, odd mixtures in nuances and saturation with no regard for what goes where or distinctions between foreground and background etc.
The soundtrack didn’t do much for me the first time I heard it (before I played it myself), but it really grew on me now, and provided a lot of atmosphere for the different stages.
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