Year of Release: 1987
Date Reviewed: 2-24-98 ("Old Era")
For most, the NES is not so remembered for the great solo games it created (which is unfortunate, in my opinion) as it is for the series that were produced for it. We saw it all -- Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Dragon Warrior, and, of course, Castlevania. Speaking as someone for whom Castlevania has never been a favorite series, however, I cannot add anything to the nostalgic statements of some of my NES-Preservationist colleagues. Among NES devotees like myself, there are certain games for which certain people are unable to be objective because they are too blinded by sentiment. I am that way about many games and series, but Castlevania has never been one of them. I can be objective with this game, and, objectively speaking, it's still pretty good.
Graphically speaking, this game is nothing to write home about. The graphics are good, but that's the highest praise I can offer. The player will know what everyting is, and falling into an abyss because you thought there was a platform where there wasn't one is unlikely. Like most of Konami's games, the graphics in Castlevania can be aptly described as "good." As far as I know, Konami never produced an NES game whose graphics were markedly bad, but I can't think of any game whose graphics really stood out as exceptional.
As far as plot is concerned, the story of Castlevania is by and large the same as the stories of most of its successors -- Dracula's causing trouble, some Belmont has to kill him (in this case by breaking into his castle and putting the figurative stake through his heart.) In this case, that Belmont is Simon, undoubtedly the most famous of the family, though not the patriarch (Trevor of CV3 is actually the eldest of the Belmonts who made trouble for Drac.) Simon, however, is the man from whom all the legends spring -- Captain N's egotist, and an NES icon. He appears humbly in this game -- neither its focus nor particularly acccustomed to his family trade of vampire killing. But I have long since digressed from my original point. The plot of Castlevania was a back-burnered issue to the creators. This is, after all, an action game. As long as the story is clear, and not absolutely ridiculous, I'll make no fisticuffs about it.
It is with the music that Castlevania makes its biggest impact. Nay-sayers need look no further than the Videogame Music Archive for proof -- seven different versions of the Stage 1 music alone... The music in this game is superb. It suits the setting, but is not simultaneously akin to that cliché "let's scare the hell outta people" medley. It moves right along, reminding the player that there is an intensity to the setting, but not making him/her terrified to find out what lurks ahead. The score is respectful to the player. It does not try to terrify him with pseudo-eerie gothic tunes, nor does it make a travesty of the game's setting with a smattering of happy-go-lucky whimsy. Keeping the setting, technological limitations, and time of release in mind, this soundtrack was about as close to perfect as one could get.
As for the interface, the play control is pretty straight-forward. A jumps, B attacks, UP and B uses a special weapon. Those aforementioned special weapons are available in profusion, and, unlike the special weapons of some other games of this era, are not just umpteen different variations of what is basically the same weapon. They are all distinctly unique. For starters, there are the three whip intensities -- the standard leather number, the chain whip, and the flashing chain whip. The actual special weapons, however, are even more interesting. There is the axe, which Simon lobs up into the air at his foes. There is the holy water, which is thrown on the ground, and burns for a while, killing any enemy foolish enough to step on it. Also, there is the pocket watch, which renders all enemies motionless for a period of time. Then there are the cross boomerang and dagger, which are both thrown horizontally, but the boomerang returns to Simon, whereas the dagger just flies off of the screen. In addition, there are "II"s and "III"s, which double (or triple) the damage Simon can dish out, but aren't technically weapons.
So, as I prepare to conclude this, I wonder what I can say about Castlevania that has not already been said (either by myself or another NES reviewer). There really isn't anything, but what has been said bears repeating. Castlevania is a classic, with graphics that are no more or less than "good", a regiment of special weapons sufficient to choke a horse (though I oppose animal cruelty), and perhaps the finest of all early-NES soundtracks.
My Score: 8
...and your friends can expect the same!
I am not playing with the boomerang.
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