CastleVania is classic video game that brought a whole new nightmare to video games, but not from the movie monsters you’ll fight. Classic creatures from film, literature and lore like Dracula, Frankenstien’s monster, the Grim Reaper, Medusa and the Mummy, but its from the game’s difficulty.
The game controls pretty simple. Left and right to move, down to crouch, B to whip, A to jump and Up and B to throw a special weapon. However, its stiff and deliberate. When you jump, you’ve commit to it. When you whip, that’s a commitment too. Your whip is out and you can’t move, duck or dodge. The stiff mechanics boil down to a fight or flight. There’s no in between, you’re either attacking or running.
CastleVania also one of the first games to offer stairs instead of platforming or ladder climbing. Up or down will stick you to the steps, which can be a good thing considering when you get hit, you’ll get knocked back. This can allow for frustrating deaths, but its the game’s way of telling you to not get hit. Whip ’em before you hit ’em I guess. This knock back can also let you exploit the game and get to higher platforms.
You play as Simon Belmont, vampire hunter on your quest is to go through five very challenging levels to finally kill Dracula! Oh but this castle is full of monsters, tricks and traps. CastleVania is full of death pits and spikes that will kill you. There are only three lives and each life starts you back at last door you went through. Each level has three or so doors and once your lives are gone, you’ll need to restart the level again.
At least there’s a big array of enemies, even from level to level. You go from typical zombies, saving bats, fish men and wolves to armored knights, skeletons and mini Medusa heads that fly in a wave pattern. From there its giant skeletal dragon heads to ravens will hunt you down and hopping hunchbacks will come after you. Its a real twist away from Nintendo’s happier enemies that only move left and right.
You’ve got a lot of health, but enemies can drain you quickly. Some enemies take three or four lines of health.There is iconic wall meat that will replenish your health. All you need to do is find it by smashing blocks with your whip to get it. Maybe it goes back to William Shakespear’s “A Telltale Heart” or maybe its just a rat in a wall that died, and now you’re sustaining yourself because you packed light.
Simon comes equipped with a whip that can be upgraded for length and strength. You can also find other weapons like daggers, axes, boomerangs. Each weapon consumes hearts, but luckily you can get hearts from defeating enemies or whipping them out of candles. Daggers go straight forward, boomerangs go out and return, axes arc to take out high up enemies and holy water smashes against the ground to burn anything that steps in it. You can only release one special weapon at a time, but there are upgrades that allow you to shoot two, then three at a time. There are even items to make you invulnerable and destroy all enemies on the screen.
CastleVania has always been known for its fantastic graphics and sound. The game has a great creepy look to it with detailed backgrounds and great enemy design. The tunes are iconic and have been remixed a lot over the years. A lot of the songs are supercharged music that really drives you forward to progress through each challenging level. They’re so good that they stick in your head long after you stop playing.
Another thing that makes the game stick out is the unique themes between each level. Sure they all have you going from right to left or left to right, but the backgrounds and the atmosphere change. In a time where other games used simple palette swaps to make a level feel unique, CastleVania was making tunnels, bridges, courtyards, ballrooms, underground lairs and so on. Each one is a masterpiece in an eerie sort of dilapidated way.
Its a dramatic game too. While there’s no story, there’s a bold entrance walking to the castle gate. Trekking through the courtyard so you can get a feel for the game. Even going up a flight of stairs to take on Dracula himself. Its what the game does without enemies that makes it so effective.
For every level you get through, you’ll see a map of the castle to know just where you are. Its a nice effect, even if its unnecessary since there’s no way to get lost. Its just five levels back to back. Having a map with no enemies is a nice break to give some sort of levity to an action packed game known for its difficulty.
One of the more interesting things about the game is its staff names. There are no real names in the credits. Its just so bizarre to see names like Fred Fuchs scroll by. Maybe Konami was afraid they’d get sued for using all of the movie monster names. It also misspells Belmont’s name as Simon Belmondo. Its cool though, who am I to say that your game is wrong? Maybe his name isn’t really Belmont at all.
In conclusion, Castlevania is a true classic that still stands up today for its bone crushing challenge. Its overshadowed by future iterations, but it had to be a great game to make it a franchise.