Saturday, July 31, 2010

Super Castlevania IV (SNES) Review

1991 Konami

My experience with the Castlevania titles is limited; the first one (which I played on the Game Boy Advance) was decent, but hard; Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo was fantastic and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was absolutely brilliant (both of which I played on Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP). As I said in my ActRaiser review, I downloaded a lot of games on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console back in the first year that I owned the console (2007). This was the last game I downloaded during the summer of '07, and while Super Castlevania IV was not a bad choice, I can't help but feel that something was missing.

Transylvania is a nice peaceful town, but unfortunately there is a curse that befalls the town every one hundred years; a vampire named Dracula terrorizes the town, and after he's been slayed, Dracula will revive the century that follows. In the year 1691, Count Dracula has risen from his grave after one hundred years, and plans to cast his revenge on the descendant of the vampire slayer that defeated him last, Simon Belmont. The plot is the weak point in this game, because the original Castlevania starred Simon Belmont in the year 1691, and the plot seems to be a retelling of said game, which would make Simon one-hundred or two-hundred years old. There is a reason for that: the original Japanese version of this game, Akumajou Dracula, was supposed to be a remake of the NES original. Anyway, throughout his journey, Simon will go through castles, forests, waterfalls, temples, caverns, a clock tower, and more. The atmosphere is nice, and it makes up for the rehashed plot.

The game is your standard 2D sidescrolling platformer: you jump with B, remain stationary by holding down B, use your ancestral Belmont whip with Y, and use your subweapon with the R shoulder-button. The reason for that is because in this game you can whip in eight directions, and if you hold down the Y button you can play with it. Getting on the stairs is not a problem in this game, though unfortunately you cannot jump up from them. Mid-jumps can be controlled. This game introduced two gameplay elements in the series that would not resurface since; swinging from bat rings and moving while squatting. If you see a bat ring, swing your whip at it, and if you hold down the Y button you can stay on the ring until you let go. It's easy to control your swing, and you can raise or lower yourself. Now, as for the second thing, if you move while you're crouching, you'll squat-move (or whatever it's called). It can be used to go through narrow passages or certain placed platforms. The sad thing about it is that, while it's nice, it's not something that's always gonna be done. Helping items are concealed within candles; some are hearts (the amount of the subweapon you use depends on how many hearts you obtained), some is meat that replenishes your health, while the rest are subweapons. The subweapons are comprised of boomerangs, knives, axes, potions, and stopwatches. They can all be used with the R shoulder button, and they can be helpful when it comes to trying to defeat enemies out of reach from your whip. Unfortunately, once you obtain the subweapon, you cannot change it back to the previous one you had, and you may be left with a subweapon that you didn't want, so be careful. If you collect the "II" and (if possible) "III" symbols, then you'll be allowed to use your subweapon up to two and (if possible) three times. There is also a rare, one-use item called a Grimoire that will obliterate all enemies on-screen; they can only be found in a few stages. Now that I've talked about the plus side of the controls, now's time to talk about the minus side. There are two main problems in this department. First and foremost is the fact that if you touch spikes, you'll instantly lose a life no matter how much health you have, which is the most unfair and cheap way of dying in a video game (and my biggest gripe). It can be quite frustrating when there are times that you make Simon touch the spikes inadvertently. There are only two games in which I did not mind death on spikes: the first one is ActRaiser, which had a few spikes in which you could still lose damage, but not die, while some spikes will spell instant death the moment you fall on them, but they were in places from which you could not come back, so I was understanding (though they're pretty easy to avoid here); the second one is The Lost Vikings, because of the way that game is. The second problem is the fact that this game suffers from what I'd like to call the Ninja Gaiden Syndrome, in that if an enemy touches you, you'll be "pushed" back, which can be quite annoying if you're standing near the ledge and make you fall down. I acknowledge that it happens in a lot of games, but I can be lenient because it only happens a few times; I'm not quite as forgiving when it comes to Super Castlevania IV, because it happens practically every single time you get hit, and the only place where you can be hit and not be "pushed" back is when you're on the stairs. This is also the last Castlevania title that I know of to have used the whip upgrade, which can be done up to two times, but if you lose a life, you have to re-upgrade it again; fortunately it doesn't take too long.

The music in this game is quite good. The songs range from energetic, to menacing, to relaxing, to eerie, to atmospheric and more. There is even one song that is quite light-hearted, despite this being a dark-toned game. The boss themes are menacing, particularly that one that takes place prior to the fight against the Count himself. The forest theme is really great, and the themes for when you're in the cave and waterfalls sound awfully relaxing. The few remixes of the classic titles in the series that precedes this game are quite nice, including "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Dracula's theme is unusually slow-themed, considering he's the final boss in the game. The ending for having beaten Super Castlevania IV is quite rewarding. The sound effects are nice, too.

The visuals are beautiful. The expositions are a sight to behold, and there are moments of parallax scrolling, color-layering effects, and even a bit of Mode 7 scaling and rotating effects. The cave is one such example, where there's a backdrop that makes it look like it has depth. There is one area where it looks like you're inside a rotating barrel (or anything similar to that), and boy does it look impressive. The choices of colors are well-done. The areas are detailed and quite colorful. The bosses look good and animate well; including the Twin Vipers, Frankenstein's monster, and even Death. Some people compare the visuals with ActRaiser's, and understandably so, considering both are impressive-looking early SNES titles. Simon and the creatures are drawn nicely, too. There is a tiny bit of graphic slowdown (understandable) when the screen gets too hectic, but not enough to hinder the experience.

This is a bit hard to talk about. The game is by and large normal-based, never too hard, and sometimes too easy. The reason for this somewhat lack of a challenge is because of the ability to swing your whip in any direction your heart desires. There are, of course, moments where you absolutely have to avoid the spikes, in that just one contact with them will cause you to die, which is completely unfair (to me). The bosses are not pattern-based, really, but it can be easy to take them down nonetheless, if you're prepared; Dracula is very easy. If you manage to beat the game for the first time and press Start while at the message "The End", it will slowly fade and send you back to the first stage. While it may not seem like much at first, once you cross the drawbridge, you'll see that you've accessed the game's second quest (which no one seems to know about). It's the same game, only slightly harder (but still normal-based), because there are more enemies on the stages and some take more damage, but the bosses remain unaltered. It's a decent second quest, but I find it sad that not many people are aware of it; but that's because Konami (for some reason) decided to only make it accessible once you pressed Start at the end of the credits. I'm one of those people that love to sit through the credits, and when I found out that there was a second quest, I was surprised. Once you finish the second quest, the game loops again on the second quest.

Super Castlevania IV was the first 16-bit iteration of the series, and it's a decent one at that, despite those glaring flaws that it has. It looks and sounds good for being an early SNES title, and it plays well, for the most part. I just wish that you wouldn't have to endure instant death when it comes to touching the spikes, and I also wish that the enemies would not "push" you back upon contact. The difficulty is tolerable at best, but not really hard; and it's got a second quest once the game has been beaten for the first time. This game has a bit of a cult following, though I don't think it's as perfect as others claim it to be. It can be a bit fun, and a bit frustrating (spikes and being "pushed" back). I've summed up my thoughts on the aforementioned Castlevania titles, and now it's time I summed up my thoughts for this game: Super Castlevania IV is good, but not great.


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