Friday, March 29, 2013

Take Two Reviews: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

March 26th-30th, 2013
What's this?  "Take Two Reviews"?  Well, this is something I've been planning to do for awhile, but it took me some time to actually get to it.  Basically this is where I review certain games for the second time because either I don't like my old review, because throughout the years I may have changed my mind, or it may be because I feel that the review I made was outdated.  What's going to happen is that I won't delete my old review, but I will keep it as a reminder as to why it needed to be re-reviewed in the first place.  If you like the old review, that's fine, I just don't feel that it may have aged well.  I figured I would start with the game for which my old review has been haunting me for over two and a half years, and one which I had second thoughts about long afterwards:

Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: Konami

Simon is back to whip up some more action
Yes, this very game is what I chose for the trial review for my Take Two Reviews segment.  Super Castlevania IV was one of Konami's first games they created for the SNES console, and since then it has garnered quite a following from critics and gamers alike.  In my old review, while I stated that I thought the game was good, I felt it to be very overrated.  At first I thought maybe it deserved the 7 that I gave in 2010 (my God, it's been so long), and after having played Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo on the PSP title Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles some months after I downloaded it on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (back in 2007) I admit that for me that there was just no going back.  Looking back at my review and having recently played through the game again, I feel that I may have been harsh on it before.  I'm not saying it's high-caliber like many denizens of gamers clamor it to be, but I do concede that it's a far better game than I gave it credit for back then.  But what exactly has changed since then?

Metroid-shaped platforms?  o_O
Well, for one thing, I've lately re-read my old review of the game, and I don't think it has aged well at all, and honestly I don't like it.  While I've explained the aspects and details of the game, as well as reveal the second quest that few people are even aware exist (I'll get to that later), I felt that I complained and heavily criticized it for the flaws that it had that personally annoyed me.  For some time I had contemplated giving this game a second chance, so what happened was I came back to it with an open mind and played it like it was my first time again.  That in a nutshell, is the genesis for my Take Two Reviews, and again, if you liked my old review, then good for you.  <=|  To each their own, I just felt the need to give this game another go.

Water, water, everywhere!
The Japanese version of this game was basically a 16-bit remake of the first 8-bit Castlevania (Akumajō Dracula), even though there are far more stages here than there were there.  Which explains the reused plot from the first game.  Once every century Prince Vlad himself Count Dracula rises from the grave and terrorizes the citizens of Transylvania with all his dark power and minions.  When the need arises a chosen vampire hunter in the Belmont family comes out to the rescue and defeats Dracula in his castle, leaving the residents of the country with peace for the next hundred years.  It is 1691, and the Count has come back from the grave once more (and I'm not just talking century-wise), and is out to seek revenge on the current descendant of Belmont, Simon.  This really begs the question of how old the main hero is, since he's not only faced Dracula before in the original game, but he's especially fought him in the Sharp X68000 remake in Castlevania Chronicles and in the arcade-exclusive Haunted Castle after snatching away his bride to be, in the middle of their wedding no less!  Yeah, the story isn't particularly great, but there's lots of stuff here that really make up for that.

"Look at you: you're all bones!"
This is a 2D action-platformer where Simon mostly attacks his foes with his whip in hand, which can be upgraded two times before it's at its full potency.  What separates this game from most games in the series is that you can use your whip all around you, in eight different directions, and should you hold down the whip button and move your arrows around then you'll be able to fiddle around with it.  There are even a few moments when you may be swinging on bat rings in order to make progression.  Since you're allowed to swing in every corner, the subweapon is delegated to the R shoulder button.  However, using these particular weapons--whether they are cross boomerangs, axes, knives, holy water, or clocks--will use up a few hearts that you collect along the way, so use them sparingly.  The hearts and weapons (especially II or III icons which enable you to use two or three subweapons at a time) are usually concealed inside candles floating around.  One thing about this game: should you grab a subweapon, you won't get a chance to switch back and you'll be stuck with it until you find another one.  Throughout the game there are bosses that will block your passage until you defeat them.

I had no idea that Dracula was such a
bookish character
The controls are solid, and being able to launch your whip anywhere your heart desires admittedly gives you a bit of an advantage.  The jumping controls are good, and what's noticeable here is that you can control your jumps while in mid-air.  You can even jump on stairs this time around, however you cannot jump up from stairs either.  Another neat addition to the controls is that you can move while squatting down, which is usually used when going through small spaces.  It's not as fast as when you walk, but it's a serviceable option (even though it's not used very often).  Sometimes there may be certain helping items that are hidden inside blocks (like meat to replenish health and an extra life).  One rare item you may stumble across is a small crucifix which will obliterate all the enemies that are currently onscreen.

A bare-breasted Medusa; I'm surprised Konami
got away with that considering NoA's policies back
then
Arguably one of Super Castlevania IV's high points is the visuals, which I noticed are often compared to that of Quintet's 1990/1991 hit ActRaiser, and for very good reason.  This is a gorgeously rendered game, with dark, detailed worlds replete with a big sense of atmosphere.  In it are also color-layering effects, huge amounts of parallax scrolling, some animated items in the foregrounds and background, and it displays a good amount of Mode 7 scaling and rotation effects.  It's also brimming with lots of good color choices as well.

"Eye" see you!
Some of the standout areas are the dark forest stage with all the green foliage and the multi-planed dark clouds gradually moving in the dark sky.  The third stage has some great settings, where at first you're in an eerie atmospheric cave, and then you climb up vertically in an oddly relaxing setting full of waterfalls, and the final part has you trek through a watery temple designed with Atlantis in mind.  One of the areas has you pitted in a gold-lathered treasury, and one of them takes place in an enchanted library.  There is this one cool sequence where you're in a room where all around you the walls rotate as if you're inside a barrel thanks to the ever-wondrous Mode 7 effect.  Simon animates okay enough, and the enemies are widely varied; like skeletons (some might have whips), Medusa heads, axe-throwing suits of armor, zombies, and bats among other things.  The bosses are big and detailed, and some are actually cleverly designed, but more on that later.

Indiana Simon getting into gear
Aurally Super Castlevania IV is wonderfully composed and its instrumentation is wisely chosen.  The soundtrack is instrumental, and a lot of the music successfully create a sense of atmosphere for each stage.  The forest theme is brooding and catchy, and some of the themes in the third theme sound smooth and relaxing.  The underground stage is overly ominous, the treasury room theme is haunting, but oddly enough despite a lot of the songs sounding dark, the library theme is very lighthearted and not very menacing.  It's a good song, don't get me wrong, it just really stands out from the score.  A truly menacing song occurs when you fight off three bosses before facing Dracula at the end, with effectively riveting string work.  What's nice is how a few of the songs have been remixed from the earlier NES trilogy, like the song "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.  The sound quality is especially good, particularly the ending song which sounds absolutely beautiful.  The sound effects are good, too.

Geez, there's more gold here than in New
Super Mario Bros. 2
!
The game's challenge falls somewhere between the easy and the medium spectrum, even though for the most part it's a pretty easy game.  It's not mindlessly easy, as there are a few moments that present a bit of challenge, but one could argue that the expanded controls are part of the reason the difficulty has been alleviated to a degree.  Depending on how you look at it, it can either be a good thing or a bad thing.  As I said earlier, Simon can control his mid-jumps, and the accessible maneuverability in midair lessens a bit of the challenge.  The ability to whip in all directions can make things a little easier admittedly, but on the other hand it can work to your advantage.  Each stage is filled with obstacles, and while the boss fights don't require much of a strategy to be taken down, you will have to be careful when it comes to fighting some of them.  The boss fights are largely easy, but Dracula is the worst offender in this department.

Oh, Konami, what were you thinking with
these two?  --_--
Since I'm talking about the difficulty, I may as well bring up the few personal qualms I have with it that caused me to reward it a 7 a few years ago.  One of the ways that you could die instantly (aside from falling offscreen) is by touching spikes; no matter how much health you have the moment you get punctured, you die!  There are some games where I don't mind this happening (like Prince of Persia and Equinox among others), and if the goal was to give it a realistic feel it's one thing.  However for this game I couldn't help but feel that it's unfair.  Then there's the fact that any time an enemy comes into contact with you then you'll get pushed back.  Yes, this is what inspired the Ninja Gaiden Syndrome label I came up with in my original review, even though it's been happening since long before Ninja Gaiden actually came out.  Again, lots of games have this happen, and for certain games I don't mind at all (but if realism was the goal...); I find it infuriating any time this happens, especially if you're near a ledge, for if an enemy hits you there then there's a high probability you might fall down (the only safe point is on the stairs).

This is especially true when you engage in Super Castlevania IV's obscure and slightly harder second quest, which can only be accessed by pressing Start at the end of the credits.  Less people are aware of the second quest's availability here than the one found in Kirby's Dream Land, and for simple reasons.  In the latter you're given a code that will help you access it, thereby the developers informed you to take on the second quest; in the former you're not given a hint or a clue there even is a second quest, which would give gamers the false impression that the game is only one quest long when there is so much more to that.  Unless you (discover by accident that you must) press Start at the very end of the credits, at the part where it says "Presented by Konami" and then fades to black and then back in, you wouldn't even realize that it's actually around.  Basically it starts the game over again only with the difficulty amped up a notch.  Now in each stage there are more enemies than there were before, which admittedly create a bit of challenge, although the boss fights are unaltered.  Unfortunately the same flaws apply here too, especially when it comes to knocking Simon back (having it happen to me a lot when preparing for my initial review caused me to dock the score a lot, I must confess).  Even though the first quest is easier, I much prefer it to the second one.

Note to self: import Super Famicom cart one
day
A lot of people consider this game to be a classic, and I can understand why that is.  It's a great-looking and sounding game with good play control.  The ability to swing the whip around in all directions is an innovative concept even though it decreases a bit of the challenge.  The stages feel atmospheric and are decently designed, and a lot of the areas are cool.  As I said before, the boss designs are neat, and among the traditional enemies that you fight in the series, there are some that are quite creative (like the Zapf bat, a giant bat created from the treasures in the room) and some not so inspring (the spectral dancers).  I looked up that the Japanese version has little to no slowdown compared to the Western version, and that the latter has been censored to a small degree.  I do think it's a fun game, albeit a tad overrated in my opinion, and having given it a second chance with a more open mind, I found it a little better.  You can keep your 9's and 10's, but I think it's good enough, both as a game on its own and as a part of a series.  Definitely worth checking out.
My New Score: 8.0/10
P.S.: This is the only game in the series I'm aware of where the title font is different than its traditional pre-2002 font.
P.S. 2: The names of the spectral dancers are Paula Aghoul and Fred Ascare.  *facepalm*  I wouldn't mind this so much if the boss fight wasn't so uninspiring to me.
P.S. 3: Normally I'm not into writing reviews in one solid color (I'm more into variety in terms of colors), but for certain reviews I cannot help but do so.

Hey, I like this second chance series I came up with.  It's a doorway for new possibilities.  I wonder what else I could give another light of day in and out of video games and review form:  =)
Nah, I'm not in the mood to be depressed again...  =(
Ummmmmmmm...
(Only the first Zelda, the other games-that I played-I like)
Maybe...
(This movie is not worth watching in my book)
NEVER!!!!!!!!
Never ever again!
Obviously it's going to be a big process to go through.  *shrugs*  But hey, we'll see where the Take Two Review series go.  Stay tuned next Friday for my next review which will take place on my birthday (I turn 22), so it's going to be a special one.  Take care!

P.S. 4: To each their own.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)

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