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SummaryThe "Belmont" Tolls For Thee...
The GoodIf you've ever wondered what thrashing an un-dead Count with a long, flexible chain feels like, then maybe this game is for you. In the grand tradition of Bram Stoker's horror classic, Simon Belmont takes it upon himself to rid his world of these unspeakable evils - an un-dead army full of ghouls, zombies, living skeletons, knights and all other kinds of graveyard trash.
So, as an action-adventure game, you move through (mostly) two-dimensional levels that challenge you to jump precisely, avoid attacks, and kill at will with the aforementioned whip/chain. You’re a 16-bit Van Helsing, and the body-count at the end of this game is phenomenal, but, unlike your Contra or your other action games, you feel less sympathy for these Lovecraftian abominations as they either explode in a burst of femurs and ribs, or simply implode, as if returning to the purgatory they were delivered from.
Throughout the game, Simon swings and whips his way among many locales - it's a tour of the unspeakable realms of evil. Broken and crumbling facades, wrought-iron bent and rusted, slime-dripping caverns and even a treasure-trove littered with golden monies and treasures, (a demented take on Scrooge McDuck's vault?!). The count really has quite a fun park for you to get through here, and the constantly changing areas are logged on a pre-level Mode 7 style map - unfortunately, this is a pre-determined course that you and Simon must traverse. And the count draws ever closer!
As this is quite an early release for this system, you can see that this is a more traditional platform-style game, understandably in the tradition of the NES Castlevania titles. Everything has been updated from these 8-bit entries, and overall the Super alluded to in the title is a promise that is kept. Animations are simple but effective, sprites are well-drawn and coloured, and the enemies are varied and truly aggressive, (who would of thought a simple bat would pose such a threat?!)
Does the game play match the vision? In a short answer, it does. Simon does controls stiffly, but it seems right somehow. He walks, never runs, and has a moderate jump that seems quite plausible. His whipping motion has a far enough reach, but takes that little moment of time to fully unleash - again this has a realistic touch. But, you will get frustrated somewhere along the way, for Castlevania has that unique phenomenon that video games posses - that in which when you fall from the screen view, you die inexplicably. Add to this the violent lunging Simon undergoes when struck by a foe (even of a light-weight bat!), and you'll find yourself dropping off whichever tiny platform you were perilously clinging to.
Castlevania must have set a precedent for the role of end-of-level enemies in games. The boss fights in this game, although not always challenging, are still epic in their vision. It's like a who's who of evil mythology - a veritable Necronomicon of the gaming world. Of course, I cannot name them all here, but I will say that the Count himself is rivalled in his horrendousness by many of his cronies. And an appearance by the scythe-wielding, black-robed Death is but one of the despicable characters Simon must challenge - whip in hand.
The BadOne thing bothered me though. I find the colour-scheme used for several of the levels thoroughly un-scary. A terrible mix of mini-golf turf green and a heightened dog-crap brown in some of the earlier levels undermines the brilliant score and artistic sprite qualities. Thankfully, these levels disappear fairly quickly, and we begin to explore the darker, moodier and repugnant regions in coming levels. Simon, on his lonely and loathsome quest, is thrown into cracking dark grey stairwells, Atlantis-like columns blasted with underground cascades, and neglected Victorian mansions, complete with chandeliers and long echoing halls. It's creepy.
And, for whatever reason, the game has a mysterious element that has given it a long life. The silence of Belmont (he never utters a word, nor is one ever subtitled), the unexplained route we're taken on, and the lack of human beings (other than Simon himself) add to the isolation greatly. This point however, is a matter of taste.
The Bottom LineI think Castlevania's success is due to it's cohesion in the development stages - something that seems to be lacking in modern games. When the credits role, you can't help but notice that some names repeat, and this got me thinking. When a talented and dedicated team of developers and programmers stick to a vision, and set sensible limits to their goals, they can't help but succeed in making something meaningful. Modern games have taken an almost Hollywood-style role in their production, with massive departmental and divisional staff working on fragments of the finished product. To my mind, this waters-down the core elements of the production.
The question I have is this: would such a small team of today, working on a severely limited platform as the SNES be able to create such a future-proof title as Castlevania? I'm not so sure.