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loogslair.com I feel asleep!


Year released: 1987
Company: Konami
Genre: Action

The Castlevania series is starting to develop a reputation in my book as the most undeservedly overlooked I have come across. I laud Mega Man, praise Final Fantasy, and see the merits of Zelda, yet Castlevania seems to get the short end of the stick. With my review of Castlevania 2, I began to see the error in my ways and resolved to correct them, and I think that in playing this game I have finally paid my penance. It has its faults, yes, but while I sometimes give technical faults the power to burden the aesthetic scores, I have now realized that reverse is not feasible.

The technical facets, as implied above, are truly ahead of their time. The graphics are dark and foreboding, just as is warranted in a game with gothicism as an underlying theme. Yet, the look of the game manages to be bright and colorful at the same time, using a large amount of reds and blues to create backgrounds that are both ominous and vivid. The lack of detail, however, is the main fault here, because while the backgrounds are certainly colorful, nothing really stands out. And the animation doesn't seem to be in its top form, either; most enemies have only two frames of movement, a disappointment considering how lifelike Simon is animated.

The music deserves its own paragraph simply because it ranks among the best music in any game on any platform. Once again, the soundtrack has a gothic feel to it, but it avoids being slow, lethargic, and worst of all unentertaining. It's as if the composer meshed Mozart with a 5-piece drum set, creating themes that are eerie and up-tempo. They also seem to alternate mood from tense to relaxed during the first five stages, which adds to the tension while not sounding like a drill sergeant commanding us to blaze through the game.

The only true technical problem is a theme that carries on throughout the series, and is mentioned by many, and that is the play control. Two things in particular are touched upon; for one thing, Simon leaps back the video equivalent of 5 feet whenever he takes a hit. This would not be such a problem, if certain areas of the game were not so acrobatic in the objective. Alas, the novice to intermediate player will see many of his lives wasted in the second level, colliding with a Medusa head (whose kind you will soon learn to despise) and plummeting to your doom (despite the fact that you just traveled across a span of flooring directly below these chasms.) Secondly, and arguably most frustrating, is the fact that the direction of Simon's jumps must be dictated before the button is pressed, and cannot be changed once performed. In other words, you must be walking left in order to jump left; otherwise you'll jump straight up. Also, jumps come in one size, thus you cannot simply hop over a small obstacle to overcome it; rather you must jump from a distance away. Both of these faults detract from the controllability of the game, but gratefully their need is not large enough to merit an even lower score.

The game is relatively short - only 6 levels - so to ask for a smooth learning curve would be asking much of this game. Still, adding just one more area would not have been a gross request. Levels 1 and 2 are pretty easy, but thereafter the challenge gets much more strict. One facet of the challenge still bugs me - the method of taking away life. Rather than base how much of Simon's life is taken away upon taking a hit on the potency of the enemy, the game draws its results on which area you're playing in. Thus taking a hit in level 5 takes more energy than a hit in level 2, even if you've been hit by the same enemy. This makes absolutely no sense to me; why would a hit by a bat take away just as much life as being clocked in the head by an axe?

Thus, the game is a mite more frustrating than it should be. Game shortness I can forgive; a life meter that is vanquished after 4 late-level hits I can't. The overall feel of the game makes the first three levels a heck of a lot of fun to play, but later on the challenge is simply too much to bear. And unlike other people, I can beat Frankie in level 4, so that problem goes by me without a hitch. The special weapons were certainly a step in the right direction, but most of the time one may tend to hoard their hearts for the final boss, so their effect is somewhat lost.

The plot is certainly bare-bones: Dracula's being a hemorrhoid, and it's up to Simon - the assigned member of the vampire-slaying Belmont family - to head into the castle and get him to see the light. (Anyone who got that joke receives my hearty congratulations.) Still, the resources of Transylvania had been untapped by other companies, and kudos should be paid to Konami for snatching them up and using them efficiently.

Once again, I recognize that times change, as do one's opinions about certain games. Though I tend to hold grudges against certain games, Castlevania is one whose resentment I have now dropped.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 13
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 18
Overall Score: 74%

You are now listening to the Stage 5 Music to Castlevania.