Slow and steady gets your ass kicked.
Castlevania 3 : The second good Castlevania game on the NES.
Story : One gets the impression that Konami was attempting to be more "cinematic" with Castlevania 3, being that the opening title screen starts with an 8-bit screen of a film reel streaming along. The game starts with the Simon Belmont sprite mourning over the grave of what I thought to be his dearly departed guinea pig and vowing revenge on Count Dracula for sucking all of 150 ml of blood out of the little guy. This was indeed a true 8-bit game in the sense that you need to read the instruction manual to grasp the plot, and in this case, it's actually TREVOR Belmont, who looks identical to his ancestor, looking to put the Count in his place.
One can argue that it's unfair to rate a Nintendo Entertainment System video game that's give or take 20 years old by the standards of modern gaming. But I would argue that it's the Grand Theft Autos, the Metal Gears and the Gears of Wars of the world that are disadvantaged due to their complexity. For I tend to be partial to 8-bit games for their simplicity; one needs not remember ten different, unnatural button commands or sit through a twenty-minute tutorial on how to take cover and avoid attacks from your adversaries.
In a Castlevania game, you run, you jump, you whip, you climb stairs. And the controller motions for all of these make sense. You press Up or Down to climb stairs, you have one button to jump, and one to fight. Easy enough. The one controller command that may require some kind of explanation to someone foreign to the series is the idea of holding Up on the control pad and pressing the attack button to throw heart-powered projectiles at your enemies.
The challenge in any of the pre-metrosexual Castlevania games is mastering the slow, bulky physics. For you see, Konami acknowledged that it makes little sense how a fat Italian plumber like Mario could defy all manners of science by running as fast, jumping as high and being so aerodynamic as he is in the Super Mario Bros games, and set out to design a platformer based on the idea that the protagonist is a big dude. The Ahhnold-like Belmonts walk slow, jump slow, can't change direction mid-jump, fall down like rocks upon walking off a ledge and lack the gall to attempt any kind of evasive action while maneuvering a staircase. In fact one of the first habits you'll have to unlearn is the notion of being able to jump on stairs for Trevor's feet will tremble at the thought and choose to jump to the side and into a bottomless pit of death. It's critical to have a feel for the sloth of your character for the key to 'vania prosperity is to adjust your playing to match the patterns in which enemies and platforms move, spawn, respawn, fly around and take advantage of muscular but slow ass while climbing a fleet of stairs. Bosses are also vengeful in their regard, moving much faster and throwing typical faster projectiles than you.
It's as if the game adopted the reverse mentality of other platform action games where you play as a small-but-agile character chipping away at a large but slow and pattern-based enemy with a lot of health by pitting a fast, random-pattern-based enemy (with a lot of health) against a slow, lethargic hero with limited health.
Castlevania 3 differs itself from Castlevania 1 (the other good Castlevania on the NES) in two ways. At certain points, the player can choose one of two different branching paths and play through different levels. Certain paths will allow you to find one of three allies to join in your quest. Which allies you can choose in particular…well you're going to need to look up a strategy guide, for it's possible to unknowingly skip out on a potential party mate. Grant Danasty (what a name!) has a crummy knife attack but has learned to defy the laws of gravity in that he can climb walls and change direction mid-jump(!!). Sypha is a magician who does away with the traditional knife/axe/crosserang weapons that the Belmont family cherishes for whatever reason in favor of handy magical attacks. Alucard (yes, THAT Alucard) (yes, his name is Dracula spelled backwards) has a lame duck projectile attack, but he can transform into a bat and fly around a bit. You can only have one character in your strictly-business relationship at one time, and whomever you beat the game (if you choose to take on a character at all) with affects the scrolling text that is your ending in another excuse to lengthen game time by asking the player to finish the game four times over.
Of course, you can just look up on the endings on Youtube.
In case you missed it the first time, this is a hard game! You're going to die quite a few times. If you run out of lives, the game will restart you at the beginning of your world, which is more forgiving than other NES platformers that thrust you at the start of the game period…but still a dated mentality against checkpoint-heavy action games of today. All of this is eased a bit by the fact that this is a Wii Virtual Console game that'll automatically save your progress and let you continue where you left off.
Compared to other NES games, Castlevania 3 looks cutting edge, with such techniques as swinging pendulum platforms, tiles that deteriorate and spinal column enemies that move around with great vertebral flexibility. Of course, it looks rather dated and pixel-rific by today's standard, but it has a much more forgiving look on the eyes than say, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It's a hard platformer, and this is coming from someone that gave Mega Man 9 a near perfect rating. It's not for everyone, but get Castlevania 3 is you're a glutton for challenge, or even if you're remotely curious for this game comes cheap! NES Virtual Console games sell at two for $10, so get this along with another 8-bit gem, a Kirby's Adventure or Mario 3, so that you'll at least be satisfied with one of your purchases.
3 ½ stars.
Which means it's better than Killzone 2 in my books.