In 1985 we were still being exhilarated by a man hopping over turtles and ingesting questionable substances…one year later, the start of one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises ever began. Castlevania was the premier gothic-themed 2D action-platformer back then, and it still reigns supreme on the PS1, Gameboy, and nowadays, the DS. With music as recognizable as the Mario or Legend of Zelda melodies, a gameplay concept as solid as a rock, and competent 8 bit graphics; Castlevania is the pinnacle of 80’s gaming. Without further ado, let’s get on with the analysis.
The gameplay is so simple it takes way less explanation than even Super Mario Bros. 3- navigate each level while collecting treasures (for points) and hearts (for special weapon ammunition) and defeat the boss at the end. Your basic weapon is a whip that isn’t all that useful- any normal enemy charging towards you is easily slain, but certain foes (such as the Medusa Heads…which I’ll get into in a minute) that have convoluted patterns are challenging to strike. You also have a small handful of special projectile attacks, including an axe, a cross (it functions like a boomerang), throwing daggers, and holy water. You also can find a stopwatch that freezes time for a few seconds, but it costs more ammunition than the other offensive abilities. While these abilities are nice to have, you’ll find yourself neglecting them until the boss battles (unlike this game’s many successors).
The sound is as iconic as any other Nintendo great- if you enjoy the melodies of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Bubble Bobble, Super Mario, Excite Bike, etc., then you’ll find yourself humming along with the gothic ambience of Castlevania. The graphics are also top notch. You’ll find yourself exploring underground catacombs flooded with water, on battlements overlooking the mountains, and of course the dark, dank halls of the castle itself. Granted the graphics aren’t even close to any other Castlevania game, but at least everything is recognizable.
Despite the awesome concept, not everything is exactly as it should be. Like many other NES games (namely Contra), success is all about standing in the right spot. The aforementioned Medusa Heads can only be passed unscathed by hours of memorizing their locations and patterns (for those who are unfamiliar, they are small aerial enemies that fly towards you in irritating and often unavoidable zigzag patterns). Another major problem occurs every time you are struck. Although you don’t take too much damage from one attack, you’re character is knocked back as if he was struck by an automobile. Many times I’ve found myself doing well, on the third or fourth screen of a level with full health, only to have to start over after getting struck and landing in an abyss or lake. This leads to anger at the game- a player who doesn’t feel cheated when he dies appreciates the challenge and plays again; whereas someone who does feel cheated simply becomes irate. In other words, I’d gladly reset the NES if I felt that I made a mistake, but not when the game glitches or I die under fishy circumstances. In conclusion I’d rate the gameplay only 6/10, despite the fact the game as a whole deserves a glowing 8 or 9 out of 10 points.
Overall this game is obviously landmark in Nintendo history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to shove it in the old top-loader more than once every two months. The gameplay was imagined perfectly, but executed in only an average manner. The music is great; but the only sound you’ll be hearing is the four second melody when your character bites the dust. In conclusion, this game kicked off an era, but was far from the pinnacle of it.