Original Release Date: 1986
Known as one of the most classic and difficult games of the NES era, Castlevania left quite a mark on the gaming medium. While Super Mario Bros established the basic formula that most successive platformers would follow, Castlevania added its own flavor to the mix. It introduced new concepts to the medium and established a long running and widely respected franchise. But how well has it weathered the passage of time?
In Castlevania, the player assumes the role of Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter tasked with killing Dracula. About as basic a story as you can get, but the game does a good job of reinforcing this quest through the aesthetic and the gameplay. The design of the levels gives you the sense that you’re making your way through Dracula’s castle, and not just across a series of platforms. The graphics and color scheme do look a bit dated, but the art direction is still impressive given how old the game is. In addition, the music is extremely catchy and memorable, and perfectly complements the overall tone of the game.
On the other hand, the game’s difficulty lies less in challenging the player and more on imposing restrictions on the player. The main problem is that the control scheme is incredibly stiff. There’s a slight delay to the whip, Simon’s walking speed is very slow, the jump arch allows for no room for error, and Simon will fly backwards a ridiculous amount whenever he takes damage. All of this creates a disconnect between the player and the on screen action.
In games such as Super Mario Bros and Megaman, the controls are smooth and precise, and the on screen action always matches the player’s input perfectly. As a result, whenever you die in those games, it always feels like it was your fault because you were in control. By contrast, Castlevania often feels as though it makes the player fail, as the clunky control scheme will frequently prevent the player from getting Simon to do what they wanted him to do. In a platformer where precision and timing is key, having a bad control scheme is a major problem.
Now, to Castlevania’s credit, most of the game is designed around the awkward controls. Throughout the game the player is usually only expected to overcome a few obstacles at a time, and it gradually increases the difficulty as the game goes on. While the controls can be a hindrance, the good level design prevents the game from being outright unfair.
The only time when the game abandons good design and fairness is in the hallway before the grim reaper and the grim reaper himself. The amount of things the player is expected to deal with in that section is straight up sadistic, and it’s a definite low point in the game. Still, the rest of the game is reasonable in its challenge, and even though the final fight with Dracula is incredibly difficult, it’s difficult in a fair way, and is a very satisfying conclusion to a very competent action platformer.
Castlevania is not for the faint of heart. It’s extremely challenging, and not always in a fair manner. However, it does a lot of things very well, and there is genuine enjoyment and satisfaction to be had from it. Whether or not it’s a fun game will be up to personal preference, but it’s a game that’s at least worth checking out.
How well it holds up 2/4
Overall quality 7/10
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