Castlevania 3 RetroActive Review

castlevania-3 picture

Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

Original Release Date: 1989

After many expressed disappointment in Castlevania 2, the developers decided to return to the formula of the first game, but go even bigger with it. The end result is Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, the final Castlevania game for the NES, and the one that is widely considered the best out of the three. But is it actually the best?

In many areas, Castlevania 3 is a clear step up from the original. The graphics have been dramatically improved, the soundtrack is even longer, and just as memorable, and there are tons of new features. There are now other playable characters that you can find throughout the course of the game. These include Sypha Belnades, a sorceress with magic based attacks, Grant Danasty, a pirate who can climb on walls and ceilings, and Alucard, the son of Dracula who has the ability to shoot fireballs and turn into a bat for a limited time. Each character has a unique play style, and the different abilities give the player different ways of solving problems and getting past obstacles.

Another major change is the addition of branching paths. Unlike the first Castlevania, which was completely linear, Castlevania 3 will offer the player the option of choosing alternate routes after completing certain levels. Due to the limitations of the NES, there aren’t that many choices, and they all converge back to the same point once you reach Dracula’s Castle, but it’s a neat feature, particularly for an NES game, and it does add a fair amount of replayability to the experience.

In many areas, Castlevania 3 took what the first Castlevania did and takes it to the next level. Unfortunately, this also includes the difficulty, and this is where the game suffers. While Castlevania could be frustrating at times, I grudgingly admitted that it was, for the most part, fair in its design and challenge. Castlevania 3, on the other hand, is not.

The first major problem is, once again, the controls. While they’re not quite as stiff as they were in the first game, they’re still pretty bad, and are a constant hindrance throughout the game, as most of the other player characters also have stiff controls. The only character that has good controls is Gant, but he also has the worst offensive and defensive capabilities, which doesn’t make him ideal for facing tough enemies or challenges.

But the bigger problem is the level design. While Castlevania was difficult, it at least had the courtesy of not throwing more challenges at the player than they could handle, and avoided cheap enemy placement. (With the obvious exception of the hall before the grim reaper) Castlevania 3, on the other hand, shows no similar restraint, and will constantly have relentless and often unfair challenges thrown at the player.

Sometimes this can mean cheap enemy placement, other times awkward and unforgiving platforming, but the most egregious problem is the abundance of stairs. The controls for the stairs in the first Castlevania were incredibly awkward, but the game was smart enough to not include too many in its design. In Castlevania 3, the stairs are everywhere, and will often lead to many cheap and unavoidable deaths.

And if all of this wasn’t bad enough, the iteration times are downright punishing. When you died in Castlevania, you were typically sent back one, maybe two rooms, a strict but reasonable penalty for messing up. In Castlevania 3, on the other hand, it’s not uncommon for the game to send you back three or four rooms when you die, sometimes more, forcing you to wade through the same content over and over again for no good reason but to prolong the experience. All of this really sours the experience.

It’s a shame, because in many respects, Castlevania 3 surpasses the original. It has better graphics, a more extensive soundtrack, new playable characters, multiple pathways, new environments, new items, and a fair amount of replayability. It should be the better game, but because of how relentlessly frustrating and difficult it is, ultimately I can’t say that it’s overall a better game than the original.

Despite some of the major shortcomings, I still managed to enjoy Castlevania 3 a great deal, and I can see why many consider it to be the best. Ultimately, whether Castlevania 3 is worth checking out will depend on how much you enjoyed the first game. If you liked the original Castlevania, you’ll probably like this game. If you didn’t, however, you’re probably better off skipping this one.

How well it holds up       2/4

Overall quality                7/10

For further information about the game:’s_Curse

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