Super Castlevania IV
Original Release Date: 1991
While I enjoyed the NES Castlevanias (Not counting Simon’s Quest), they were held back by the limits of the time. Castlevania’s difficulty tended to stem from archaic design choices, and the high level of frustration could often compromise or overrule any enjoyment of the game. As a result, while I like the original and Dracula’s Curse, neither are what I would consider to be great games.
Super Castlevania IV, on the other hand, is a title that I would consider to be a great game. It had everything that was good about the NES titles while updating or removing most of the elements that were frustrating.
The first significant improvement is the controls. While they’re still a little stiff, they’re much more responsive than the NES controls. The player has much more freedom when it comes to movement, and this is epitomized in the whip controls. Unlike in the first three games, Simon can now whip in all 8 directions, which makes it easier to deal with the various threats the game throws at you. The game still keeps you on your toes, however, and while it’s not as hard as the older games, it still provides a good challenge.
The art direction is very good, and easily blows the NES games out of the water when it comes to the visuals. There are more details, more variety, and while the graphics do show their age a bit, they hold up much better than the NES games. The soundtrack is also very good, suiting the atmosphere of the game perfectly, and the nods to the older games are clever, but not overbearing.
In many respects, Super Castlevania is the culmination of the old school Castlevanias. Unfortunately, it has the same problem as Megaman X, in that it was bold enough to update and change some things, but didn’t go all the way with it. The result is a game that is mostly great, but is sadly shackled to archaic traditions of its predecessors.
The first major problem is the lives system. The lives system, in the end, has always been about making a game longer rather than better. It was tolerable in the NES era because the space on the cartridge was limited, and so it was an easy way of making a game last longer when it really didn’t have that much content. But maintaining the lives system into the 16 bit era was a mistake, particularly for games that didn’t need it. Super Castlevania has many more levels than the original, and the levels are much longer than they were in the original. It was already a good length, so it didn’t need to resort to the lives system to pad it out.
The iteration times can also be rather ridiculous. There were several times in the game where I could get through most of a section just fine, but there’d be an obstacle at the very end of the section that gave me trouble. Now, you’d think the game would start me relatively close to the area that’s giving me trouble, right? But no, instead the game will send you back a ridiculous amount when you die, and will force you to continuously wade through challenges you’ve already mastered multiple times just to have another go at the trouble spot.
In particular, there were some boss fights that are rather tricky. But instead of just starting you right before the boss room when you die, the game will force you to redo one or more previous rooms that you already overcame. It’s a cheap and annoying tactic to pad the game out, and coupled with the lives system, there are times where Super Castlevania feels reminiscent of its predecessors in a bad way.
Another issue is the inclusion of the items. In the original game, for better or worse, the items were important, as the whip by itself was not that powerful. But with the ability to whip in 8 directions, the whip will suffice for most of the obstacles that you face throughout the game, rendering the items mostly redundant. There are a few sections where having a projectile is handy, and is more useful than the whip alone, but for most of the game, the whip is all you need. It probably would have benefitted the game if they either eliminated all of the items, or just provided one projectile weapon as an alternative attack. That way, more focus could be placed on the whip, and there could have been more things such as the swinging hooks to provide new ways of overcoming obstacles.
The issue with the items rolls into other areas, as the game will encourage you to hit the many candles you find throughout the journey. In the original game, this made sense, as the rewards you got from the candles were important. But in Super Castlevania, the candles are rather redundant. The rewards the candles can give are either an item (which, for the most part, you won’t need), a heart (which you won’t need, since you don’t really need the items), or a treasure bag. (Which only helps you if you care at all about getting a high score, which most rational people shouldn’t care about) As the rewards from the candles aren’t important, they just make the game feel rather cluttered, and it would have been better to either significantly reduce the number of candles, or eliminate them completely.
Finally, Super Castlevania retains some design choices that didn’t even make sense in the original game. There’s a time limit for each level which was completely pointless, as I never came close to running out of time in any of the games. There’s also the fact that when you die, your whip gets downgraded, but you can get it back to full power almost immediately, so downgrading the whip doesn’t really have a point except to serve as a very mild annoyance.
Overall, Super Castlevania has some troubled elements. It maintained many traditions of the older games without stopping to think whether these traditions made sense or if changing them would benefit the game, and as a result the game feels a little sloppy in its design. It’s good, but it could have been more.
In the end, however, I enjoyed Super Castlevania a lot. While it makes some mistakes, it does many things incredibly well. It surpasses the NES games in terms of overall quality and entertainment value, and it’s a pretty great title for the SNES.
How well it holds up 3/4
Personal Enjoyment 4/5
Overall quality 8/10
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