Castlevania is a 2D sidescrolling platformer by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System. There are a few other versions of the same game, but I’ll be talking about this one as I experienced it both through the NES version and the GBA port of that version. I’ll also preface this with the fact that, while I have seen the entire game before, I’ve never personally been able to beat it. So take all of this with that grain of salt. The game does have a plot, but as for as the game itself goes you’re not really told anything. Basically, all you need to know is that Dracula is the big bad guy here that’s controlling all of the other classic horror monsters and it’s up to you, Simon Belmont, to use your family’s legendary whip known as the Vampire Killer to defeat Dracula.
The gameplay is pretty simple. You move left and right, jump, duck, and whip directly forward to attack. Levels are broken up into a number of stages. Every stage is a checkpoint unless you run out of lives, at which point your game over screen let’s you quit or continue from the start of the current level. Each level is punctuated by a boss fight. All of enemies, including the bosses, are some take on popular horror-themed monsters, such as Frankenstein’s monster, Medusa, and even the common bat. You can whip candles in the background which will drop items. Money bags are worth points that can give you extra lives should you collect enough. Sometimes special items will drop that fill your sub weapon slot. You hold up and press attack to use the sub weapon but each use costs a certain number of hearts, which may also fall from the candles. Enemies may sometimes drop these items when slain as well. You start with a short leather whip that can be upgraded with a dropped whip powerup. Getting the first one will turn it into a chain whip and the second will extend its length. There is also a potion that grants limited invulnerability when touched and a holy necklace that will instantly kill all enemies on the screen when touched.
The controls and patterns of enemy movement are very deliberate. You can only whip straight ahead, be it standing or ducking. Your jumps are dedicated. If you are not walking and jump then you’ll go straight up in the air and be unable to move until you land again. If you jump in a direction you are stuck with that momentum until landing. You can whip and use sub weapons mid-air but cannot change your momentum. You also have no control over the height or duration of the jump. This leads to the sub weapons having various advantages for fighting tricky enemies and tough bosses. The knife can be through straight forward across the screen. The axe is thrown up and arcs back down. The holy water is thrown mostly downward and persists on the ground for a few seconds. The cross works as a boomerang. The stopwatch can stop time and freeze many enemies temporarily. You can also find a Roman numeral II and afterward a III which will allow you to have two and three of a sub weapon onscreen respectively, but grabbing a new sub weapon will reset you back to the standard one at a time. If you can manage to get through every level and ultimately defeat Dracula, you win. You can then play a harder version of the game afterwards.
Casltevania has a lot to like. The visuals are surprisingly colorful for a horror game and there’s a decent amount of style in the art despite heavily lifting so many cliché horror references. The music is awesome. You’ll get some of those tunes stuck in your head by the end of it. The difficulty is high, but not in a brutal sense. It can be very tough but never feels like the game is screwing you over. The controls are limited but consistent to the point where your demise is either due to not knowing what was coming, not knowing how to overcome it yet, or simply failing to execute it correctly. The soft checkpoints can be disheartening to lose upon a game over but the level checkpoints upon continuing with infinite continues keeps it from becoming too repetitive on parts you clearly have down. Essentially, a lot of the choices in this game could’ve easily worked against it had they not been done so damn well, but they were. So it’s pretty damn good.
There are a few downsides to mention, though. There’s no way to save the game which means replaying from the very start every time you shut it off. It’s not too long but it can be annoying to have to replay all of the earlier stuff just to try the harder parts again the next day. A password system would’ve been appreciated. The whip upgrades are a bit silly. There are only the two and it seems that they hand them out so early and so close together that you’re rarely ever going to not have the best whip. You might as well just start with the whip at full power and be done with it or spread them out more as punishment for dying. The points system is okay for getting more lives, but in a game that can’t save your high score and that has infinite continues it’s not that enticing to go after points. And as mentioned, most of the enemies are pretty generic or unoriginal at best.
Yet Castlevania remains a classic. Somehow, even though it’s balls hard and I’ll probably never be able to beat it as long as I live, I still really like it. It’s still fun. And if you can not only respect but also ENJOY a game that kicks your dick and defeats you every damn time you play it… well then it MUST have something to it, right? I definitely think any NES fan, Castlevania fan, or just any fan of classic games should give it a shot on whatever system you can. It’s damn near being a must-play. It also makes a great Halloween game, too. I’d say, depending on the system you find it on, it could be worth 20-30 bucks and still feel like a decent price. It’s a good thing SOMEBODY was able to beat this game so that Dracula would never again reign over the land… never…