Castlevania | NES
Published by Konami, Developed by -
Genres: Action / Platformer (1 players)
Wii: Apr 30th, 2007 (US) | Mar 23rd, 2007 (EU) [500 points]
A haunting, gripping ride from start to finish
Review written by
Jonathan Ashley Moore
August 4th, 2014
A quick trip down memory lane can produce some surprising results. The Nintendo Entertainment System was obviously the clear winner of its generation but among the line-up for the system was a surprising amount of great trilogies. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy and probably most well known, Super Mario Bros. all got their starts on the Nintendo and all managed to produce three games that went on to define how certain games played.
One that didn't hit the best-sellers section, but certainly hit most influential, was the Castlevania series. Sure, horror themed video games had been made years before on Atari and other systems, but like a lot of games released for the Nintendo, it was the first time that we saw the mood come to life. It was incredibly hard prior to the NES to produce a game that could actually evoke a feeling, mostly due to the graphical and sonical limitations of the system. Castlevania burst onto the scene with atmosphere to spare, it was an intense experience unlike anything we had seen before, it was simply the best evolution we could have possibly asked for. Konami went all out and for their effort, it shows.
Castlevania stood out for good reason: It was the first credible horror-themed Nintendo game. Castlevania was released in 1987 in North America, the year after the system's proper launch outside of New York, which means that Castlevania is not just a trend setting game but one of the earlier classics from the system. The story goes that Dracula's castle emerges every 100 years and that you (Simon Belmont) must defeat Dracula and let the castle crumble once more. It's a storyline that doesn't ask too much of the player and that's OK, because Castlevania's importance is linked to other portions of the game, of which we'll talk about in more detail (oh by the way, I never thought of how well that lends itself to sequels... intentional?).
One aspect of great importance is the music, which is unlike anything heard before this title's release. Castlevania hosts a bunch of tracks that would make any best-of list, mostly because whilst background music was a part of most NES games, Castlevania almost made it the forerunner, it tenses you to do better when you fail and to get to that next boss. It's one part Eye of the Tiger pump-up music and one part Hammer-Horror. You want to get to the end of the level but there's always apprehension, because you don't know what's coming. The soundtrack plays this role so incredibly well that it ends up being one of the better soundtracks for the Nintendo Entertainment System, along with its sequels. Castlevania's musical structure is entirely chromatic, isolating and exciting at the same time which is why it is remembered so well. Hats off to Kinuyo Yamashita, she made history with this soundtrack.
The gameplay is just as impressive, simply by adding a weapon into the fold. Months before the release of The Legend of Zelda or Metroid in the US, Castlevania had already made a name for itself by being part hack and slash. It had already carved a niche for itself in the video game market by being unlike anything anyone had seen before. It played fantastically. Castlevania had fluid and precise movement, every time you perished, it felt like your own doing, with perhaps one exception. See when you get hit, you fly in the opposite direction of the enemy and this can be frustrating because it means you may have no other option than to fall into a pit. This is especially annoying when you jump, as you cannot change the way you're falling when hit. However I personally see this as a mechanic characteristic, one that is solely Castlevania's own and whilst it ramps up the difficulty, I don't see this mechanic as Castlevania's flaw.
In the context of when it was released, Castlevania actually looks better than basically anything out at that point, maybe because it had a jumping off point: Horror. Dracula's castle is filled with little 8-bit intricacies, the bosses looks fleshed out and huge, it's a pretty great looking game. Castlevania is renowned as one of the hardest NES games ever. Although probably easier than its successors in the series, Castlevania takes a LOT of playing to be able to grasp and proceed. It's the classic NES-hard formula: Try, try and try again until you finally memorize how to get to the next level. Depending on how you deal with these kind of games, the difficulty could certainly be a deal breaker. Much like a lot of Nintendo and Master System games, Castlevania can be completed in a very short amount of time, however that time is very hard to get to without first playing it over and over. I guess the upsides of this is that Castlevania is incredibly fun to play and its re-playability is off the charts.
Castlevania showed off the Nintendo Entertainment System in the early days of the console, before the ABC news-pieces on the system, before the chip-shortages, yes Castlevania showed what was capable in the early days of the system, when people were still getting used to developing for this new technology - and it knocked it out of the park. Aesthetically beautiful and fitting, mechanically sound, sonically chilling, Castlevania made it hard for other horror themed games to get a foot in. Castlevania is a haunting, gripping ride from start to finish.
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