Castlevania (1)

Genre: Action Platformer
Year: 1986
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Konami
Platforms: NES
Feeling Like: Whip it good

I try not to adopt a defeatist attitude. According to the Home Page, I claim that I’ll be as positive and optimistic as possible. When Castlevania popped up, I knew this would be a challenge. Why? Because there’s no better retrospective on the game  than the Angry Video Game Nerd’s video on the entire series. I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you go check it out, ASAP. 

So why even bother? If that’s the best there is, why make more? Why continue making more Terminator and Aliens movies when it’s clear the franchises peaked decades ago? Because there’s something there, underlying the simple premise of a video game. Castlevania hits a lot of points and satisfies so many unique urges that it’s impossible to cover absolutely everything, no matter how Angry you may be.

I came to the series late and played it in the complete wrong order. Dawn of Sorrow was my first Castlevania and that’s WAY beyond the original. The lore is, at this point, obtuse and I can’t even figure out what’s canonical and what isn’t. The point being, I was late to the party and it was difficult to find footings on how the series has evolved since I wasn’t there at genesis.

So to satisfy my inner historian, and at the urges of James Rolfe, I purchased it on the Virtual Console and gave it a shot. I was unprepared.

Castlevania (2)
This is the end boss. I never got here.

I wasn’t ready for how hard the game would be. There’s no excuse for my naivety, since I had a Nintendo as soon as I could say the word, and still retain multiple memories of how fanatically difficult most of library was. Castlevania is no different. The challenge starts off slow, but ramps up in difficulty and the final few areas are brutal and verge on being ridiculous. There’s zero chance I could beat this with 33 year old reflexes, so I resorted to cheating and cheesing the game as much as possible. All’s fair in love and Nintendo.

The controls are really responsive, so unfortunately it was almost always my fault when I perished. But seriously, when Medusa heads, dogs, vampires and Death Himself won’t stop at respawning immediately, or firing their limitless ammunition of bullshit towards you, what’s a guy to do?

Luckily, Castlevania kicks enough ass to warrant repeat attempts at beating Stage Five, IE, the “Henry breaks his quota of yearly swearing in fifteen minutes”.  Skeletons take advantage of your inability to climb stairs quickly, hunchbacks don’t subscribe to any kind of predictable pattern and hallways become gauntlets of insanity. I can’t help but be impressed at the Youtubers who beat this in one go. I feel like they deserve their own religion.

The star of the show is the atmosphere. Castlevania stays dedicated to its theme throughout. Every kind of monster from every kind of mythology is here and all have timeless, simple designs. Power ups in the walls implore you to explore every inch of every stage. While the level design is nowhere near as good as other classics, it’ll make sure you know the direction to go, no matter how hesitant you are to proceed.

The music is outstanding and has a few tunes that have been deservedly remixed in future Castlevania titles. The fact that this game was Kinuyo Yamashit’s first work as a video game composer is mind boggling. She hit a home run before she even learned how to walk.

This was such a far cry from Nintendo’s usual offering that gamers couldn’t possibly resist. It was the right amount of scary for kids and the right amount of everything else for teenagers and on. The contrast between this and Super Mario Bros. made it an easy sell and has been one of Konami’s flagship franchises for good reason.

Previous 430 Her Story                                                                   Next 428 Super Mario Land