Review by dtm666
The best of the old-school Castlevania games that stands the test of time.
The first time I played Super Castlevania IV was at a video store close to home back in 1992. It was a local mom-and-pop shop that had an SNES booth on the side. For ten bucks, you can buy play any game they had available for the SNES for about an hour. Playing Castlevania IV for an hour was money well-spent, because never before had a game mesmerized me as much as that title and I just thought, "Man, this game is awesome. It simply doesn't get any better than this."
For the longest time, in my mind, no other Castleania that came afterwards would provide that level of excitement and fun attained from an hour's worth of Castlevania IV. And it seemed like that, outside of a couple rentals when I eventually got my own Super NES, I would never come across this gem of a title again.
All that changed in 2007, when I went to my local flea market and picked up an FC Twin clone system. It was around this point that I started getting back into playing old school video games and actually started collecting games in general. And since the twin was a dual NES-SNES clone... well, I needed SNES games, since I had sold my last batch. So lo and behold, there was a copy of Castlevania IV on sale. I bought it and after all these years, the game is still pretty amazing. If there was any Castlevania game out there that I would rank as the absolute best that the franchise could offer and the one game in the series I would rather play between now and the end of time, this would be it.
STORY: Super Castlevania IV is not necessarily a new story in the saga, but rather a (then) modern-day retelling of the original Castlevania game from 1987. Nonetheless, that didn't stop wayward localization crews from reconfiguring the storyline so that it is implied that Dracula has returned from the grave yet again and it's up to Simon Belmont to slay him once more. And personally, I much prefer the localized storyline over the original Japanese version's remake direction, because the game does feel like a new chapter in the book of Belmont rather than a rehashing, as was the case with the Sharp X68000 offering of Akumajo Dracula, which felt like a remake that eventually went its own way. Regardless of whether this is a remake of the first or a whole new adventure, the core of Castlevania IV remains clear; The count is out for blood and you have to put an end to his reign of terror. Simple and effective storytelling at its best. 9/10
GRAPHICS: Visually, Super Castlevania IV looks absolutely amazing. While the original NES games did a fine job of portraying the dark, gothic visuals that the series is known for, with the 16-bit power of the Super NES, the environments are simply stunning, moody, dark and dreary, and it just looks fantastic. The paralax scrolling, fog effects, rotating Mode 7 effects, they all contribute to bringing a new level of depth to the Castlevania world and it's just such a slick looking game that, I feel, portrays the mood of the series in a way that the later games didn't. I mean, there's a nice level of realism in the visuals that it didn't seem cartoonish or hokey. And this was before the series dwelled on anime inspiration and all the effeminate male heroes that would be introduced later on as the series progressed. And the best part is that each of the game's eleven stages felt distinct and different; no recycling of block sets or anything of the sort. They each had their own feel and they looked great too. 10/10
SOUND: The soundtrack is also wonderful stuff too - the first level theme that would eventually be known as the Theme Of Simon Belmont is actually one of my favorite tunes out of the series' depository of musical compositions, but the music on a whole is just beautiful, ear-pleasing stuff, whether it's new versions of classic tunes or ambient background tunes or even heart-pounding tunes during boss battles. The whip sounds are nice (with distinct sound effects for both the standard leather whip and chain whip - nice touch), the grunts are nice, the sound effects are a step up from the NES titles (obviously), and even the familiar death jingle has a ominous, almost depressing tone to it that later games never managed to replicate... although Bloodlines came close.
I know that the soundtrack might not be everyone's cup of tea - primarily the more mellow ambient tunes of the game - but for me, it's near perfect. Never before have I felt such serenity navigating through caverns and climbing up waterfalls with a ghostly melody to accompany you. There's almost a haunting element to the whole thing... amazing for 16-bit? Hardly. I'd say amazing for a video game in general. 10/10
GAMEPLAY: Let's start off with what Super Castlevania IV DOESN'T do. The game is a return to the basic, straightforward style of level progression as presented in the original Castlevania game many moons ago. This means no path divergences, no additional characters, and no new additional sub-weapons to aid you in your quest. You just go from point A to point B, kill the end boss, lather, rinse, and repeat. Although there are a couple levels that might diverge from the formula, for the most part, it's pretty simple fare. No real surprises in store here.
What you DO get in Super Castlevania IV is ultimate control over your whip. Perhaps the greatest innovation to grace the series (and almost immediately dropped afterwards) is the ability to whip in eight different directions. In addition to using this newfound ability to hit enemy targets or objects that would normally be out of reach, you can also latch on to various floating hooks (looking somewhat like doorhangers) to swing across chasms or just hang on to dear life as you avoid falling into a giant hole or into a bed of spikes as a giant room is rotating. It is this newfound ability that made me appreciate Super Castlevania IV; we often seen fictional heroes armed with whip-like weapons latching on to various corners to swing to the other side of a pit or chasm and it seems fitting that Simon Belmont - who happens to be part of a long line of whip-totting vampire hunting adventurers - would learn this fairly basic ability. This opens up the possibility for entirely new scenarios (for the time) that requires you to use your whip as a tool for traversing parts of a level almost as much as you would use it to destroy enemies.
And on top of that, if you held the Y button, your whip will go limp and you can use the D-Pad to swing it around like a crazy man. While a limp whip won't do as much damage as a standard attack would, it does give you a few more options such as defending against projectiles and just being cheap with the hits. Strangely enough, this seems to be the only ability that makes it over to later 'Vanias.
So now with the newfound ability to whip all over the place, the old command of pressing Up + B to fire a subweapon has been replaced by giving this ability its own button. It makes sense, since the Super NES controller has more buttons than the 2-button NES controller. This fixes the glaring problem you have in the original game when you tried to throw a subweapon from the stairs and have a hard time doing it. Not the case here. And speaking of stairs, you can jump onto a staircase or just drop from the stairs... and you can climb a tad quicker than before. And you can control your jump in mid-air. Very nice. 10/10
CHALLENGE: Because of these fixes, the challenge is based purely on how you handle the game's eleven stages and the various obstacles laying within. And certainly with improved mobility and enhanced whip control, the game may seem easier than the previous 8-bit efforts in the series... but even with these newfound improvements, the game does provide a healthy and formidable challenge to those who head into this with an arrogant attitude. Making full use of your newfound abilities will ensure success in your endeavor to take down the count. And if you beat the game, you're welcome to try again, only the difficulty has been ramped up a bit to challenge you again.
Now while prior disadvantages and drawbacks have been fixed up in this entry, another glaring issue rears its ugly head; slowdown. Castlevania IV is plagued with massive periods of slowdown and this tends to happen when the action gets intense and it's very noticeable. The slowdown does make the game a bit of a chore to playthrough at times, but on a whole, I haven't really been bothered by this during my playthroughs. It's just something that I feel is worth pointing out. 9/10
OVERALL: Look, I'm not going to fluff this piece. Super Castlevania IV is quite possibly the best of the old-school Castlevania games and the ultimate evolution of that format. What it lacks in extra concepts like multiple paths or playable characters, it delivers with fluid controls, diverse level design, mood-setting soundtrack, and an enthralling gaming experience that stands the test of time. Yes, it does have its issues with slowdown, but at the same time, it doesn't feel clunky and for the time, it did feel like a huge step-forward and it seem like Konami was just scratching the surface as to the potential that this ability possessed.
It's only a shame that instead of expanding on this new concept and making further steps with the newfound whip mechanics that made this game such a pleasure to play - they decide to forgo inventive thinking and just ripped off Metroid instead. I guess that worked, I suppose...
If you have yet to play Super Castlevania IV, you are really missing out on a truly excellent video game. It's fairly inexpensive for a loose copy and it's been available on the Virtual Console for quite some time. And it really is one of the few games that is as fun and fulfilling to play today as it was roughly two decades ago when it was brand new. This gets the full Monty from me. Go for it. 10/10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Super Castlevania IV (US, 12/31/91)
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