A Genre defining Classic
One of the most memorable entries in the 16-bit era. Super Castlevania brought to a new generation of consoles, powerful graphics and sound mixed with new gameplay mechanics and a beatable but tough challenge. Super Castlevania is the fourth installment in the series (sometimes called Castlevania IV) but it is actually a re-imagining of the first title released on the NES. Starring as the original whip-welder, Simon Belmont, this brought an entirely new gaming experience to the 16-bit generation.
The version brought beautiful and detailed graphics, memorable music, a wider array of attacks and effective use of the SNES's Mode 7. This allowed the developers to scale and rotate layers, which, in turn, allowed Konami to craft one of gaming's most memorable sequences.
With the advent of the Super Nintendo, Konami was able to give Castlevania the horror theme that it deserved. From the bugs crawling on a crumbling brick wall on the title screen to a fantastic introduction which takes us to Dracula's resting place. An ominous bolt of lightning strikes the tombstone shattering it in two. A bat is released into the night sky, the ominous score begins and the story text begins to scroll slowly. It's an introduction which highlights how creepy the game is intended to be and it works. Eventually you stand as the mists sweep across the screen and you gaze towards your destination - the Castle which appears every 100 years - the Castle of Dracula!
Superb Enemy Design
The superb presentation of the horror theme continued in the superb enemy and boss design from Skeletons and Zombies to the strange dancing dead nobles. This game oozed some of the best enemy design of any horror game. For me, the boss battles really stood out as some of the best in the series. Just like the original game on the NES, this was pure homage to the popular Hammer Horror films as well as the Universal Monster Pictures.
Starting with Rowdain, an undead jester who, along with his faithful steed, is placed to guard Dracula's stables to battling through mythological villains such as Medusa, the Orphic Vipers (similar to the Greek Hydra monster). Moving through familiar Horror film bud guys like the Battle with the Mummy at the Clock Tower and the beast of a man known as Frankenstein's Monster. Encountering original Bosses such as the Knight Sir Grakul, a knight who bursts out of his glass case and assaults the player with an axe to the strangest boss of the series, a pair of dead, dancing nobles.
Imaginative Level Design
Whereas earlier titles threw the player straight into the action in Dracula's Castle, Super Castlevania decided to portray the journey towards the castle first. Beginning with the Outer Walls, featuring an innovative method of allowing the player to go behind the scenery, allowing Simon Belmont to move on either side of the fence. This guides you to a crumbling gatehouse and haunted stables.
Beating the Skeleton Knight Rowdain led you to a forest, where you were required to fight against Spiders, zombies and purples hands that rose from shallow graves. Eventually fighting against the flow of a river the player will find themselves at the lake near the infamous castle.
Reaching the Lake, you traverse through an underground cavern, facing up against rock men who, when hit with the whip, split into several smaller rock men, the cave will begin to collapse around you as you scale a waterfall. This shows hints of an ancient civilization and eventually as you reach the top you will encounter the Orphic Vipers.
On defeating the Hydra like monster, a level of traps and tricks is then presented. In one of the most stunning levels of the 16 bit era. You find yourself trapped in a spinning room which can engage a little motion sickness. This showed off the SNES' mode 7 capabilities excellently - albeit with a little slowdown.
Defeat this nauseating experience and only now do you enter the castle, in the courtyard you will encounter harpies who will attempt to impede your progress. Eventually you will enter the Haunted Hall, filled with Zombies and dogs. You will have to dodge flying coffins and it is here that you will have to defeat the infamous dancing dead nobles.
After fighting through a ghostly library, dodging spike traps, you descend to the dank and dismal dungeon. Giant Spiders and eyeballs will attack you and it is here that you face the shambling man made monster that was created by Dr Frankenstein
One of my favourite levels is the treasure, filled with all the glittering gold that you would expect an undying monster to collect over the centuries. This is another visual spectacle and undead spirits and flying spectral coffins attempt to push you into the windholes throughout the level. These will suck you in and you will be lost forever! (or at least lose a life)
This led to one of the hardest platforming levels in the game - the Clock Tower, jump on moving cogs as you travel endlessly upwards, grapple onto hooks that operate as pullys and desperately dodge falling cogs. It is here you face the dreaded Mummy boss.
Cross over the final bridge and you will, finally reach your ultimate nemesis, Dracula. You must do epic battle in his personal chambers - defeat his various forms and you will be victorious!
It is this epic journey which sets this Castlevania title apart from the previous games in the franchise. Beautiful and detailed levels, cleverly constructed obstacles and a prevalent ambience and tonality brought each ghoulish section to life. The levels are also examples of perfect platforming opportunities, the NES versions were always plagued with the player having to achieve pixel perfect jumps. Super Castlevania aided the player during platforming and with Simon's more agile whip, presented opportunities for the Player to swing across ledges in spectacular style.
This is one of the most influential games of the 16 bit era, beautiful graphics, responsive controls and an iconic and striking soundtrack. This has lived on in my memory as a defining classic and one I play through a couple of times a year. This holds a special place in my heart. I recently purchased a SNES Classic Edition and was very pleased to see that this made the list of games included.
Please share your memories of this game with me, when did you play it, what did you think of it and did you complete it?