I don’t think I’ve really had the chance to hammer home the point that I absolutely love Castlevania, but don’t worry, those days will most likely arrive. Love bloomed late, however, as I never really played the inaugural game until I was in my twenteens. I did have one experience with the series, and that was back in my childhood. Having a Super Nintendo, it was only a matter of time before Super Castlevania IV was plucked off the rental shelf. I no doubt sucked at it, but I had a Nintendo Power password book that let me skip around, and it even provided me with a secret about prepping for the final fight with Dracula (spoiler alert?). If you’re a veteran of the game, you probably know what I’m referring to.
I eventually played it again with my nimble, adult thumbs, but while I normally have some sort of long winded backstory about my experience, I’m drawing a blank here. Was it before or after I played the first Castlevania? When did I first complete it? What did I think of it then? As someone who can typically recall even the most minor of video game encounters, this is almost alarming.
Not that it matters for this review. I just finished Super Castlevania IV.
JUST LEAVE IT TO SIMON BELMONT, VAMPIRE HUNTER
Super Castlevania IV is only the fourth game in the series if you discount the first Game Boy game and the arcade title. It’s also a remake of the first game, which seems weird that it would be given a numerical association. Actually, in Japan, it’s given the same name as the first game: “Akumajou Dorakura” or Demon’s Castle Dracula. Japan dropped the numbering after the second game, with the third being called “Akumajou Densetsu” or Demon’s Castle Legend. Anyways, I guess my point is, why not just call it Super Castlevania?
As I previously touched on, this one’s a remake of the first game, which means you’re once again placed in the boots (sandals?) of Simon Belmont, who is tasked with invading Dracula’s home and kicking his ass, because that’s what Belmonts do. Yet, while it takes the plot of the first game, it’s much more than a graphical update.
WHAT BELMONTS DO
Everything has been rebuilt from the ground up. Some of the series standards are there, but a lot has been revamped. What it takes is a grab bag. Like in Castlevania III, you don’t just start on Dracula’s stoop; there’s a portion of Romanian countryside to trek across before you start making yourself welcome. It does, however, drop the alternate and optional routes that were provided in that game, instead providing an entirely linear experience.
The most significant change, from a gameplay standpoint, is the complete change of the movement system. Classic Castlevania titles stuck pretty firmly to its rather peculiar form of movement. You walk at pretty slow and stead pace, jumping locks you into a particular arc with no way of altering course, and you can only whip horizontally with a brief delay.
Super Castlevania IV changes just about everything I just listed, although, I guess the movement is still slow and steady. However, now you can twist in the air if your jump goes wild, and swing your whip in eight directions. This, perhaps, doesn’t have the most profound effect on how the game actually flows, but being able to attack directly above you certainly affects how much you need to depend on sub items and how you address enemies that hover above.
THE TWISTING TOWERS
While I debate the use of the “IV” in the title, the “Super” definitely belongs there, because this game absolutely reeks of the Super Nintendo. Leave it to Konami to use every effect that the console can muster, jamming graphical effects into every digital orifice. I mean, just look at Simon’s sprite; it’s about as big as they could conceivably get away with, and it’s almost too detailed.
From the first level, the developers start throwing objects into the foreground, and before long, you’re propped in front of twisting Mode-7 backgrounds. From a practical standpoint, this means that there’s a lot of visual diversity from level to level, which at least makes the trek a little more stimulating.
Not to mention, the soundtrack is absolutely top-shelf. Easily one of the best batch of tunes on the console, and something that, I find, can work when listened to outside the game. Hell, while writing this section, I have the tune that plays when you’re crossing chandeliers going through my head, and I think that might have played for, like, all of 2 minutes. It even manages to present a great listening experience without leaning too hard on tunes from older titles, though they do make appearances towards the end.
THE CRUMBLING CATACOMBS
Which is great comfort, considering how long the game is. I’m sort of used to being able to pick up a Castlevania title and see the credits after a few hours, but this one seems to just drag on and on. I feel a bit weird, complaining about a game having too much game, and maybe it’s a matter of expectations, but I feel that Super Castlevania IV overstays its welcome just a smidge.
A lot of the levels are largely forgettable and longer than they need to be. I found myself trying to speed through certain areas, just to get them over with. Downward vertical sections are especially bad for that, since you can just drop through them without fear of fall damage. There are memorable stages throughout the game, from wall to wall, but between them is a lot of padding.
It doesn’t help that it suffers from the same problem that has always plagued the series: lame boss battles. Most boss battles devolve into hacking at them, trying to dish out more damage than you take. I can only think of, like, two boss battles where this isn’t the case, and for one of them, it’s only because it launches itself skyward every time you hit it.
Speaking of which, aside from maybe Castlevania II, this game has the weakest fight against Dracula I’ve encountered in the series. It’s pretty sad.
WELCOME TO MY HOME
I don’t mean to get so down on the game, it’s just that after playing through it so many times, I’ve started to nail down the issues I have with it. When you peel those away, however, you’re still left with an excellent title that is worth playing. Repeatedly, if you’re anything like me.
From the wonderfully creepy atmosphere, to the excellent soundtrack, to the controls that popped up for this one game before reverting back to the classic style; Super Castlevania IV is definitely one of the top tier titles in the original side scrolling formula. It’s also one of the easier entries, so even if you’ve struggled with a Castlevania before, it’s worth trying out. It may not be as amazing as Simon’s first adventure, but it’s certainly a good alternative.
This review was conducted on an SNES, using an original cartridge copy of the game. The author is pretty sure they paid for it.