Some of us are gamers who have played many life changing games over the years. We hold the classics fondly in our hearts, and often talk of times when gaming used to be more entertaining and fulfilling. This series is an attempt at revisiting some of those classic games we love, and seeing if they stand the test of time. The goal is not to determine if they were great games for their time, but to see if they stand as great games on their own merit today. Of course, as modern gamers we are spoiled by some amenities such as cutting edge graphics and sound, and tried and true game mechanics. It is my hope that some of the classics we hold dear will stand the test of time, and that developers can draw from and utilize some of the elements that made these games great. Without further ado, let us play through Super Castlevania IV.
Upon starting the game, the player is treated with spooky intro music and a campy (yet endearing) opening cinematic. Starting the game up, the player is able to choose their name. The first level loads up, with ominous synths and dark and vibrant colors.
The first thing I noticed was just how impressive looking the character and enemy models looked. There is a surprising amount of detail put into these creatures of the night, and it looks pleasing even by today’s standards. The backgrounds are even more impressive. They are very vibrant and spooky and really do a good job of immersing the player into a dark world where they feel like they are the only source of hope. I would have to say that the music and the graphics really work together to make a solid foundation that really “feels” like Castlevania.
Gameplay is simple yet refined. The main weapon of choice is a whip that extends in length upon picking up power ups. The whip can move in eight directions, and can serve as a shield and a grappling weapon for some fun platforming segments. Whip power ups are contained in destroyable candles alongside sub weapons, health restoration items, and hearts. Hearts serve as the currency required to use sub weapons. Bags of money also drop from candles, which can be used to boost your score. The score system, and the time limit system, seem like tacked on features that could probably be left out, however.
It is interesting to note that there are some slightly hidden off-the-path power ups and sub weapons that actually serve a purpose. Perhaps that hidden cross weapon you found by going out of your way will help you tackle the next boss easier. This little reward system helps to challenge the player to find secret areas and encourages exploration, which is welcome in a linear game like this.I also noticed that because the platforming elements were so refined, when I died it was due to my mistake, not because there was a cheap enemy placement or unfair trap. Dying didn’t feel forced, but rather it felt like I got careless. This simple notion truly separates great games from simply good ones.
Descending into dark caves, and climbing mechanical clock towers, I got the overall feeling that what I was doing was epic and frightening at the same time. It is incredible that a game with such limitations can convey such feelings of dread and despair, but this game really knows how to create an atmosphere. A few things that really added to this immersion was the outstanding music, that featured flutes, organs, and synths, and moving backgrounds filled with ghastly inhabitants. The live felt truly mortifying in the most lively way.
So does Super Castlevania IV stand the test of time, and is it playable and enjoyable today? Absolutely. I would definitely play this again, as it holds the same charms it did back in 1991. Additionally, we can now play the game and look favorably how certain elements shaped the following Castlevania games, and indeed games from other series and genres.
What did Super Castlevania IV do that developers can learn from today? It used a combination of music, monster designs, and spwaling backdrops that immersed the player in a dark world. It rewarded exploration with simple yet logical items not essential to completing the game. Most importantly, it featured refined gameplay that had no artificial difficulty.
What do you think of Super Castlevania IV? Does it hold a special place in your gaming heart? Are you interested in trying it for the first time?