Box Shot
Platform: NES
Publisher: Konami
Designer: Konami
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1987
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

Although not as popular as the Mega Man series, the Castlevania titles have had their own share of games, sequels, and even an apperance in Captain N: The Game Master. This it where it all begins, at least for those who never played Vampire Killer on the Japanese MSX computer. Despite it lacking all of the bells and whistles of later Castlevania games, it still holds up to be very fun.

Transylvania has some trouble with the local vampire Dracula, and it's up to Simon Belmont to trek through his castle to stop him. The game starts off in courtyard leading to the main hall, but soon you proceed into the heart of the castle. You then find your self in an outside tower area, where you are soon cast away into a dungeon. After making your way through the laboratory, you're finally ready to fight Dracula in his chamber. Simon's main weapon is a whip that he can upgrade twice to increase its length and power. Candles are laden throughout the game that provide special weapons (daggers, axes, boomerangs, and vials of holy water) and hearts to use those items. It surprises me that wooden stakes aren't anywhere in the game, but oh well, whaddya gonna do?

Off the bat, just know that this isn't a very faced paced game. Simon doesn't walk particularly fast, and neither to the enemies. You can't control your jumps in mid air however, and you don't jump very high or far. For this reason, dodging the projectiles can be very difficult. You must learn to either kill the enemy before they can fire, or learn to whip the fireballs out of midair (which is easier than it sounds.)

Along the way, you'll fight the traditional sort of spooky enemies: skeletons, bats, knights, medusa heads, etc. Some of the bosses are reminscent of movie monsters though, as you'll face The Mummies, Frankenstein, and even the Grim Reaper. Although many of the enemies are fairly simple that require rapid whip snaps, some of them tend to move around and are very annoying. The little Igors that pop up at various points constatly leap around, and those flying ravens are even more annoying to hit, possibly due to the slightly stiff controls. Although the bosses generally aren't hard, everything really hits frustration when you reach the fourth level, Frankenstein. He has another little Igor that can't be killed, throwing fireballs that are nearly impossible to dodge or destroy! This guy is nearly impossible, unless you learn to get the Holy Water and bombard Frank with it before Igor can do any major damage.

The graphics themselves aren't too bad. Many of the backgrounds look kind of chopped up and don't look quite like they should. The trees at the beginning of the game seem more looks random blotches of green rather than taking any good shape. This adds an odd graphical style to the game that somehow fits the mood. However, each level does have its own unique look, from the red brick on level 2 to the clock tower in level 6. Ultimately the graphics get better later in the game. Although the enemies look pretty decent, I hate the look of Simon. He's fairly big, but he's yellow and brown! However, I love the music...from the rings of Vampire Killer in the first level, the downright cool Wicked Child of the third level, the spooky Walking on the Edge of level 4...all of it is extremely good, puncuated with a bit of percussion (although not very good percussion. Then again, this was an early Nintendo game so you wouldn't expect good drum sounds.) The sound effects aren't anything special, but Simon does make that cool grunt noise when he gets hit. The biggest play control quirk is that Simon cannot control his jump in mid-air, which makes people feel out of control when they jump. If you play it a lot, you'll get used to it and soon it won't bother you, but beginners tend to run away from the game for that reason. You also can't jump on and off stairs, which has been known to annoy some people.

There is one gripe about the game, and that is its difficulty. The first levels are easy, with simple enemies that can be killed with one or two hits, but soon there are bats that must be whipped precisely in mid jump, or else you will fall to your death. Fighting the Grim Reaper is very frustrating, considering you have to dodge the fast-moving scythes with a slow-moving character. All of this would be okay in a game like Ninja Gaiden, where its easy to jump around these projectiles, or quickly slash enemies in mid jump, but with a slightly bulky whip, it takes quite awhile to get used to everything. And although each hit takes away only two bars off of your life meter, by the end it takes four...which effectively means four hits and you're dead. Better not get hit...

All in all, there seems to be a certain charm about this game. There's no multiple paths, no passwords, only one character...and yet Castlevania remains to be a blast. Its a good game that you can play for fifteen minutes or so just to relax and slay some vampires. And with practice, you can become an excellent whip slinger and learn to deal with the constant stream of enemies. Castlevania is a true classic and is not to be missed.