The third entry in the Castlevania series, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse brought things full circle. The RPG adventure setup of Castlevania II was undone in favor of returning to the level-based action platforming of the original title. But Castlevania III has enough tricks up its sleeve to prevent it from feeling like a step backwards, even if some of the aged mechanics of its predecessors still remain.
As stated, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse uses a similar setup to the original game, but story-wise it serves as a prequel, taking place hundreds of years before the original Castlevania, with Simon Belmont’s ancestor Trevor taking the title role.
Trevor’s controls will feel instantly familiar to anyone who played through Simon’s adventures. A whip is still this Belmont’s weapon of choice, and once again players can pick up secondary weapons, which require collectible hearts to be used. The combat works just fine, though unfortunately the stiff jumping and awkward stair climbing mechanics are still present, which can make a number of segments more frustrating than they should be.
Many of the same Castlevania enemies return along with some new ones. Thankfully, the enemy patterns feel more balanced this time around, and when you do get bombarded with enemies, their patterns seem less random than in the first game, making the combat feel more fair and fun.
Before you think this just sounds like a more polished version of the original game, Castlevania III introduced some notable innovations to the series.
The first big change is the game’s more nonlinear structure. While Trevor will usually venture to the next stage upon defeating a boss enemy, some levels with feature a branching path afterwards, leaving the player to decide where Trevor’s quest will go from there. You’ll never see every level in a single playthrough, so you’re given good incentive to play the game again and take different paths. Depending on your choices, you can even affect the game’s ending.
The other notable addition is the inclusion of multiple playable characters. Three new allies join Trevor Belmont, and bring some variety to the gameplay.
Grant, a pirate-like figure, can cling on walls and ceilings and also has the most fluid jumping mechanics, as he’s able to change his direction midair. However, is weapon is a simple, tiny dagger, meaning he’s not ideal for combat.
Sypha is a witch, and can find magic spells similar to how Trevor finds secondary weapons. Her spells make her one of the better combat characters, despite her slow movement and her standard weapon lacking Trevor’s strength and reach.
Alucard, the son of Dracula who would be the star of Symphony of the Night, debuted in the series here. Though he’s not nearly as powerful as he’d become in Symphony, his fireball attack boasts a great range, and he has the ability to change into a bat.
Each of these characters are optional party members, but they make the game all the more fun with what they bring to the table. Unfortunately, at any given time you can only have Trevor and one additional character, so don’t expect to mix things up with Alucard and Grant.
The level design has also been improved, with longer, more expansive levels that should challenge even veteran players. The overall layouts of levels also feel more thought-out and intricate. There’s a good sense of both variety and consistency in combat and platforming.
It is still a bit of a downer that life-replenishing meat is still a pretty rare occurrence, because the game can prove to be pretty difficult. And since a game over means you’ll have to start a level from the very beginning, you wish that just a few more healing items could have been sprinkled throughout the game.
Castlevania III also looks cleaner than its predecessors. The character graphics and animations look nicer, and as a whole it’s one of the better looking NES titles. And per the norm for the series, Castlevania III includes a memorable musical score that will surely get stuck in your head in the best way.
As a whole, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse remains a great game in most respects, but some of the controls and certain elements in the game may feel a bit dated. It’s an NES classic, if maybe not a timeless one.