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Castlevania: Bloodlines Review

In its early years, Castlevania was synonymous with Nintendo. With the exception of Mega Man, Castlevania was probably the most revered third-party franchise on the NES. In 1997, the series would move on to Sony’s consoles with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which not only revamped the entire franchise, but remains one of the greatest video games of all time.

Somewhere in between the NES era and Symphony of the Night, however, was an oddity of the series: a Castlevania title on the Sega Genesis! This lone Genesis entry is Castlevania: Bloodlines. Though Bloodlines has received praise over the years, it’s largely overshadowed by its Super NES counterpart, Super Castlevania IV.

Most people still consider Super Castlevania IV to be the series’ best pre-Symphony title, which means that both Bloodlines and the “other” SNES entry, Dracula X, are often in its 16-bit shadow. Personally speaking, I find Dracula X holds up better than Super Castlevania IV due to more fluid controls. Perhaps I’m just destined for unpopular opinions, but I also find Bloodlines to be a more enjoyable game today than its more famous SNES alternative.

In Bloodlines, Dracula is (of course) on the verge of being resurrected once again, this time by the hands of his own niece, who plans on reviving her vampiric uncle by causing mass bloodshed, which she initiates by starting World War I. A distant descendant of the Belmont family, John Morris, seeks to stop the resurrection by making his way through Europe, slaying monsters along the way. Morris is aided in his quest by Eric Lecarde, who seeks to cure his girlfriend of vampirism, after Dracula’s niece cursed her.

What separates Bloodlines from most of its predecessors is that players can play as the two different heroes. Morris is equipped with a whip, giving the game a more traditional Castlevania feel, while Lecarde uses his trusty spear, to change up the gameplay.

Not only do the two heroes have different weapons, but some of the levels include different paths depending on which character is chosen. Further character-specific exploration is performed through Morris’ whip, which can be used to swing past gaps, while Lecarde can perform a high jump with his spear.

The game works like the other traditional Castlevanias, with players simply making their way through the stages to defeat the bosses at the end. But being able to experience the game in two different ways was a nice, unique touch for the series.

Another highlight of Bloodlines is that – much like in Dracula X – the basic sense of control feels more polished than Super Castlevania IV. You can now jump while going up and down stairs, so you don’t feel so vulnerable to attack or awkward to control. The jumping itself also feels a bit smoother, though it’s still a shame you can’t change trajectory mid-jump (sure, it’s more realistic, but not exactly ideal in a game with this much platforming).

On the downside, both Morris and Lecarde suffer from the series’ infamous knockback when hit, meaning that most of your deaths will occur by being sent down a pit after being hit by an enemy. Though on the bright side, when you fall down on a more vertical level after ascending for a while, you’ll just fall back to a previous section, whereas in Super Castlevania IV such areas would suddenly become bottomless chasms after they left the screen.

The level design is a real treat, with many stages taking advantage of the 16-bit hardware in fun and unique ways. One section of the second stage, for example, sees the bottom half of the screen covered in water, with the action on the upper half being reflected in it. Meanwhile, the game’s third boss torments the heroes by spinning the tower they’re standing on, which makes for a great visual effect.

The stages are all well designed and creative, and the hordes of monsters to be found in each mean there’s plenty of action to be had in each of them. Unfortunately, at only six stages, the game is even shorter than Dracula X. Granted, quality is always more important than quantity, but you can’t help but wish there were a little more to the adventure at hand.

Still, Castlevania: Bloodlines remains a stellar installment in the storied series. The gameplay is fun and smooth, and made just a little more varied with the addition of a second character. The graphics are still impressive, with plenty of inventive visual tricks spread throughout. And like any worthwhile Castlevania game, Bloodlines has a memorable soundtrack.

It’s simple Castlevania action. But sometimes, that’s all you need.

 

8.0

Castlevania Judgement Review

Castlevania Judgement

Castlevania is one of the most storied franchises in gaming. It began with many memorable sidescrollers on the NES and SNES, before adopting a more explorative, Metroid-inspired style with the masterful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Of course, being the big franchise that it is, it was inevitable that Castlevania would also dabble in different genres, though its experimentation with other formulas hasn’t worked nearly as well as other franchises, with a good example of this being Castlevania Judgement, the first fighting game in the Castlevania series, released on the Nintendo Wii in 2009.

The first thing to note about Castlevania Judgement is that it’s a 3D fighter, and history hasn’t been too kind to Castlevania’s 3D entries, especially when compared to just how beloved the 2D iterations are. Sadly, Castlevania Judgement was no exception, due primarily to poor controls, camerawork, and mechanics.

The idea of a Castlevania fighter is actually an enticing one, and at first the game looks to have a lot of promise, with graphics that were quite good for the Wii, there’s a nice (if not limited) selection of characters, and an awesome soundtrack that recreates many iconic tunes from the series’ history. But it won’t be long into your first couple of matches that you begin to notice the game’s flaws.

For starters, the game’s primary control scheme involves the Wii Remote and nunchuck, which is no problem on its own, but quickly becomes one with how the game utilizes them, and how it never meshes with the nature of the game itself.

Players move their character using the joystick on the nunchuck attachment, while the buttons on the back are used to block. Meanwhile, the majority of the characters’ moves are performed with motion controls by swinging the Wii remote. The motion controls simply aren’t well implemented, and often times trying to perform a combo only ends up with you swinging the controller around like a madman, with varying results.

Perhaps the motion controls would work better, if your character were automatically focused on your opponent, and if they weren’t coupled with a poor camera system. Unlike a 3D fighter like Soul Calibur, where the characters are always focused on one another, the fighters here move around so freely that oftentimes, when trying to perform a combo, the first move will hit your opponent and then your character will just keep going past them attacking the air, with the camera trying desperately to keep up with your character.

Castlevania JudgementThe combination of poorly-implemented controls and camerawork are what ruin the core gameplay. Though players also have the option of using Wii Classic Controllers and GameCube controllers (which are most assuredly better options), they don’t fix the camera and character issues.

With all this said, there are some small, nice touches to the game. At the start of versus matches, for example, players can select a secondary weapon to use in battle, with said weapons also being obtainable within the battlefield, and include the usual secondary items from the series like holy water, crusifixes and throwing knives. It’s a simple but welcome way to pay homage to the series traditions, as is the ability to pick up hearts to build up your power meter within matches.

Sadly, Castlevania Judgement’s respect for its heritage, along with the aforementioned visuals and music (which are, again, quite good), are about as far as the compliments can go. Along with the faults in the core gameplay, there are other aspects of the game that are just disappointing.

"Oh my..."

“Oh my…”

Castlevania Judgement has a host of modes in store, but they are nothing out of the ordinary for a fighting game. What’s a bit more peculiar is that the game’s story mode only allows you to play as Simon Belmont or Alucard from the start, with the other twelve characters (including those that are available from the start in other modes) needing to be unlocked.  And once you unlock them, you may even regret what their stories have to offer (Maria’s story – the most infamous of the lot – revolves around her insecurity of the other Castlevania girls having larger bosoms than herself, which feels ridiculously far removed from the nature of Castlevania).

Worse still, the AI in the game is wildly inconsistent in difficulty. I managed to defeat the first opponent in Alucard’s story mode with no problem (at least, no problem outside of the ones innately found in the gameplay). But the second opponent began repeatedly spamming the same combos over than over, with very little breathing room for me to block or fight back.

The idea of a Castlevania fighting game is not one that should have ended up this flawed. It’s easy to see where the potential was in Castlevania: Judgement, but in execution, it stumbles in just about everything but aesthetics and in fan service for the series. Perhaps a better idea for a Castlevania fighter would simply be to make it 2D and to utilize the same kind of fluid controls found in Symphony of the Night. Symphony already utilized moves that were performed like the combos in a fighter, if you put those same controls into the field of a fighting game, and you would have an absolutely incredible fighter.

Instead, Castlevania’s debut in the fighting genre is remembered mainly for its awkward controls and poorly-implemented mechanics. But hey, at least the music’s good.

 

3.5

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Review

Symphony of the Night

Back in 1997, video games had transitioned to the third dimension. The emergence of the Sony Playstation and the Nintendo 64 ushered in new ways to play video games, and many deemed 2D game designs to be obsolete. Despite this drastic shift, there was one classic gaming series that remained defiant, Castlevania.

While the likes of Super Mario 64 showed what the new dimension of gaming was capable of, Castlevania proved that there was not only still a place for 2D games, but they could even stand tall against their 3D competitors. Castlevania accomplished this with the remarkable Symphony of the Night.

Symphony of the Night was as much a reinvention of the Castlevania series as Super Mario 64 was to Nintendo’s flagship franchise. Though that reinvention may not be as immediately obvious, as Mario made 3D gaming seem effortless, while Symphony of the Night instead showcased how much depth could be weaved into a seemingly old formula.

Symphony of the Night literally begins where Rondo of Blood ended. The game’s very first moment is the final boss from the previous game, with players taking on Count Dracula as Richter Belmont (complete with one of the most gloriously cheesy dialogue exchanges in gaming history). The game then fast-forwards four years later, and Richter Belmont has gone missing.

Alucard, the son of Count Dracula himself, travels to Castlevania in hopes of discovering Richter’s fate, and to destroy the castle for good. Maria, another character from Rondo of Blood, is also searching the castle for Richter. To both Alucard and Maria’s surprise, the castle is more alive than ever, with Dracula’s armies of monsters ready to stop Alucard’s quest.

The plot is simple enough, but considerably more character driven than the Castlevanias that preceded it. Making Alucard the main character gives the game a unique sense of urgency, seeing as defeating Dracula means he must defeat his own father. And while the voice acting is cheesy, it gives the game a kind of campy charm.

Where Symphony of the Night transcends all previous accomplishments of the series, however, is the game design itself. Symphony heavily borrows the foundations of Nintendo’s Super Metroid, setting all of the game’s events within one labyrinthian game world, emphasizing exploration and character progression in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional Castlevania title.

Symphony of the NightSuper Metroid laid the groundwork, but I might argue that Symphony of the Night perfected it. Alucard is a more versatile character than Samus Aran, able to equip weapons and items in both hands, as well as armor, helmets, capes, and rings for defense. He can learn magic spells that are used with Street Fighter-like button combinations, and can gain experience points and level up like an RPG character. Alucard can learn to transform into various forms, summon familars to aid him in battle, and can learn new moves as the game progresses. Similar to past Castlevanias, he can pick up secondary weapons like throwing axes, holy water, and crucifixes, which are used with the hearts you pick up. As is the norm for the series, Alucard can only hold one of these secondary items at a time, but his main weapons and moves are so versatile, you probably won’t care.

Symphony of the NightThe best part is, despite the sheer variety in gameplay, it all works so smoothly. Aside from the aforementioned combos used to cast spells, most of Alucard’s actions are mapped to specific buttons. Both of Alucard’s equipped weapons, his jumps, his transformations, almost everything is as simple as hitting a single button (though you must hold up and hit the attack button to use the secondary items, as is series tradition). Not only is it all easy and accessible, but Alucard is one of the best controlling characters in gaming. He lacks the stiffness that plagued the Belmonts of Castlevanias past, and his fluidity of control ranks alongside the likes of Super Mario at the very peak of gaming.

Like Super Metroid, Alucard’s progressively expanding array of abilities help him access new areas of the castle and discover its secrets. It is possible to beat the game without seeing everything, but Symphony of the Night is a game that begs to be explored, and the player is rewarded for uncovering as much of the castle as they can.

Uncovering the many layers of the castle and improving Alucard’s abilities give the game an insane amount of depth. As stated, Alucard controls so well that its a joy just to move around, and combat, though simple, is immensely fun, with a large rogues gallery of extravagant boss fights serving as a great exclamation point to the gameplay.

Visually speaking, Symphony of the Night still looks beautiful. The dark, gothic character designs and grim atmosphere give the game an appropriate tone, while the fluid animations for every character and enemy (specifically those of Alucard himself) are wonderfully detailed.

Then there’s the soundtrack, which is one of the finest of any video game. The majority of the soundtrack is performed with a full orchestra, and the game has an incredibly unique blend of classic, electronic, and metal themes. It’s a beautiful, creepy soundtrack that builds on the game’s dark atmosphere. There’s not a single forgettable track to be found.

Symphony of the NightSimply put, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those exceedingly rare games where all the pieces just come together to near perfection. The gameplay is terrific, the structure and design are genius, the visuals are beautiful, the soundtrack even more so, and it remains a deep experience even by today’s standards. But perhaps the greatest testament to Symphony’s brilliance is the way you can double the length of the adventure if you uncover the right secrets. The twist in which the game doubles its quest is still mind-blowing in execution, and has yet to be topped by any game.

Super Metroid may have planted the seeds, but Symphony of the Night is the game that helped them grow. With its release, the ‘Metroidvania’ genre came to full fruition, and it could easily be argued that Symphony of the Night is still the peak of the genre.

It’s one of the greatest video games of all time, and that’s no miserable little pile of secrets.

 

10

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Review

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Symphony of the Night marked a major turning point for the Castlevania series. By combining the traditional Castlevania action-platforming with the exploration of Metroid and added RPG elements, it effectively launched the Metroidvania sub-genre as we know it today. Though recent years have seen a reboot on the franchise that abandons the Metroidvania structure in favor of 3D action, the style laid down by Symphony of the Night continued for a decade through six titles released on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. The first entry in the GBA trilogy, Circle of the Moon, had a lot to prove, being the closest thing to a successor to Symphony of the Night at the time. Though Circle of the Moon remains a fun game in its own right, today it feels somewhat lightweight compared to some of its other Metroidvania siblings.

Circle of the Moon abandons the usual Belmont clan and Alucard in favor of a new hero named Nathan Graves. Nathan is the student of former Dracula-slayer Morris Baldwin, along with Morris’ son Hugh. When Dracula is once again resurrected by one of his minions, Nathan, Morris and Hugh venture to Dracula’s castle to banish the vampire lord. But upon their arrival, Dracula sends Nathan and Hugh plummeting into a pit, while Morris is kidnapped in order to be sacrificed to revive Dracula’s full power. Nathan and Hugh awake in the bowels of Dracula’s castle, with both going their separate ways to rescue their master before the sacrifice can take place at the full moon.

It’s a simple plot even by Castlevania standards, and one that has been retconned as non-canon in the series’ timeline (to the chagrin of many fans). But any excuse to traverse the labyrinth of Dracula’s castle is a good one, I suppose.

Castlevania: Circle of the MoonThe first thing you’ll notice about Nathan Graves is that he controls very similarly to the Belmonts. He is even equipped with a magic, vampire-hunting whip. Like the Belmonts, he can also pick up secondary weapons such as throwing axes and boomerang-like crucifixes, which require collectible hearts to be used.

On the downside, the whip is the only main weapon Nathan has. While the combination of Symphony’s structure and traditional Castlevania action is interesting, the lack of alternate weapons also means that Nathan’s gameplay lacks the variety of Alucard or Soma Cruz.

On the plus side, the game has an unique hook in the form of the Duel Set-up System (DSS). The Duel Set-up System takes the form of magic cards that are found by defeating enemy monsters.

There are two types of DSS cards: Action and Attribute. The action cards determine the type of magic that Nathan can use, while the attribute cards add different effects to them. For example, you can use an action card to add lightning damage to Nathan’s moves, and an attribute card that will multiply your strength by the percentage of the castle you’ve explored. You can combine one action and one attribute card at a time, for a total of 100 different combinations.

The DSS cards are definitely an interesting twist, though they ultimately aren’t as captivating as the Tactical Soul System from the later Aria of Sorrow. And they are used somewhat awkwardly, since you use them by highlighting the cards in the pause menu, and then un-pausing, as opposed to simply selecting them in the menu itself. You then activate their powers by holding the L button, which eats up magic points.

The castle itself is a decently large place, though it feels smaller than in the later handheld entries. Though it may feel bigger than it is due to Nathan’s slow movement, which makes traversing the place feel like a long process. You gain the ability to run early on, but you still have to activate it by pressing forward twice. A held button press may have felt more natural. Better still would be if Nathan Graves simply moved faster by default.

Besides running, Nathan Graves learns other moves like double jumps and wall kicks after defeating bosses, which help him access new areas of the castle. You can still gain experience points and level up, but in order to boost your Hit Points, Magic Points, and Hearts, you have to find special items hidden throughout the castle.

Castlevania: Circle of the MoonYou can pick up armor for your body and both arms throughout the adventure, as well as healing items. But they end up feeling like tacked on elements. You rarely seem to have to change your armor, and most of the items seem to help with minimal effect, with initial potions only healing twenty hit points, which quickly becomes a very small fraction of your health.

The graphics of the game have held up somewhat decently. The enemy designs still stand out, though Nathan Graves’ sprite looks simple even by GBA standards. It doesn’t hold up as well as (the still beautiful) Aria of Sorrow when played on your TV through the Wii U Virtual Console, but it still looks nice on the Gamepad. The music is catchy, though it falls considerably short of the series’ standard.

The other big drawback to Circle of the Moon is the castle itself. It just feels more straightforward and less creative than the castle found in the other Metroidvania entries of the series. And Nathan’s aforementioned slow pace only makes matters worse. It’s not terribly designed by any means, but where Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow’s level structure are pure genius, Circle of the Moon’s castle just feels simple by comparison.

Circle of the Moon remains a fun game, and the adventure will last a decently long time for a handheld title. The DSS cards also add a nice twist to the equation, but as a whole it feels like a more watered-down version of the Metroidvania concept. It does deserve credit for continuing this beloved style of Castlevania and bringing it to handhelds. But it lacks the variety and depth of some of the more notable Castlevania titles of the style.

 

7.5

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Review

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

The ‘Metroidvania’ subgenre of platformer was birthed by Super Metroid and turned into a full-fledged genre with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Strangely, most of the subsequent entries in the Castlevania series that follow in Symphony’s footsteps have more or less been exclusive to handhelds. But that only really means that handhelds have been seeing quality Castlevania releases. This was especially the case with the Gameboy Advance, which saw the release of three such Castlevania titles. The third of those GBA games, Aria of Sorrow, is widely acknowledged as one of the best game’s in the system’s library, and one of the best entries in the entire series. It’s well-deserved praise. In the twelve years since its 2003 release, Aria of Sorrow hasn’t lost a step.

 

In a change of pace, Aria of Sorrow’s story doesn’t take place in the past, but in the future of 2035. Dracula, as it turns out, had been soundly defeated by the Belmonts and Alucard in the year 1999, with his soul and castle being banished in an alternate realm within an eclipse.

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowSoma Cruz is an exchange student in Japan, and as he and his friend Mina are about to visit a shrine, it suddenly becomes a gateway into the eclipse, and the two find themselves in Dracula’s castle. A prophecy that tells of Dracula’s reincarnation inheriting the vampire lord’s powers has a number of characters – both good and evil – searching the castle’s chambers to either prevent or fulfill the prophecy.

Players take control of Soma, who has gained newfound power in this other world. Much like in Symphony of the Night, the player starts off with very little to their arsenal, but they progressively gain new powers and abilities that both make Soma stronger in battle and open up new areas of the castle.

The gameplay is incredibly smooth, with combat and platforming feeling simple and fluid. New weapons, armor and accessories can be found in secret rooms, by defeating enemies, or bought by a man named Hammer, who sets up shop in the castle early in the adventure.

Additionally, Soma gains experience points every time he defeats enemies, and can level up after gaining a set amount of experience points. This gives the game an RPG sense of depth, similar to Symphony of the Night.

Aria of Sorrow admittedly plays really close to Symphony’s playbook (though that’s certainly no sin), with many of the castle’s locations almost feeling carried over from the Playstation classic, albeit with a different layout. What sets Aria of Sorrow apart and gives it its own identity, however, is its introduction of the Tactical Soul system.

The Tactical Soul system allows Soma to steal the souls of defeated monsters, which grant Soma new abilities. Enemies often have to be farmed before you can claim a soul, but the fact that every enemy gives you a new power gives the game an insane amount of depth and variety.

Souls come in four forms: Bullet, Guardian, Enchant and Ability. Bullet souls work as a replacement for the series’ secondary weapons, and are mostly ranged attacks like throwing knives or shooting lightning from your hands. Each use of a Bullet Soul uses magic points, which are replenished with collectible hearts (or potions). Guardian Souls are continuous moves that eat up magic points until deactivated, like transforming into different forms or summoning minions. Enchant souls are always in effect when equipped, and thus don’t require magic points. Abilities granted from Enchant souls can range from mere stat boosting to walking on water. Finally, Ability souls are usually found after boss fights, and give Soma abilities that are necessary to delve deeper into the castle. Unlike the other types, they are always active and never need to be equipped (though the player can turn their effects off if they choose).

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowIt really is a simple addition to the series, but one that has a powerful effect on the game’s content and longevity. It’s as addictive as collecting Pokemon. And much like Pokemon, the game’s original GBA release gave players the ability to link up to trade souls, because chances are you won’t be able to grab them all in a single playthrough. Unfortunately, like so many linking features before it, the trading aspect of the game is absent in the Wii U Virtual Console release.

The game also looks great, and somehow seems to have made the transition from GBA to Wii U better than most, visually speaking. Sure, Soma’s character model lacks defining features, but that’s forgivable when taking into account the screen the game was originally made for. The game’s art direction and animations also hold up really well. As is a recurring element of the series, Aria of Sorrow features a stellar soundtrack, though it might not quite stack up to the series’ finest scores.

Castlevania: Aria of SorrowIf you enjoy Metroidvania titles even the slightest bit, you owe it to yourself to play Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. It may have been compacted for a handheld, but it exudes as much depth and content as its console counterparts. The gameplay is great, and the Tactical Soul system pretty much means you can change things up in nearly countless ways. The graphics and sound have aged nicely, and several unlockable modes, multiple endings and even the ability to play as a secret character means that the game will outlast the ten or so hours you’ll put into the standard quest.

Does Aria of Sorrow match the brilliance of Symphony of the Night? Not quite. But it comes a lot closer than it has any right to. That it should be compared so frequently with such an esteemed predecessor is quite a statement in itself.

 

9.0

Castlevania: Dracula X Review

Castlevania: Dracula X

Castlevania: Dracula X is an interesting entry in the Castlevania canon. This Super Nintendo installment was originally to be the western release of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which was released exclusively in Japan on the PC Engine. Though Dracula X shares similar graphics and an identical plot to Rondo of Blood, it boasts drastic differences in its level design, structure and even some gameplay elements. This has lead the game to have a somewhat divisive effect on the Castlevania fanbase, though on its own merits it stands as a great entry in the acclaimed series.

Dracula X falls under the traditional Castlevania gameplay (this game being the direct precursor to Symphony of the Night and the introduction of “Metroidvania”). You take control of Richter Belmont, a descendant of Simon Belmont who (as is family tradition) is on a quest to slay the evil Count Dracula, and in the process rescue his love interest Annette and her sister Maria.

Castlevania: Dracula XRichter uses a whip like Simon and Trevor before him. Though it initially might seem disappointing that Richter cannot swing his whip in every direction like Simon could in Super Castlevania IV (the more popular SNES entry), he makes up for it with an overall better sense of control. Richter’s jumps are less stiff and more controllable, he doesn’t get knocked back nearly as far as his predecessors when hit, and (mercifully) he has a much better sense of control when going up and down stairs.

Along with the whip, Richter can also find the usual secondary items: the throwing knife, holy water, crucifix, the axe, and the stopwatch, which all require collectible hearts to be used. This time, however, each secondary weapon also comes with a screen-wide special attack, which can come in handy in areas chock-full of enemies, but require a whopping fifteen hearts for every use.

Castlevania: Dracula XThe levels are progressed linearly, with Richter moving to the next stage whenever a boss is defeated or when other requirements are met. You’ll play through a total of seven levels on any given playthrough, but there are nine levels total, with alternate fourth and fifth stages available. The number of alternate stages is reduced from the original Rondo of Blood, but they still add a sense of variety to the game. And given that Annette and Maria are held captive in different levels, you’ll have to know how to find them if you want the best ending.

The paths to some of the alternate levels can be a bit tricky, which might be off-putting to some, since you’ll have to either input a password or start the game over to get back to that point if you missed your opportunity to go down a certain path (you can end up in the fourth level that doesn’t house a damsel in distress simply by falling into a pit in one of the rooms in the third level, which is incredibly easy to do as you’re bombarded by floating medusa heads and dragon skulls). But if you can put up with the trial-and-error approach, it’s rewarding to find the different ways to play through the game.

At only seven levels in a playthrough, Dracula X is admittedly short, but the game’s high difficulty makes it feel a lot bigger. The enemies can get tough, with some of them being able to take Richter out in a few quick hits. The platforming  can also be challenging, but thankfully due to the levels themselves and not Richter’s movements. And you may throw your hands in the air when you can finally make it to a boss without dying, only for the boss to send you to a game over in a very short amount of time.

As difficult as the game is, it never gets particularly frustrating. The healing items are still a bit too infrequent, but checkpoints appear more often than in previous games in the series. And while the levels can be a little lengthy, they aren’t so large as to make it a chore every time you get a game over and have to start them over.

Castlevania: Dracula XAnother highlight of the game are the graphics. The game doesn’t utilize the same Mode 7 effects that Super Castlevania IV did (no rotating rooms this time), but it still looks gorgeous even today. The sprites are vivid and detailed, and the animations are surprisingly smooth, even for a SNES game. But even the great artwork is secondary to the absolutely incredible soundtrack. Hands down, this is one of the best soundtracks in both the Castlevania and SNES library, and that is saying a whole lot. I could go on and on about the soundtrack alone, but I digress.

There’s a whole lot to love about Castlevania: Dracula X, but there are some drawbacks to this version of Richter’s quest. As stated, there are less alternate levels than in Rondo of Blood, so you may feel you’re only getting a chunk of the adventure. Similarly, Maria was an unlockable character in the original game, and became playable after you rescued her, but that isn’t the case here. Finding the alternate routes, while understandably challenging, can sometimes be needlessly difficult (seriously, those pits). You also kind of wish Richter had some more unique moves and that the game used as many visual effects as Super Castlevania IV.

Still, even with these shortcomings and half-realized elements, Castlevania: Dracula X is still a great game for any fan of the series or 16-bit games. This may not be a popular opinion, but between this and Super Castlevania IV, I find Dracula X to be the better aged game. It has the same kind of fun, but with a vastly superior sense of control, a tighter, more challenging quest, and one amazing music track after another.

 

8.0

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse Review

Castlevania 3

 

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.

Castlevania 3Trevor’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.

Castlevania 3Grant, 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.

Castlevania 3It 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.

 

7.5