Liam’s Game Room #45 (Super Castlevania IV, SNES)

Introduction

Super Castlevania IV is a side scrolling platformer developed and published by Konami for the SNES in 1991. The game is the 4th game in the main Castlevania series and 6th game overall released in the West for the franchise. The Castlevania series began in 1986 with the release of Castlevania for the Famicom Disk System, which was an attachment for the Famicom in Japan and used floppy disks rather than cartridges. The original game was ported onto cartridge in 1987 and released for the NES in the USA, with the European release coming in 1988. The series had 3 titles for the NES before Super Castlevania IV and the series also had ports released on the Sharp X68000 computer and MSX2 computers in Japan. The Sharp X68000 would later be released worldwide for the Playstation in 2001 under the name Castlevania Chronicles.

Story

The story of Super Castlevania IV follows the same premise as the original NES game and is considered to be a remake of the aforementioned NES game. The game is set in Transylvania in the year 1691, where Dracula’s Castle as risen, which it does every 100 years. A family of Vampire Hunters called the Belmont family have previously defeated Dracula and it up to Simon Belmont, a descendant of this family to defeat Dracula.

The story of the game tends to use a lot of movie tropes, especially with the bosses that Simon will face on the way to Dracula. For example, some of the bosses the player will face include a Giant Bat, a boss called the Creature, which originates as Frankenstein’s Monster and Medusa. I feel that the story definitely helps to set the scene for the player, even though the story for some players will be familiar and the way that the game feels like an expansion of the original story.

Gameplay

Super Castlevania IV put the player in control of Simon Belmont and the task is fight through Dracula’s Castle to defeat him. The player’s main weapon that they will be using is a whip called Vampire Killer, which is where the origin of the MSX2 port’s name comes from. The whip can be upgraded twice to deal more damage to enemies that the player will encounter. Upgrading the whip is absolutely vital because I have been situations where I have had to face bosses with a weaker whip and the reduced damage of the weaker whip can make some of the bosses feel like a slog.

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There are also sub weapons that the player can pick up along the way in candles, which is where the player can also the hearts needed to use these sub weapons. The hearts can be confusing because the assumption is that if the player were to collect 100 of these hearts, then an extra life would be awarded to the player, but however this is not the case. There are a good variety of sub weapons with such weapons as the stopwatch, which will freeze all enemies in place for a few seconds, to the axe which will circle the screen back and forth hitting all enemies in the range of the axe. I think that the sub weapon variety really allows for the player to have a better chance of progressing through the game because there are enemies that will be out of the range of the whip. The only problem is that if the player picks a sub weapon up by accident when they are already equipped with a sub weapon, the player can not swap the weapons again to get their old sub weapon back. Also, all sub weapons and whip upgrades are reset when the player dies, meaning that the player would be back with just a basic whip.

The controls of this game are quite good and even though there is some knockback when the player hits an enemy, it not so much that the player cannot recover. However, the knockback is an issue in confined places such as the clocktower stage, which the platforms are small and the enemies can be in awkward places. Controlling Simon Belmont in this game apart from the knockback is really good because I felt like I was in complete control, rather than making a jump and not being able to correct it. When I jumped, the game allowed me to turn left to what I can only describe as banking back a bit, so that if I overjumped and was about to miss a platform, I had a chance of correcting it.

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The game also allowed for something with the controls that was extremely uncommon with console games at the time, which is that was the player had the option to change the button configuration. This allowed the player to change for example how the sub weapons were used because the sub weapon to set to Up and Attack on the controller, which I was able to get used to easily, but other players might prefer something different and the game allows for this. I think that the button configuration options are impressive because there were not many games that allowed this and the only games that come to mind are Sonic 2.

The difficulty of the game is in line with the other Castlevania games, however I feel that this game took the difficulty down somewhat. The game feels tough and difficult, but not completely unfair like Castlevania III was. I feel that the game gives the player some time to get used to the controls before throwing the player in the deep end, with the first stage being I feel quite simple.  The difficulty curve is sometimes steep in this game, but I think that the game is fair because the player has unlimited continues and when the player needs to use a continue, it will take them back to the start of the stage rather than the beginning of the game. This is one of the few reasons why I was able to beat this game because there were limited continues or the game took me back to the start of the game, then I would have felt the game was more unfair than it could have been.

The graphics in this game are absolutely gorgeous and still look as crisp as the day it was released. The backgrounds have lots of details and the parallax scrolling means that the player is seeing more of the background as they move horizontally and vertically. The game also distinguishes background and foreground really well and there was never any occasions where there I thought there was a platform, but it was background detailing. The enemies and bosses are extremely well detailed and the detail on the sprites when they are moving is great.

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The game also was one of the first to use a graphical technique called Mode 7, which is where the scanlines of a background are rotated to create a feeling of 3D. Mode 7 can only rotate backgrounds and the characters do not rotate with the background. I feel that the Mode 7 was used to perfection in this game because it showed that Konami worked really hard to push the SNES hardware as hard as it possibly could. The only issue with the Mode 7 in this game is that it did make me feel dizzy, which some other Mode 7 games has caused me dizziness as well.

Music

The soundtrack of Super Castlevania IV is simply perfection because it used the full spectrum of sound that the SNES sound chip could offer. Back in 1991, this soundtrack was a true showcase of the crisp and clean orchestral sound that the console could offer. The pieces also have a lot of great melodies that are really catchy, which alongside the well designed bassline and drum patches really create a sense of adventure. The small details on the orchestration such as the crescendos in the boss themes make these themes stand out. Whilst the majority of the soundtrack is original works, there are also reworks of classic Castlevania themes and these themes to me have never sounded better. The soundtrack has a whole is timeless and I can easily listen to it without playing the game and the memories of fighting through Dracula’s Castle come flooding back. This soundtrack is a true example of how amazing music from this era, using this sound chip can still stand out today as one of the finest and best orchestrated soundtracks of all time. The themes in the game also never get old, no matter how many times I listen to it, which is why this is one of my favourites.

Conclusion

Super Castlevania IV is not perfect, but the issues I have with the game are minor because the game does literally everything else right. The gameplay whilst difficult, is extremely rewarding when the player progresses. I feel if the difficulty was lower, then I would not have enjoyed the game as much because when I think of Castlevania, I think of difficult games. The graphics are simply gorgeous and the Mode 7 elements of the game have aged really well. I cannot believe that I hadn’t played this game until this year because I had been missing out on a masterpiece of game design. The soundtrack is one of the finest in gaming because it adds so much more to the game and really accentuates everything that is good in the game, but takes it to another level of perfection. This game is one of the hardest games that I have ever beaten, but the game feels so rewarding when you beat a level and you finally beat Dracula. Super Castlevania IV is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and still stands out today as one of the finest platformers of all time.

10/10

Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

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