A BIT of Nostalgia: Castlevania IV Review

Hello once again Mortals, we are drawing closer to Halloween and I am nowhere even near done with spooky games…at least for myself. However one big title should not  be missed out on during this month! A classic that I hold close to my heart!  That classic of course is Castlevania..and since most of my old consoles are already packed up.. I started with Castlevania IV on the Mini SNES!  Luckily this is my FAVOURITE Castlevania game! Hooray! Instead of being scared of the monsters this time they can be scared of me!

Belle Monde 

Castlevania IV released on Halloween 1991.. well at least in Japan! A few months later in December in America and the likes and almost a whole year later we got it in Europe!  On the 23rd of November just 6 days after my 6th birthday. It was the 6th game that bore the castlevania title! So 6-6-6!  An unholy trinity of events! Little did I know than how devilishly good this game would be. It scores about an 8.2 out of 10 on average but the only grade I can give it is 1! A number 1!  Soon after this the game would take on a more adventure style approach with Symphony of the Night and while that is oftenly the fan favourite I really prefer that genre with Metroid while I prefer the old style Castlevania. I see them as almost different series in fact so I shall not be comparing them to any of the Alucard or Soma Cruz sames.  They are great as well but this was a whole different kind of beast. 

Belle Monde means pretty world and that certainly can be said about this game. Producer Konami really went all out in giving us neat little details in the background, amazing Mode7 graphics and very recognisable monsters. Translucent ghosts, fragmenting skeletons, a hulking frankenstein.. and a 9 foot tall dracula are all in this game and they are all impressive fights of their own accord. Classics such as the Medusa heads come back to frustrate you now more than ever before.. or is it?! With the new control screen players can whip in any direction and even  wiggle their whip about all limply giving it some stringlike control which can be used to slowly tickle an enemy to death! As a result of this simple change Simon Belmonts techniques have drastically improved. On our 11 stage journey we travel through castles, swamps, caves, spinning stuff and of course clock towers. Every stage has two or three very different looking segments.

 A lot is done with motion in this game’s graphic design. We see Skeleton ornaments following the hero in the background. We see books trying to leap out of their bookcase, and  so much more allowing the background to truly come to live!  This also results in more tension! Will that thing come leap at me or is it just a simple background element? The certainty has been taken away and that is a good thing! Not only do you have to pay attention to your opponents.. you want to keep an eye on the background as well.. the game forces you to appreciate it’s beautiful world! My favourite stages for the background are stage 8 and stage 9.. while i hate stage 8 in every other sense.. the creepy paintings that might grab you, the carpet that can push you into the ceiling that is great! Stage 9 is my favourite! It’s a treasure room where colourful ghosties constantly rise up! What a great night to have a SNES mini!

Belmont

Part IV of the series does not follow up on any of the games. Part 1 was followed by it’s sequel and both dealt with the story of Simon Belmont, while Part 3 was actually a prequel and it told the story of Trevor Belmont and his companions.  Rather than follow up on the story of Trevor and Alucard among others Part IV focuses on Simon again.. but rather retells the story of the original game.. in a new way! This means we will both visit familiar and unfamiliar locations and face a slew of enemies that the oldest castlevania player will immediately recognise.. and so does everyone else for that matter because these monsters are really iconic.  We will once again face off against mummies, frankenstein, death and even the giant bat makes it return albeit in a different spot in the game and it is not really a bat.. yet it is still the good old familiar boss from the first game. The game does a good job off playing into nostalgia with the iconic themes such as vampire hunter and bloody tears being hidden deep inside the game. You will have to work for your shot of nostalgia! The game has some nice tunes but nothing near as iconic as aforementioned themes but hey it’s a konami game you know at worst you will be pretty well off in the sound department. 

Control Wise alternate timeline Simon has no equal. Even Richter from Dracula X  and later Rondo of Blood could not be a master whipper like this Simon! As a result of the tight controls I find this Castlevania relatively easy….among the linear games. The exploratory stuff is way easier.  Still I deem this game fairly “doable” in terms of difficulty. Mind you that this is my favourite Castlevania, I know some patterns by hand and some timing by muscle memory but easily up until the 8th stage I breezed through this game like it was nothing. The eight stage however has one excruciating bit of trap dodging!  I can never really get that pattern down and always end up using luck to make my way through.  Since I so often get stopped there it by far is my least favourite stage in the game. If you are new to the series and want to try a game out I do suggest you start out with this one for it’s supreme control scheme and playing the best Belmont but like Castlevania III there will be a few cheap moments. 

These moments in comparison to the third and most diverse game in the franchise however are few and far between.  You have unlimited continues at your disposal and a password system to clear the hurdles ahead. A game over will send you back to the beginning of a stage however and this includes sub areas. So if you are on stage 9-2 and game over on the boss you get 5 new lives to try again from 9-1. This is how it has always been with Castlevania and with the exception of the last stage that is rather fair you really do become a better player for it. No risking the biscuit you really need to learn and master clearing it all in one big swoop. It felt really rewarding to finally clear a stage after mastering the bosses and minibosses. Given how varied the stages are it doesn’t feel like too much of a punishment either.. except for the aforementioned stage 8 that is littered with Instakill boobytraps in it’s second coeur and with how a bat randomly flying through that trap can ruin a run and send you back over and over again… that stinks! The final stage.. Stage B,  has a four man boss rush that is quite hard and a game over.. sets you all the way back! So be prepared to get good. You really must become a true Belmont but are also very much given the proper tools to do so. 

Cool Whip

What makes this stand out most to me is the gameplay itself though!  While Castlevania III had more diverse characters and ways to traverse through a stage this one is more focussed on giving Simon a new challenge each and every stage. The first stage has you jumping between a foreground and a background stage. The second stage places you inside streams of water that hinder your control, the third stage has vertical/ceiling hazards. The third game may offer you a different set of characters, I really prefer it if you have to overcome new obstacles every time. Except for the instakills in stage 8 this game really does a much better job at that. It really feels you have to master becoming Simon! One can argue for the choose your combat style approach of the later parts but to me it feels much more satisfying to use the tools you have! You HAVE to master Simon’s whip, you HAVE to clear that one boss you can’t seem to hit with it. The game hands you just enough tools to get the job done, but doesn’t make you overly cool and competent and thing that moderen games for me oftenly have. We are handed tools for flavour rather then challenge.

There is the old Castlevania clunk, the annoying knockback, the non momentum based jumping and the occasional unfair enemies, but that in a way is part of the experience. It gives this Castlevania something “scary” Leaping to a platform you can barely see, fearing there might be a bat to knock you off towards your demise has something we don’t really see these days. There are still indie games to that, but it is weird that this lack of polish causes.. a “personality” in the game. Back in the days we would look at our cartridges or at our screens and say “Castlevania IV I am going to beat you today” .. now we usually talk about events within the confines of the game. “Come on Geralt  you got this” “Handsome Jack you are going down” which is fine as well but in the end it is also your character that conquers a game. These old games might not offer the same immersion but they offer this amazing reward of conquering and you actually feel skilled for doing it! Those weird Castlevania quirks that are present help that experience SO much.Climbing a stairs and the floor goes out of sight? Well that means if you get hit on the stair you now plummet into the abyss!  You inch forward.. not in game..but you’re busy with your controller, hitboxes, invincibility frames etcetera. You are fighting a game!

I can not beat Dracula in the capacity of my person and in the end who cares about Simon beating Dracula.. it happens a million times. However me beating Castevania is unique to me. That is my feat! While I also beat Breath of the Wild and fought those two Eldritch like being in Smash Ultimate..those feel more like I played through the game. I experienced the game. I beat the final boss because I had the right tools, I feel like without too much effort I would have done it the next attempt even if I had died there. This old game .. I did not beat because I had the dash move, the big sword, the upgraded bomb or whatever. No I beat it because I learned the Pattern Patterns, I was able to distinguish the spots where my character would be safe.  I discovered a strategy to deal with those pesky  energy balls Dracula shot and I found a way to deal with those fireball enemies in the sky! It is not anything in the game that made me beat this.. it was ME! It wasn’t even that cool magical whip! … No it was me positioning a character in smart spots, me using a extra weapon cleverly! ME! ME! ME!

Vampire Killer Game

I do think that Castlevania I through III have aged a bit, the challenge is rather grueling! Mostly the second game is obnoxious with it’s puzzle element and poor translations, messed up ending screens and weird gameplay choices. I and III are difficult to a point where it isn’t as much a part of the timeset anymore. Castlevania IV does the same thing.. yet it does it perfectly. While sometimes unfair, dying feels like your fault always.. even when it’s not (Except for stage 8)  having to redo a stage feels super frustrating..but the stage has enough variety that it doesn’t feel like intense punishment. It is perfectly beatable in a short time if you are good enough but can get you trapped for hours if you can’t deduce a boss pattern! It is still your fault! It emulates perfectly on the SNES mini… BUT that is because it has a great controller for that. Should you emulate this game on PC and use a PS4 or Xbox One controller, I think you fill find yourself in a lot of trouble. You need D-Pad accuracy here, no Analogue stick can do that, lot of these controllers also have issues with double direction inputs like up and right..when using the D-Pad.. I think this would be so much harder to complete on those.. so play this on an SNES mini or on a virtual console with a proper controller.

Yet once again this also proves a point, this game wants you to use that SNES controller, it wants you to go D-Pad, it wants to be played as it used to be played. Now don’t get me wrong! I think anyone playing a 2d platformer with an analogue stick when they have the option to not use an Analogue stick should have their Gamer Card marked… not totally revoked just marked! Yet this game shows it a lot more than others. I usually prefer momentum based platformer action like Mario or Donkey Kong yet strangely this game shines because of its amount of clunk!  I can drop to my death just because I was a fair amount of pixels of my jump. I can get knocked into a ravine and be forced to start way back at the beginning just because I missed the timing of a single whiplash and there is a slight delay .. plus my hitbox is slightly larger than me so I can’t cheese it in the final moment.  In Mario when I make a mistake I can correct (somewhat)  here if I make a mistake I am dead. Yet that gives this game it’s horrorish vibes. Single mistakes can lead to a painful death, not just for Simon it will be painful for the player as well.

So in a game like Castevania its flaws become its strengths for me? Does that mean its strengths become it’s flaws? No! The stage design is still briljant and plays into that level of non immersion while still being super cool. Dracula’s castle has clear game mechanics that make no sense in the context of the world, but it is not trying. Nowadays characters notice everything so when we suddenly see barriers appear it has to be given a lore explanation through a cutscene, while the makers just wanted to give you some action. Sorcery, creatures carrying sealls or whatever.. it all becomes a challenge for the main character to overcome.  Simon doesn’t say anything about water following two  ways, he doesn’t question the spinning walls in stage 4 because they are not his challenges to overcome. They are YOURS. We are the ones that have bloody tears from frustration while trying to master the game and we are the ones that hopefully will be the vampire killers. For me Castlevania IV is one of those perfect games. Not because it is perfect.. but because it is very much a game and it keeps you feeling important all the way.

This weekend there will not be any blog posts as I am getting the key of my new flat Saturday! Which means the entire weekend and most likely the entire next week I am either without internet or doing stuff! Next week I will have a few posts scheduled ahead of time to wrap up Halloween month with a two day Pokémon post and some blog tags. If I have time I will try to visit your blogs with my phone! Otherwise I will see you all when I get back! Enjoy next weeks post and see you all soon! If you want to help with creating a pc corner for my blog check out my Kofi page!

5 thoughts

  1. Ah Castlevania…gotta love the classics. This along with Metroid, are probably amongst my favorite classic games😀 Enjoyed your post for it!😀
    I want to wish good luck with the move, but above all have fun! You deserve it so much😊 Don’t worry about the blog visits, just focus on the move!😀 Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Super Metroid is my favourite Metroid as well, I cant get far in the NES ones though! I also adore Metroid prime, but nothing for me was as powerful as baby metroid saving you! I really liked the SNES era!

      Super nervous for the move but after sunday I will be a lot better 🙂

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  2. Super Castlevania IV is definitely one of the best games in the series made in the classic style (it’s pretty close between it and the PC Engine version of Rondo of Blood). What really makes it so much better than its predecessors is its controls, which are far more polished than those of the NES entries. Even just the fact that you can attack in eight different directions is a major point in its favor. It definitely got the SNES off to a great start, I’d say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is funny because the 8 whip direction took a long time to come back after this one, but yeah the improved control scheme really helped the franchise. The SNES Era really gave me the sense I was in control than with the NES era. They really did well with that

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, that’s a good point because I found it a bit odd myself that even the Metroidvania installments (which I tend to like more than the classic platformers) didn’t really retain that particular improvement. Granted, they did compensate in the sense that the Metroidvania installments had far more fluid controls than even Super Castlevania IV, but it’s still a bit odd any way you slice it.

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