Castlevania (7 hours, NES version on 3DS eShop)

I have said numerous times what a big fan I am of the “Igavania” Castlevania games–those inspired by Metroid. I am less familiar with Metroid, but completed the first game in the series, and am working on the second game. But what about the Castlevanias before Metroid’s influence? Well, they are more difficult games, and that’s part of what scared me away. Now with the help of save states, I was able to reach the conclusion of the very first title.

Yes, you will notice more than a passing resemblance to the post-Rondo of Blood games, starting with the whip you’re still swinging to vanquish enemies. Many power-ups remain the same, including Holy Water, a boomerang, and an ax. And finally, you may notice a bit of familiar music and recurring enemies, such as Medusa heads. But behind all this, the first Castlevania is a skill-based game. While in Symphony of the Night, you can seek out the best weapon and grind levels, here your ability to get through the game is right there in the moment. Miss a crucial jump or take an undesired hit, and you’ll want to do it over. In fairness, the end of a level has a ball that restores all health.

On the topic of levels, levels are short. The flip side is that the walking speed is slow, and with a few exceptions, this has been true of most Castlevania games. The result is reaching the end of a level takes about as much time as, for instance, a Mega Man or Super Mario game, because you’re not flying through it. It could be said that every single enemy has a specific method for taking it down the “right way,” though in truth, you get a mixed bag of easy enemies and moments requiring skill. Every boss can be exploited in a specific way, and I had to use a strategy guide to navigate through.

With Castlevania, you’re getting a foundation for games to come. After all, a whip is among the most unusual weapons to have survived so many games. This game being no exception to the rest of the series, Castlevania is based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but Konami takes creative liberties with the story in every single title. I would certainly be interested in reading Dracula, now free and in the public domain, to be able to spot the parallels. Of course the title Castlevania is a play on “Transylvania,” home of Dracula; “sylvania” is the Latin word for “woods” or “forest.

Those who have played Castlevania II will warn you that the game isn’t fun—that it’s a true sophomore slump . Sure enough, there was a rebound with Castlevania III and IV, and the unexpected Genesis / Mega Drive title Bloodlines. Also unexpected is praise for the Game Boy Castlevania titles, despite limited hardware. I’ve only briefly played any single one of these games, but the first Castlevania is a great jumping off point for a series I thoroughly enjoyed after about the halfway point with Symphony of the Night.

4/5

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