Pros: Graphics, sound, control, level variety, and sheer playability.
Cons: Some slowdown during graphically intense sections.
After the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had dominated the relatively young video game market it needed to convince all of its young owners of its previous system to move on up to its’ new and improved Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). But getting kids to separate from their hard earned/stolen/begged for money wasn’t such an easy proposition. I knew that my brother and I were going to save up and buy one as soon as we could, the only problem being that we had no income other than finding money on the ground or mowing our grandma’s yard. Meanwhile magazines and television shows were showcasing a simply eye-popping new videogame that was an update and improvement on one of our favorite NES games Castlevania. Super Castlevania IV was released a few short months after the SNES was released in 1991 (in the US) and it remains to this day one of the best games ever released for the SNES and in the platform genre of gaming.
Super Castlevania IV is the retelling of Castlevania starring my favorite vampire hunter of all time (no, not Van Helsing or Abraham Lincoln) Simon Belmont. Simon Belmont the original star of Castlevania 1 & 2. Konami did not just put a fresh coat of paint on an old game and put a ‘Super’ in front of it and expect it to sell in this case. They made the game of eleven brand new stages, five of which are just the lead-up to Dracula’s castle, and vastly improved the play control.
But what immediately caught my eye as well as everybody else in the world was just how amazing this game looked. Super Castlevania IV is one of the most graphically impressive titles on the SNES of all time. Which doesn’t mean a whole lot by today’s standards but they are good enough today that you can still pop the game in today and not be distracted by blotchy, ugly, glitch filled graphics. Super Castlevania IV’s liberal use of every new technology that the SNES had to offer is stupendous. Mode 7 graphics are used in creative ways that are spattered into the game just often enough that you enjoy playing those sections because they aren’t overdone hooks. In one section you will be hanging by your whip as the room rotates the floor out from under you, and in the next you’ll be walking through a cylindrical room that rotates around the platform that you are in, while in another you will be hopping across 3D swinging chandeliers. The graphics and musical tone in all eleven stages are extremely varied. There is the courtyard, the caves, the ballroom the dungeon, and the treasury just to name four of eleven of the unique level designs for Super Castlevania IV. Probably the only problem I can find in the game is that the graphics pushed the SNES so hard that slowdown when a lot was going on onscreen was pretty common.
The music and sound effects are just as fitting and spectacular as the graphics are for this SNES masterpiece. The musical processors are put to their limit striking some masterful compositions, some of which actually sound almost like some actual instruments are being played (primarily the one song featuring the flute). Thankfully Super Castlevania IV was made before it was believed that the main character should make a noise every time they did something, Simon is blissfully mute, with only the whack of his whip and the sound of his feet hitting the ground from a jump being his language of choice. The enemies also don’t bother to make menacing sound effects, they are best known for sounding like piles of bones breaking apart at Simon’s whip or bursting into flames. I like this fact because honestly in a lot of today’s games the atmosphere and particularly the sound gets too busy with everything that is going on onscreen making its own commotion.
What sets Super Castlevania IV apart from all other Castlevania games, and what makes it my far and away favorite of the entire series, and makes it despised by series purists are the controls. What sets this game apart is, unlike in all other Castlevania’s I have played Simon is a COMPETENT character to control. In all the other games prior to this Simon could only swing directly in front of him. In Super Castlevania IV he can attack in eight different directions (yay that guy on the platform above you is no longer impossible to hit), plus he can simply hold out his whip by holding the attack button and then you can use the loose whip as a low power attack and swing it around like it’s a jump rope. Not only were his attack abilities improved but they improved his ability to jump, now Simon can be steered a bit while in mid-air, this fixed the cheap death via unseen-enemy-that-swoops-in-and attacks-you-while-in-mid-air which was apparently a benchmark of the Castlevania series (let me say that is NOT a benchmark of a series anyone should want, that is a flaw in the game!). Also unique to the series control-wise were the inclusions of the ability to creep along while crouched as well as Simon’s ability to use his whip much like Indiana Jones and swing and hang from things that look like door knockers.
With these drastically improved controls the gameplay in Super Castlevania IV hit the high water mark for the series. The series standards are all still here, you guide Simon Belmont to jump over spike pits, avoid pojectiles thrown by enemies, and traverse over moving platforms. The game has a great deal of variety in challenges and has a very smooth challenge curve to it. The improved controls make the game much more playable and less obscenity producing than previous installments. For the first and only time a Belmont is capable of doing the things I always wanted him to be able to do. The purists complain that the controls make the game ‘too easy’ but calling Super Castlevania IV ‘too easy’ is like calling the movie The Ten Commandments ‘too short.’ This game is very hard and you will still die many cheap deaths, burn through all your continues on several levels, get torn apart by several bosses, throw the controller in frustration, and feel a great deal of accomplishment when you finally beat it for the first time. Fortunately the game does feature a password feature (why they didn’t just put in a battery for save files I’ll never know) which will allow you to plug away at the game without forcing you to try to beat the entire game on one set of lives and continues.
For me I will always remember the good times spent on this game, with me and my brother playing pseudo co-op switching off after deaths taking probably a couple weeks of play before he could beat Dracula at the end (it took me a while after that still). Super Castlevania IV is one of those old games that has aged very gracefully and is just as much fun today as it was back in 1991; indeed some platformers never get old, which can’t be said about many SNES era or older games. I may be the only person who considers this the best Castlevania game in existence. But let me tell you the disappointment when after so many years Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came out for the Playstation and I boot it up and that Alucard can do one thing, swing his sword (not even a whip!) directly in front of him (facepalm). I gladly give Super Castlevania IV five out of five stars, even if I based it on today’s standards.
This Game Was Also Featured In My Top 25 SNES Games of All Time List