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Review: "Super Castlevania IV" Retro

Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.


First Impressions

I am going to be completely honest with you, humble reader. I hate most of the classic Castlevania games. I hate how unfairly hard they are, I hate the platforming, I hate the fact that hearts aren't life, I hate the fact that health is rarely found, I hate how much damage the enemies do, I hate the knockback associated with the damage taken, and, most importantly, I hate the stairs.

I am a huge fan of the newer games, however. More specifically Dawn of Sorrow, Lament of Innocence, and Symphony of the Night.

I went into Super Castlevania IV with the most critical eye I have had for a game in a long time. A friend of mine said that I should try this particular entry because I hadn't played it yet, so I figured I'd give it a go, especially given the game's protagonist, Simon Belmont, is in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Immediately, I'm thrown into a world vibrant with colors, and I'm given a fully upgraded whip right out the gate. That was pretty cool. I also found that I could swing my whip around freely and hit those pesky bats that keep swooping down and taking three bars of health, granted it did significantly less damage.

I was completely blown away by the music as well, but I am always blown away by the music in this series. It's catchy and inspiring.

I breezed through the first level and its respective boss. I beat the second level boss with a single bar of health left, and found myself forced to start on a path immediately afterward with, you guessed it, no health in sight.

Needless to say, I was killed quickly, but the checkpoint saved me from having to face the boss again. I progressed to the next area, lost two lives, then passed it. I got a life back after this that saved me until I got to the ballroom stage. This level was hell incarnate for me. I had to start a new game four times before getting past this level, and by getting past this level, I mean exploiting the password system and skipping the board like a wimp. I breezed past the library then reached the dungeon level, where I was, once again, promptly abused.

The rest of the game went on like this, and I was forced to start a new game at least once or twice every level after the library. Surprisingly enough, however, I defeated Dracula on my first try, mainly due to the generous amount of health items his minions dropped, and a little secret room with a number of helpful trinkets.

When I finally defeated Dracula, I was greeted with a very satisfying ending tune and the scene of Simon standing triumphantly before Dracula's collapsing castle.

The chandeliers were the EASY part.

The chandeliers were the EASY part.

Controls and Combat

As with many of the classic Castlevania games, it is debatable that this one has, in fact, aged better than its predecessors. Still, this game's mechanics are notably dated.

When you start applying yourself more and practice, the game is manageable. It still feels clunky and slow at vital parts of the experience, most notoriously in the stair climbing.

I wish we were given the option to run a bit faster, like Mario or Samus, as this would make navigating the levels less tedious and the jumping less awful. Simon falls like a stone and has hardly any navigation. Every time the game comes to a point where platforming is involved, I immediately want to shoot myself in the foot. This is because of the fact that I have a miniature heart attack every time I jump. My mind plays tricks on me so I back up to avoid falling, just to fall anyway. This happens because of the very small pixel that Simon lands on when jumping on a platform, and the brief moment of lag when he lands.

Challenges are different in the Castlevania series. At most points, it feels as though you have to figure out how to exploit the game rather than to rely on your skills. There are multiple setups in which you can instantly be killed and sent sprawling all the way back to the start of a level. There's just something about the early Castlevania games that I really don't enjoy. They're more frustrating to play than anything else for me.

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With that being said, Super Castlevania IV is probably my favorite early Castlevania title.

The new mechanics make for a far superior experience when compared to the previous titles, since you can attack in multiple directions, rather than just in front of you. A noteworthy trait of this game is that I've completed most of it on my own while not having to skip over a multitude of levels. This is strictly because I can attack diagonally when I need to, or flail my whip around to stun, and eventually kill, an enemy whose movement is just too tricky for me.

One of the Best Soundtracks in the Series

The Castlevania games have always been known for their fantastic soundtracks. However, the soundtrack of Super Castlevania IV is my favorite out of all the titles, aside from Symphony of the Night. I'm even willing to say that it's one of my top 10 favorite game soundtracks.

The music is deep and engaging, with compositions exceeding anything done on a Nintendo system before. Even now, it manages to blow me away.

I've gotta say, Konami's sound engineers really outdid themselves on this one. I imagine they used every bit of the SNES's hardware capabilities to create the rich and complex soundtrack.

Castlevania IV Soundtrack

Level Design

The level design was actually a step backwards for the series at the time.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse offered players different routes to reach the Count, making every playthrough a potentially different one. With that being said, Super Castlevania IV seems limited in its approach, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the more limited level design forces players to focus on the core of the franchise and, essentially, expand on them.

In that light, while the base designs are pretty run-of-the-mill for the franchise, it's the cosmetics, along with some new features as well, that really set this one apart from the rest of the earlier games.

Super Castlevania IV showed players a truly unique experience, ranging from the rotating room in Death Tower, the gloomy and grimy sewer based Dungeons, the glistening gold of the treasury, to the gothic beauty of Dracula's throne room. Everything looks so alluring, even by today's standards.

All in all, the level design of SCIV is one of my favorites on the SNES, it's just such a shame that Simon Belmont is so stiff and slow, making navigating these luscious corridors almost a chore.


The Verdict

With solid level design, innovative combat mechanics, and an overall beautiful look, Super Castlevania IV is certainly one of the most unique and game-changing entries in the series.

Obviously, if you're a fan of the franchise, this is a must-have. If you're like me and would prefer games like Metroid or Mega Man, I would still recommend giving this one a go. It's a solid action game and a decent platformer with gratifying combat if you're a patient person.

Would I play it again? Certainly. Probably a few years later, given the lack of replayability, but I still would certainly play it again.


Final scene.

Final scene.

© 2018 Kyle Atwood

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