By: Tristan Jones on December 7, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Also available on: Commodore 64, Amiga, Gameboy Advance
Publisher: Konami
Players: 1
Year: 1986
OFLC Rating: G
Man, what has happened to me? I remember when I was a kid and I could breeze through games like this. I have a distinct feeling that as the years have gone by, with games becoming increasingly more sophisticated, the old school stylings of the games of yesteryear make them even more difficult than today's most difficult games. Castlevania, the original Castlevania, could possibly be the most insanely difficult game of all time, and if it weren't for the fact that you get infinite continues, it would probably be unfinishable.

Castlevania is a simple enough case of play through the platform levels to kill Dracula, with bosses at the end of each level. That's the basic gist, bust into Castlevania and rid the world of Dracula. Sounds easy! And hey! This controller only has five buttons! But the simplicity of the title is what makes it so frustratingly evil. Your AI isn't going to stop and think about the best course of action here. It's not going to dodge your attacks or submit to today's clipping laws. Basic enemy programming is simple. Attack. They'll plough right through you if you give them the chance. It's kill or be killed.

As most games tend to, Castlevania gets harder as you get closer to the finish. Not in terms of gameplay, the enemies just become ludicrously strong. Enemies that took one point of damage away from you in the second level are taking away five come the sixth, and their attack patterns (if they have one) are dangerously unpredictable, and if you aren't vigilant when it comes to fighting bosses, then you'll find yourself replaying levels for a long time. You realise how truly out of form you are when you find yourself repeating the first section of a level because the standard "two-space" jump and damage recoil finds you plummeting constantly to your death as you try to jump across body of water.

But as difficult as it is, Castlevania really is the game that started it all, and there's a lot of fun nostalgic tripping to be had with it. The graphics are comparably better to a large number of titles available at the same time, and even though the colour palette is extremely limited, the levels are all really well rendered, as are the enemies. There's a surprising amount of detail in backgrounds of the levels, which would go on to become a staple of each subsequent sequel/prequel.

Your enemies are also your standard Castlevania fare (as if they could really be anything else though). You've got bone throwing Skeletons, bats, wolves, zombies, ghosts, animated suits of armour, pretty much every Transylvanian stereotype can be found here, and the bosses are pretty much all straight from the classic horrors. Mummies, Frankenstein's monster and Igor, Giant Vampire Bats and the Medusa show up to be either laughed at or make you furious, and have since become key recurring enemies in the series.

The music of Castlevania is some of the most popular video game music around today. Soundtracks are readily available for each game and there's an abundant supply of well orchestrated remixes available on the internet. It's all for a good reason too. The Castlevania tunes are ones you'll find stuck in your head very quickly, and for an 8-bit machine, surprisingly manages to belt out very clear and well composed music. Some of the level themes, though 8-bit and full of 80's video game heroics, still manage to somehow give off an eerie sound in parts, and many of the themes found in this title have been used in just about every title that has come since.

There isn't really that much to Castlevania. I have a feeling anyone familiar with the more recent entries into the series but not familiar with the original will be surprised by how lacking it is in terms of story, but when you look back on all the massive franchises that launched on the NES, the first games, though classics, are extremely straightforward in terms of story. But back in the day I don't think any of us were complaining, and playing back on it now, you play it more for the experience of nostalgia more than anything else.

All in all, Castlevania is a classic in every sense of the word. It's not great by any stretch, but it spawned one of the most successful video game franchises of all time and basically gave birth to horror gaming and is one of those games that really has to be played. You don't necessarily have to like it, but goddamn it do you have to respect it!
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