When you think of Konami one game franchise that stands out is Castelvania which has held a place in many gamers' hearts. Ever since its first incarnation on the Japanese MSX computer (as Vampire Killer), players have enjoyed battling famous monsters across various systems and titles over the years. Back in 1987 the first U.S. console entry was released on the NES, and it was a landmark title that set the stage for other great Castlevania games to follow. The first chapter in the saga may not have all the features of future titles in the series, but it still manages to be a fun and enjoyable trek even today.
You play as Simon Belmont, the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. The evil vampire Count Dracula has risen after 100 years and is beginning to terrorize the Transylvania countryside with his army of monsters. Your mission is to fight your way through the Count's castle and defeat Dracula to put an end to his evil. Simon's mission takes him through the Count's castle, which consists of 18 levels (six main areas with three stages each) filled with just about every monster imaginable, such as bats, zombies, skeletons, and many more. Simon has to battle his way through the creatures to reach the end of each level and has a limited amount of time to do so. Luckily Simon is armed with his trademark mystic whip, which can take out most creatures, and can upgrade it twice, first to a chain whip and then a long chain whip. The halls of the castle are littered with candles and by whipping the candles Simon can pick up special weapons he can use (by holding Up and pressing B), including an axe, boomerang, dagger, and sacred water (known in this game as "fire bombs"). You need hearts to use the special weapons, so be sure to stock up. At the end of every third stage, Simon must battle a boss monster to keep going, such as Medusa, the Frankenstien Monster, and the Grim Reaper in order to continue his quest. If you can reach the clock tower at the end of the game, Dracula awaits to do battle with Simon one on one, and he has a few surprises for our vampire hunter.
The graphics are nice but tend to show their age for the most part. Each stage has its own distinck look and the backgrounds are okay but many parts look chopped up and blocky. The characters look decent and sport some nice animation. On the other hand, the Castlevania series has always been known for great music and this cart is no exception. Each of the background tunes are great to listen to and they fit their respective stages well, giving each level great atmosphere. The music that plays during boss battles is also nicely done. The sound effects are not as good as the music, but still good enough, such as the clang of your whip attacking an axe knight.
There's no denying that the main gameplay in Castlevania is straight-up arcade action and not much else. It doesn't have the mutiple paths, playable characters, passwords, and other features you find in the later chapters of the series. But despite its simplicity the action of Castlevania had held up well over the years. There's a certain charm to this game pak that makes it fun and addicting to play through and slaying various monsters with a whip is a blast. It isn't hard to get the hang of this title and the controls are simple to understand but when you jump you can't change direction in mid-air. However the game is a little on the hard side, especially since the difficulty level rises up fast after the first few levels. There are also many frustrating moments, such as the flying Medusa heads that can move quickly around you while you're trying to nail them with the whip. Simon also moves a bit slowly making it hard to dodge projectles, and the enemies are known to cause cheap hits, often knocking you off small ledges into the abyss below. Plus in the final six levels, getting hit takes four life bars, which means four hits and you're dead. Fortunately the game isn't impossible, and with practice you'll be able to defeat the Count. Although the lack of passwords means you have to start at the beginning every time you play, you do get unlimited continues, even though it starts you at the beginning of the three-level stage instead of the level you died in (1, 4, 7 and so on).
So while Castlevania I may seem primitive to the other titles (especially Castlevanias III and IV), it still proves to be a great entry from Konami, and a worthy first chapter to the series. The game is just flat out exciting and easy to get into and has that quality that makes you want to try again and again to get to the end. You may be frustrated by the unforgiving difficulty near the end and the stiff control issues, but these gripes aside, Castlevania is still a true classic, one that should definelty not be missed.
|Site design and content © 1998-2010 Adam King
Nintendo and Nintendo Entertainment System are trademarks of Nintendo of America, Inc.