Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

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Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
Released: 1991
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Super Famicom? Yes (as Akumajo Dracula – English Translation: Dracula’s Castle)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Mild
Played it as a child? No
Value: $22.79 (used) $189.95 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $20-$30 (used) $150.00 (new) and $500 for first edition (v-seam) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console – $8.00

It’s pretty much understood that Super Castlevania IV is merely a remake of the original Castlevania, however for many reasons it is a significant game in its own right.  In Japan the game held almost the same name as the original (Akumajo Dracula) and in the lore and instruction manual in Japan it literally has the same plot.  For the US release, Konami attached the “IV” as well as giving a slightly different story that suggests the events of this game take place immediately following the second game, Simon’s Quest.  Even though both the developers and the fans agree it’s not a sequel, the two games have little in common with one another.  While it’s a cool experiment with many gameplay characteristics, some that would never return and others became series staples, Super Castlevania IV was also a flagship title for the SNES to show off all the things the various modes (including the overhyped Mode 7) could do to a game.  Think of it as a fleshed out action platformer tech demo that was far more interesting in retrospect than Pilotwings.

The game debuted in America during the holiday season in 1991, the same year the SNES would fly off shelves for all the eager gamers wanting to get their hands on Nintendo’s newest console.  Much like the launch of the NES, it was just one of those Nintendo games that you knew you had to pick up (Konami was the top 3rd party developer for the NES and that trend would follow it through the launch, if not entire lifespan, of the SNES).  Super Castlevania IV did not disappoint either; all of the attributes that gamers loved from the original games – moving clock tower, lively multi-track synthesized audio, a horror gothic theme – returned.  Thanks to mode 7 graphics, there were even fake 3D effects like the big rotating cylinder in level 4 or the waterfall and chandelier effects in others.  As for the soundtrack, the song’s Vampire Killer (top track of the original), Bloody Tears (Simon’s Quest theme), and Beginning (the infamous song that defines why you want the Japanese version of Castlevania III over the American one) all returned in a new format.

Super Castlevania IV has unique levels compared to the original, which is why I view it as a re-imagining (if anything) rather than a remake.  Basically there are now five levels leading up to Dracula’s castle (the original started you inside the castle) and six re-created levels (representing the six of the original game).  In addition to completely new levels, the locations and enemies are also replaced, which is why it wasn’t difficult to sell this game off as the fourth title in the series – truthfully it’s the purists that focus on the lore and chronology, which series writer/producer Koji Igarashi is one of the biggest sticklers for, that make this game technically a remake and not an unique title.  All of the traditional gameplay mechanics are present, but some significant enhancements make the game more friendly to the typical gamer.  First and foremost, the ability for Belmont to whip in any of the eight directions was huge because part of the challenge of the original games was getting you to face whatever was coming for you in order to take it out.  He could also hold his whip out, allowing projectiles to be much easier to handle.  I think in truth the multi-directional whip was not intended to make killing enemies easier, but rather a bi-product of that ability being added so that Belmont could now attach to and swing from elements in the world.  Also improved was the ability to attach to stairs while jumping and easily walk up them by simply pressing up, another challenging attribute of the original games that may not have been intended.  These features, especially the directional whip, made Super Castlevania IV a much easier game than its predecessors and depending on who you ask is either a great or a horrible thing.  I appreciate the fact that it shows off most of the classic game design without completely turning off today’s audience, it’s a game you can show to friends and they won’t quit after the first few levels.

Super Castlevania IV is the most definive game of the original format.  It combines all of the great features of previous titles and re-invents them into a unique mixed bag of the NES originals.  To the purists, it’s probably the easiest one to skip and not too high on the priority scale, but if you’re only going to play one game to get you in tune with what we all loved about the early games, this is the best way to do it.  From this point on the series takes an interesting and impressive turn, but looking back I always get a smile on my face when I play this quirky show-off of the Super Nintendo’s technical capabilities.

Like many other games in the series, this game was changed between the Super Famicom (Japanese) version and the Super Nintendo (US/Europe) version.  All crosses and connections to religious icons have been removed, blood in level eight has been changed to green to represent acid, and the topless statues in level six now wear tunics.  In addition the aforementioned changes that made the Japanese version a remake of the original and the SNES version a sequel to Simon’s Quest (Castlevania III was a prequel that took place well before the original).

Written by Fred Rojas

July 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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