Castlevania NES Review, The Original Retro Nintendo Game
There are portions of Castlevania that will defeat you. Portions that will make you look back mournfully over your life and the decisions that led you up to this point – your 17th straight death courtesy the Medusa heads.
You will curse at the heavens, at this wretched castle and all the gothic horror it contains within. But then, just as a true hero tasked with vanquishing the foes of the netherworld would, you will look at the whip in your hand, take a deep breath, and begin again. Castlevania first came out for the NES in 1987. The Famicom version of the game came out a year earlier. Yes, this is a game that is over 3 decades old. Let that sink in for a minute.
You are Simon Belmont, an upstart member of the Belmont clan that has found his way into a quest that will put you against Dracula himself and all manner of evil creatures. An action platformer to the core, Castlevania requires pitch-perfect timing and razor-sharp reflexes to conquer. The level of difficulty is unrelenting, and the only option you have is to get good at the game. One of the early titles released for the NES, Castlevania is a true classic that would influence an entire generation of games that came after it. You can buy a copy here
Castlevania is all about the atmosphere. The creepy gothic castle with its worn-out interiors and varied rooms gives you a real sense of adventure and foreboding. As you would expect a haunted castle to be, the levels are intricate and never feel like they have been cobbled together for the sake of it. The music, interestingly, is rather upbeat for what you would expect to find in Casa de Dracula, but it does a fine job of underscoring the action.
Simon Belmont’s weapon of choice is the whip. However, you will find quite a few secondary weapons and hearts by slashing candles along the way – boomerangs, axes, bombs and even a watch. Of these, the axes are probably the most useful because you can throw them in a parabolic arc, making them a great choice to hit enemies above or below you. Your default whip can only hit in a straight line in front of you. Your secondary weapon usage is tied to the number of hearts you have in your possession. Using your secondary weapons costs you hearts, and when your hearts run out, its back to your good ol’ whip.
The NES Difficulty Rating
While Castlevania is really difficult, it is not unfair. Like good games, it rewards player skill. Learning enemy patterns and level geography will be the key to succeeding in Dracula’s castle. The bosses, interestingly, are usually easier than the rest of the level (until you get to the final few). You can bum rush most bosses and barring complete buffoonery on your part, you should be able to kill most of them easily.
There are some places where the difficulty will get under your skin. Each time you take damage, your character is knocked back several paces. Combine this with a whole host of narrow platforms, and you have a recipe for disaster. You must be extra careful of your positioning at all times, since even the most innocuous hit from an enemy can cost you an entire life if you happened to be standing in the wrong place. When you come up against the more difficult enemies in the game – Medusa heads and eagles, for example – the knockback mechanism is particularly annoying. Enemies will sometimes spawn right as you were making a jump, leaving you unable to dodge as you land and subsequently plummeting to your death.
In the platforming sections in the game, the knockback becomes especially brutal considering that you can’t change your direction in midair. While this is true to life, it makes each jump a potentially fatal encounter, especially when you are moving through a crowded section of enemies. Once again, the Medusa heads will be your bane here. Luckily, this isn’t a game-breaking issue.
Overall, the gameplay is absolutely rock solid, with tight controls and challenging enemies. Deaths will almost always be your fault, making the game a brutal but fair experience. As an introduction to the now-storied world of Castlevania and the wonderful horrors within, this is an absolute must-play for fans of retro games and solid platforming.