Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 12/22/1989
    • US 09/01/1990
    • UK 12/10/1992
Score: 85%

This review was published on 08/04/2013.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Konami and originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It's the third and final Castlevania game released for the NES. The Castlevania series is known for its gothic atmosphere and horror inspired themes, and Castlevania III continues that trend. Castlevania started out as linear action games with an emphasis on challenging game play, but Castlevania II took the controversial risk of shifting the focus to nonlinear exploration. It didn't pay off, because a lot of people hate Castlevania II. Castlevania III returns to the way things once were by going back to a more focused, linear design, though it still retains certain nonlinear elements. Of the NES trilogy, Castlevania III tends to get overlooked a lot. The first two Castlevania games are the most talked about, even if the second one is despised, but rarely do people talk about Castlevania III. It's an odd oddity, because Castlevania III is arguably the best Castlevania on the NES. Castlevania III came out a bit later in the NES' lifespan, so it was a far more sophisticated game than the first two Castlevanias, especially in the graphics department. This combined with top notch game design makes Castlevania III an excellent title for the NES. It should be noted, however, that the music in the North American version is vastly inferior to the Japanese game, as it lacks a special chip that was within the cartridge of the Japanese release. The game is still good regardless of that, but it's worth mentioning.

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This game is actually the prequel to the original Castlevania, as it is set a few centuries before the events of the first game in the series. Prequels are all the rage these days, but back then, a prequel was a hard thing to swallow. A lot of people assumed that the protagonist of this adventure was the same as the last two, because video games were just like that at the time. Considering the time lapse, there's no way for that to be possible. Despite that, this game's story really isn't that different from the typical Castlevania tale. Count Dracula is ravaging Europe with his legion of monsters, some undead, some not. A family of vampire hunters known as the Belmont Clan have prepared for such dark matters by passing down a legendary whip called the Vampire Killer from generation to generation. The current wielder of this sacred whip is Trevor C. Belmont, and he is the protagonist of Castlevania III. Trevor is Simon's distant ancestor, Simon Belmont being the protagonist of the first Castlevania game. Initially, the Belmont family was exiled by the Church, because they possessed powers beyond that of normal humans. However, due to the threat of Dracula's evil forces, the Church decided to seek out the help of Trevor Belmont. It's now up to Trevor to put a stop to the Count's wanton destruction with his trusty whip. As you can see, the story to Castlevania III is basically the same old deal, just in a different time period and with different characters. The only character that tends to remain the same from game to game is Dracula himself, as he continues to get revived from one game to the next. As always, it's the setting that sets Castlevania apart from other games.

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If you liked the original, then you'll be pleased to know that Castlevania III is very much like it. You start the game out controlling Trevor Belmont, who is able to slay foes with his mighty whip. He can also pick up different sub-weapons for those situations where the whip just isn't enough. These sub-weapons use hearts as ammunition, and they include throwing daggers, axes, holy water, and the almighty boomerang cross. Trevor controls identically to Simon from the first two Castlevania games, so there's not much to say regarding him. However, Castlevania III does introduce a few new things, one of the new things being brand new playable characters. Trevor doesn't have to go it alone in this adventure. Throughout your journey in Castlevania III, you'll sometimes get the choice to have another character join your crew. There are three new characters total and they are as follows: Sypha Belnades, a sorceress that uses spells instead of sub-weapons, Grant Danasty, a pirate that can climb walls, and Alucard, Dracula's rebellious son. Yep, that's right; Alucard first appeared in Castlevania III, not Symphony of the Night. For those wondering, Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards. That's really clever, right? You can switch between characters at any time, once you have them on your team. The bad thing is that you can only have two characters with you at a time, and one of them has to be Trevor. If you already have a character with you when presented with the choice of getting a new member, you'll have to make a trade. It's kind of a bummer, because the different playable characters are a huge selling point to this game. In any case, the unique abilities of the different characters are extremely useful, and they greatly enhance the game's appeal. It's always possible to complete every section of the game as regular ol' Trevor, but why would you want to do that? There are far more interesting options available.

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Even though Castlevania III is a mostly linear experience, it does have some nonlinearity to it. Most stages are a simple jaunt between point A and B, but you'll sometimes find yourself at a crossroads. You can pick where you want to go next whenever encountering these crossroads, which will determine what level or set of levels you'll be tackling. There aren't too many crossroads in the game, but you do have to beat the game multiple times if you want to see all the levels the game has to offer. On top of that, different characters can join you depending on the path you pick. A lot of new players will probably miss Alucard their first time through the game, because you need to go down a particular path to get him on your side. What this means is that Castlevania III has a lot of replay value, but it still retains the focused stage design of the original game. It's the best of both worlds. The only issue with this is that some of the bosses and stages get recycled in some of the paths. For example, this game has an awesome clock tower stage that is now a staple of the Castlevania series. What's not awesome about this stage is that you have to go through it twice, the second time in reverse. The reason for this is because you get Grant from the clock tower, and the developers want you to test out Grant's abilities as you backtrack through the clock tower. While the intention might have been noble, this reeks of laziness, since it's the same stage all over again. Platform games should also never make you backtrack through a stage. Still, it's not a huge deal, and the game doesn't do stuff like this too often. This is worth forgiving because the game has a large amount of stages, all of which are well designed.

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Castlevania III really ought to get more recognition. People only ever seem to talk about the first game and Super Castlevania IV when referring to the pre-PS1 era Castlevania games, despite Castlevania III being in the same league as them. Maybe it's related to Castlevania III being a late era NES release, which might have caused a lot of people to miss out on it. That's a shame, because the game is wonderful. Castlevania III has impressive graphics for the NES, stupendous music, awesome level design, lots of replay value due to the multiple paths, and multiple playable characters. There isn't a whole lot that Castlevania III gets wrong, other than it recycling some content here and there. Castlevania III is, like the first Castlevania, one of the best games on the NES. Try it out sometime, especially if you like the original Castlevania.

Word Count: 1,365

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