Super Castlevania IV
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 10/31/1991
    • US December 1991
    • UK 11/23/1992
Score: 90%

This review was published on 08/05/2013.

Super Castlevania IV is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Konami and originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It's the fourth home console Castlevania game and the first one released for the Super Nintendo. This game was serious business back in the day. It came out during the launch window of the SNES, so while it didn't launch with the system, it did come out fairly early on in the system's lifespan. There was a good amount of hype for the game, and it was pretty successful. A lot of the early SNES games acted sort of like tech demos to demonstrate the SNES' unique capabilities, like the Mode-7 effect. Castlevania IV also did this, but this game is way more than a mere tech demo. It deserves most of the hype it got, because it's quite a good game. It's not hard to see why the SNES did so well, what with games like Castlevania IV on it. Castlevania IV introduces many new concepts to the series, most of which don't seem to return in future games, for some reason. As such, it remains one of the more unique games in the Castlevania franchise. Castlevania IV is often considered the best of the non-Metroidvania variety of Castlevania by fans, though some insist that Rondo of Blood holds that place. Either way, this game is great.

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Despite the IV in the title, this game is actually a kind of remake or retelling of the first Castlevania game. It has the same title as the first game in Japan, but the Western release decided to append a four to the title. I'm not exactly sure why this was done. Maybe the USA branch of Konami thought this would drive up sales? In any case, the story here is what you'd expect if you ever played a Castlevania game before. The year is 1691 and a dark legend tells of an evil force that is revived every one hundred years. This force is none other than Count Dracula, a vampire with incredible power. After his revival, Dracula goes on a bloody rampage across Europe with his legions of dark creatures. The Belmont family has been passing down a weapon with the power to stop Dracula from generation to generation called the Vampire Killer. It's a whip that kills vampires, thus its name. The current owner of the whip is none other than Simon Belmont, a dude proficient at whipping. It's time for Simon to use his spectacular whipping powers to stop the Count's treachery. To do so, he will have to make a short journey through the countryside of Transylvania to get to Dracula's castle, aptly named Castlevania. This will be no easy feat, but if anyone can do it, Simon Belmont can. Any story that involves beating up vampires with a whip is a good one.

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Seeing as how Simon Belmont is the protagonist of this game, that's the guy you control. Castlevania IV brings with it some massive changes to the general mechanics established in previous Castlevania games. Let's start with some of the simple changes first. Simon is a lot more maneuverable than the previous Belmonts, in that his jumps are no longer of a fixed length. That means you can alter the velocity of Simon's jumps while he's in mid air, making any sections involving platforms much easier. You can also walk around while ducking, which is surprisingly useful for certain situations. Another small, but cool thing you can do is jump onto a staircase, something you couldn't do in the previous games. Again, all of these things are small changes, but they are very welcome. The biggest change, however, is in the attack department. Simon has a whip, as you know, and this acts as his primary means of dishing out damage. In the previous games, Belmonts could only swing their whips straight forward, but in Castlevania IV, Simon can swing his whip in all eight directions. This has a huge impact on the game play, as it allows for a lot of flexibility. There's nothing more satisfying than swinging your whip diagonally up or diagonally down to hit enemies that used to be out of reach. That's not all of the new things the whip can do, either. If you hold down the button, Simon will dangle the whip in front of him. At this point, you can use the d-pad to fling the whip around, which doesn't do much damage, but is great at deflecting projectiles. Flinging the whip around via this method allows you to hit in more than eight directions, too. The only downside to all of this is that the whip is a bit overpowered now, so the sub-weapons that return from previous Castlevanias are no longer useful. Of course, the whip is so much fun to play with that this imbalance doesn't really matter. Castlevania IV greatly improves on the core mechanics of the series.

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Level design is where Castlevania IV truly shines. Like in Castlevania III, you start outside of Dracula's castle and must slowly make your way there. Each level is a linear jaunt from the start to the end with plenty of baddies to whip in between. Stage gimmicks show up every once in a while to spice up the action, and they're usually pretty cool. The best one has to be these hooks where Simon can use his whip as a grappling hook and swing around like Tarzan. It's not something that shows up terribly often in the game, but it's a lot of fun when it does. The game also tries to show off the SNES' Mode-7 effects as much as possible, doing so in various ways. One of the best examples is this stage later in the game that consists of rooms that rotate around as Simon hangs off a hook with his whip. The effect not only looks impressive, but it makes for a neat gimmick. I don't think I need to mention that all the stages have fantastic music accompanying them, definitely some of the best music in the series. There are quite a large number of stages this time around, so the game has a pretty good length to it. Upon actually getting to Dracula's castle, you still have a long ways to go before getting to the dreaded count, as the castle itself is comprised of many additional stages. The game also gets a lot harder around this point, but you wouldn't expect any less from Dracula's castle. Castlevania IV has stage design strong enough to keep you coming back for more even after you've seen it all. That kind of design is the mark of a true classic.

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Bosses are pretty rockin' in Castlevania IV. There is one at the end of every stage, and you earn an orb for defeating them, in typical Castlevania fashion. Sometimes the game will have mini-bosses during long stages, as well. Regardless, the bosses in this game range from great to super great. You know a game is awesome when the first boss is a skeleton riding some four legged skeletal beast that spits fireballs at its adversaries. There are also medusas, hydras, and various other mythical creatures. Castlevania has always had a lot of variety when it comes to enemies and bosses, and Castlevania IV also has that going for it. Naturally, Mode-7 is used to great effect in some of the boss fights, such as this golem boss that starts out big, but becomes smaller each time you hit it. My favorite is probably the hydra boss, as it consists of you negotiating with multiple hydra heads that breathe fire while you try not to fall into the deadly pit below. It's quite challenging and quite fun. Many bosses are creative, too. An example is a giant bat boss that is comprised purely of gold coins. You fight him in Dracula's gold storage, kind of like the money bin that Scrooge McDuck swims in, and I've never seen a boss quite like this. The final boss is slightly anticlimactic, though, but the rest of the bosses are so good that it makes up for that. Chances are good that you'll come away from Castlevania IV with a few favorite bosses of your own.

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Castlevania IV is an excellent game for excellent people. It's got great graphics, great music, great levels, great bosses, and is all around great. Simon's new movement capabilities and his flexible whipping skills greatly enhance the game's fun factor, as it adds a lot of depth to the game's core mechanics. The sub-weapons do take a hit as a result of this, but who cares when you're having fun. That fun will last you for a good while, too, because Castlevania IV is fairly long for a linear platform game. There are passwords that let you continue from where you last left off if you can't finish the game in one go. Also, there's an extra hard difficulty mode if you beat the game once, which is something else that can add replay value. The game is good enough to replay even without extra incentives, though. Super Castlevania IV is a super good time and one of the best games on the SNES. A testament to its greatness is that people still talk about it over twenty years after its release. Now that's a timeless classic.

Word Count: 1,584

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