Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Super Castlevania IV

Halloween lurks around the corner and it makes me think of the days of yore. Ah the days of yore!  And by "yore" I mean Super Nintendo, where every new entry into a familiar franchise had the "Super" label slapped on it.  To this day I wonder why Nintendo games tended to have a reminder about what system you're playing on right there in the title.  I think this is a staple of Nintendo systems with the only exception being the Gamecube.  We have Super Mario Wii U, Zombie U, Wii Fit U--it's like a weird compulsion.  Like Nintendo is saying, "Don't confuse us with that PS4 garbage!  You're playing on Wii U my friend!"

Facts are facts though:  When Super Castlevania IV came out for the Super Nintendo back in the day and I rented it, I knew this was no ordinary Castlevania, it was Super Castlevania.  Naturally this meant better sound, music, graphics, and gameplay than a mere 8 bit system could ever muster.  I was always drawn to the Castlevania series, despite having more difficulty with them then most other games.  There was something about the challenge that I absolutely loved though and the enemies you battled were second to none in the design department.  I may not have managed to beat this when I rented it, but I absolutely loved everything about it from the parallax scroll to the large character sprites and unique Super Nintendo music.  Did that love hold up over the years?


Let's face it, hearing souped up versions of old tracks can tickle your fancy.  More than that though, the original tracks in Super Castlevania IV, especially that title/intro music, have a spooky feel that's helped by the limitations of the Super Nintendo.  It could just be my own feelings on the matter, but I find a certain appeal in the other-worldly quality you get from the digital music in this game.  You know what you're hearing doesn't quite fit in with what you would consider a normal instrument, and it immediately puts you on edge--but in a good, haunting way.  I would almost say that the tone of the game would suffer if the music was capable of full orchestration.  Yeah, I know, bold claim, it could just be the nostalgia talking and my own love for the original sound.  For what it's worth though, I would take Castlevania IV's intro music over many recent AAA games' attempt at the creep factor.  Something about the midi-sounding pipe organ gives me chills in a way that violin screeches never could.


With tight controls, that wonderful whipping action, and the inability to change direction once you jump; Super Castlevania IV has all the hallmarks you come to expect from both Castlevania and Konami--before they went bat-poop crazy and decided that gambling machines and mobile was where their destiny lied.  But I digress....

In any case, the control you want and expect from Castlevania shows up, along with a new feature, that of the ability to whip in any direction.  Of course, the Belmonts' crippling weakness of flying back when poked by the smallest of rats also makes an appearance, but that doesn't detract from the great control you have over the hero.  And as for gameplay?  Castlevania still has it.  There are few games that have made the leap from system to system and generation to generation of console quite as well as the Castlevania series.  The basic goal has remained the same:  battle your way through hordes of Dracula's minions in your quest and ultimate goal of vanquishing the Count himself.  Sure the formula remains the same, but being the miserable pile of secrets that I am, I still love it.


As you would expect, everything from graphics to character design gets an upgrade from the Nintendo days.  However, I want to mention two things in particular about Super Castlevania IV that I appreciated only in passing back in the day and that catches my eye even more as an adult.  As I said before, the game gets an expected upgrade.  The fishmen look slimier, the rocks more jagged, wolves seem furrier and more menacing, and a whole host of other characters and platform sprites get the Super Nintendo treatment.  In particular now I notice minor background animations and just how much depth it truly adds to the game.  From dripping water to flickering torches to bats flying out of caves in the background--the programmers at Konami in their heyday really knew how a few minor touches could sell the atmosphere of a game.  

Final Thoughts

It's great revisiting this game for Halloween--or any time of year for that matter--the game remains one of the most solid titles around and reminds you of what Konami used to be.  I tried to rent this game and the other Castlevania games whenever Halloween rolled around.  When I wanted to get in the spirit of the season, no pun intended, I would go for those games that most reminded me of classic horror movies and fiction novels.  So what better place to go for a Halloween treat than good ol' Count Dracula?  I wasn't into the super scary stuff back then and I'm not now.  If I really wanted to be spooked I would play Dungeon Master on the Amiga--but that story is for another day. 

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