If you have been following my last reviews for the Castlevania-games, you can see that it did not have the best progression. While the first entry on the NES still stands as a classic in my opinion, the others could not reach its standards and often fell flat due to underdeveloped experiments or simply not refining the original concept. With Castlevania 3 actually focusing on what made the original great, could the series go out with a bang on the NES?
Castlevania 1 on steroids
This time you control Trevor Belmont, another ancestor of Simon and Christopher who is out once again to battle the horror that has resurrected for the earliest time so far, including the count himself. Trevor controls basically like Simon did in the first Castlevania for the NES, with stiff jumps, a whip that can be upgraded twice and sub-weapons that will help once again.
Taking a small note from the more nonlinear entries, you will at times meet a fork in the road where you can choose which area to traverse through. One might take you onward to another path, a shortcut or to a boss where you will acquire a new character. That is right, Trevor has understood that it is dangerous to go alone and can meet up with three different characters. First of is Grant, who has actual free movement in his jumps, is fast and can climb on walls and ceiling and even throw sub-weapons while clinging onto them. His attack is a fast, but short ranged dagger. Sypha, a mage, also has terribly short melee-attacks and is weak, but his/her sub-weapons, being magical fire, ice and electric orbs, are incredibly strong, making him/her ideal for bosses and tough encounters. Finally, there is Alucard, the son of Dracula, who wants to stop his father. His normal-attacks are long-ranged Balls of Destruction and can be upgraded 2 times to throw 3 balls at the same time. He can also turn into a bat and fly around as long as he has hearts to spare.
Trevor is the strongest and has the best defense, so everyone feels balanced and useful. Changing characters can be done on the fly, by simply pressing select. You can only have one other companion with you, so you will have to pick your partner carefully. It is possible to beat the game with only Trevor, but that is not ideal. The characters also share health, which will make the game more challenging. In fact, this might be the hardest Castlevania-game for the NES. The levels are diverse with a clock tower where you will jump across moving gears, water-filled castle-parts, breakable platforms and what might be the one thing that will make it worse: the stairs. There are a bunch of them this time and they did not refine traversing them, with sub-weapons being hard to aim while on them, not being able to climb fast and enemies being relentless. The enemies can deal a lot of damage, have unique patterns and attacks to them, and often come in packs. Nothing is unfair, but it can be overwhelming, especially with the checkpoints being stingy and enemies dealing more damage as you get closer to the end.
The journey is a lengthy one as well, with more and longer stages, and deaths being common. Luckily, you still have unlimited continues and a password-system, so you will never have to do it all in one go, even if it is possible. The easiest part of this game, oddly enough, are the bosses. While they can deal a lot of damage and still be a challenge, they are designed around our heroes’ movesets and have patterns that are memorable, such as when Frankenstein will toss a block towards you or make parts of the ceiling fall on you. All are based on classic horror-creatures and are a joy to fight.
The game expands on the original with more of everything: more characters, more stages, more unique platforms and unfortunately: more frustration. If they dropped the stairs and made the enemies just a tad more manageable, it would have gone much further. As it stands: it still provides a great time, with a lot of great improvements.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Like a starry night
This might be the most beautiful game on the NES, with stages being colorful with lovely backgrounds, good character and enemy-designs, and everything being amazingly detailed. Even the backgrounds have good animations to them, with the clock tower being perhaps most impressive with tons of spinning gears.
The soundtrack is also really impressive (like I have stated in just about every entry so far), with tunes going from dark and atmospheric, to action-packed and intense. All are memorable, enjoyable, and some of the best you will find for the system. The sound effects with screams, attacks and so on, are all well done and nothing sounds poor.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Different take each time
With different endings depending on characters you bring or not, branching paths, and the characters changing up how you play the game in general, there is a lot of reasons to take on this journey more than once. It can be at times overwhelming and harsh as stated, but definitely enjoyable enough to take on the count one more time.
Extra Score: 8/10
Castlevania 3 took the best parts of previous entries and based its core-mechanics on the original, and it succeeded for the most part. It is not perfect, but it is definitely the best Castlevania-game for the NES and one of the best games for the system. If you want an easier time however and are a sucker for better visuals and sound-chips, I would recommend tracking down the japanese-version as it has a lot of differences that makes it worth a look.