I often try to share my enjoyment in both games and series with my sister, as she does the same to me. We often discuss and talk about these interests, and while we have our different tastes, we still have good arguments for our points of view and respect each other’s preferences. However, I remembered how impressed I was when I noticed how much she actually enjoyed Super Castlevania 4. It is clearly a favorite among many and I still enjoy it as well. But why?
Possibly the first reimagining I encountered
We take control of Simon Belmont once again and it is up to him to defeat Dracula. Yes, the plot is as simple as the original for the NES, since this is a reimagining of the original. I say reimagining, as there are plenty of enormous changes to this title, with the biggest similarity being that this is a linear side-scroller, with boss fights breaking up levels. First of, our hero has gotten a huge upgrade from his first entry on the NES. He can move his jump in midair, jump on stairs, duck walk, and swing with his whip from certain hooks, making him more versatile than ever before. Including this, he can also now whip in 8 directions with good reach, hold the attack-button for the ability to twirl it around, which blocks projectiles or give continuous damage to enemies by simply letting them touch it. It is made out of holy materials after all, so it makes sense.
This makes Simon quite fun to control as he can take out enemies with ease and jump with good accuracy, thanks to these upgrades. The sub-weapons are also back, such as daggers, the boomerang-cross, holy water, axes, and the stopwatch. They are used by pressing the R-button and you collect hearts as ammo like before. However, I never had use for the subweapons until 2 parts in the late game. This is because our hero is a bit stronger than he needs to be, thanks to the ability to whip in any direction, the whip’s strength, and how much reach it has. This also leads to the enemies becoming less of a threat and, as such, their varied movements and attacks become close to forgettable. They are still a clear obstacle and can still give you knockbacks or even kill if you are rushing through the levels, but an average gamer shouldn’t have much issues with them until the last parts of the game, especially when you realize you can stun enemies by simply waving the whip in front of their faces and even block projectiles with this technique.
What helps this mixed element, are the levels themselves. Not all levels are equally creative, but all are enjoyable due to levels that are both horizontal and vertical, making you have to traverse all over the place. Those that go the extra mile really shine, such as the clocktower with spinning gears, jumping on moving chandeliers, or the stage where you must climb up a waterfall with hooks to swing from. All are fun and have memorable layouts, making each stage become interesting and enjoyable to traverse through. Even those that don’t share the later stages’ creativity, are still good thanks to the excellent difficulty-curve and having platforming being the main-focus.
Each stage ends with a bossfight or even include one in the middle. They are quite fun fights, but while all have their unique strategy and layout, they aren’t necessarily gradually difficult. This is minor however, as there are only a few bosses where it was easier to attack continuously than move around. 2 bosses towards the end are incredibly challenging however, with one of them demanding pinpoint accuracy, making it feel unfinished. Speaking of which, the game’s challenge is usually a good one, and while easier than the average Castlevania-game and takes about an hour and maybe a half more to finish, it is still good that a password-feature is offered should you need it.
Super Castlevania 4 is definitely great in its mechanics. Simon is incredibly fun to control, and the levels are varied and intriguing. But because of his strong whip, the sub-weapons become useless and most enemies are just sort of there, making it a bit mixed in its design. I even forgot the invincibility and enemy-clear items you can pick up because of this. However, it is a blast from start to finish, even if one boss can be an annoyance.
Gameplay score: 8.5/10
Entering the 16-bits with style
From the entrance at the castle’s gates, through the gardens, maddening forest, caves, and to the castle itself, Super Castlevania 4 has a grand variety to offer for a game that takes place in just one location. Each area has a lot of details in the fore- and background, such as the library having moving books, bats fly from a skull-shaped cave in the far distance, wines flourishing around bars as they appear and plenty more, making it truly feel like a cursed land.
Enemies offer even more gothic material, being quite detailed as well, with each area having some different monsters to offer. Ghouls, dancing ghosts, floating eyeballs and bosses like the mummy, Hydra, and Grim Reaper are all a sights to behold and lovely represent gothic creatures you might be familiar with. The entire game is filled with plenty of colors and imagination. Since we are on the Super Nintendo, mode 7 is also well utilized here, giving the illusion of 3D, with one stage even having a spinning hallway, making me almost creeped out when an enemy jumps in from the background. Multilayered backgrounds and the effects of environmental elements such as waterfalls and fogs are impressive, with areas that are diverse and gives you more than just similar-looking backgrounds. This makes it a great showcase for what the SNES could offer on a technical and imaginative level.
The soundtrack has gotten a 16-bit upgrade, with plenty of both atmospheric tunes and some rhythmic and memorable ones. They contain many instruments well, such as trumpets, piano, violins and more, which is quite an impressive feat. There are even pieces from the 3 NES-games reused for this instalment and all are in glorious SNES-tone. However, due to some pieces being more energetic and having variations, the more atmospheric tunes become overshadowed, which is a shame as they are lovely tunes. It is not at all a bad soundtrack, but it is an example of how different styles can make one shine brighter than the others. This makes it uneven, but they still all fit the stages they are used for perfectly, despite that there might be 4 tunes that are more memorable than the majority.
What are some more noticeable flaws, is the framerate which takes a hit when there are plenty of enemies on the screen, and adding to this, is one boss that flashes each time you hit it, which is an eyesore and I worry it might give someone an epilepsy-attack. But these are rare occasions and the only flaws in an otherwise beautiful game.
Presentation Score: 9/10
If you had problems with previous entries for their stiff controls or difficulty, this one will be the game to check out. Fans will rejoice with this entry as well, as despite some minor questionable design-choices, it is still a great game in its own right and captures the style the series is known for. While not my personal favourite, it is the easiest one for newcomers to get into with how great Simon is to control, and it might become your favorite as it has fantastic style and great substance.