Later this year we will lucky enough to see one of the major milestones in gaming. 2016 will see the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter 2, as well as the 35th anniversary of the first appearance of Mario (and Donkey Kong as well). One more game has to be added to that list of legendary games. A game that, just like those, has a pedigree that has weathered the ravages of time. As of this writing (March 2016), the Castlevania series is in it’s twenty-ninth year running. This September (September 26th to be exact), the Castlevania series will celebrate a whopping thirty years of existence. Just to put that amount of years for a series to have been around let’s take the Simpsons (one of my favorite television shows out there). That show, while seemingly feeling like it has been around forever, first made it’s television debut (as its own series) in 1989. A full three years after Castlevania had already been released in Japan. The Simpson’s though, just like the Castlevania series is still around today, and it has undergone a variety of incarnations. Some have been good, while others have gone straight to the bargain bin (Castlevania Judgement anyone?). But, there is one game that, when released, breathed new life into the franchise, and would elevate its status into the stratosphere. This game would forever go down in the annals of gaming history and would be known as Super Castlevania IV.
When the Super Nintendo was first announced, there was a lot of excitement in the air. Gaming was becoming more and more popular as the days passed and the promise of being able to play some of your favorite Nintendo games in 16-bits (you heard that right) was just fantastic. So, when Super Castlevania was first announced, it was easy to see that people were really excited. But, as excited as people were, it would have never prepared them for what was to come. You see, I grew up with 8-bit gaming, and was excited every time a new Master System game was released. Yes, I unlike a lot of kids I knew growing up, I had a Sega Master System. While the story there is one for another time, one thing I can say is that, while those games looked and played amazing, the newer systems were on their way to display the latest and greatest gaming tech. The Genesis and the Super Nintendo would enhance the experience of playing games like nothing had before them. The graphics, the sound, and the sensations delivered would be upped from the previous generation of consoles and audiences would be treated to the next level of gaming. No one game exemplified this next step more than that of Super Castlevania IV. Bosses would be more menacing, medusa heads would be better looking, and all the details that you probably would have never gotten in the NES originals began to appear here. Having that extra graphical flair was just one more added bonus to an otherwise stellar game.
Released in the US on December 4, 1991, Super Castlevania (IV) would be the next in the series and promised to up the stakes. While it may seem pretty easy to scoff at things like that now, you have to understand that in the late eighties into the mid-nineties the internet was for many, a pipedream. Because of that, one of the ways you got gaming news were from gaming magazines. Magazines such as Gamepro, Nintendo Power and several others were one’s only source for video game release dates and info. Castlevania may have been talked about at the time, but, it was easy for kids’ imaginations to run wild. But, who would have imagined what these new games would bring. It was always a gamble when getting a game. But, thankfully, getting the opportunity to experience Super Castlevania would prove to be a most welcome experience.
I have many fond memories of this game, and undoubtedly I’m sure many of you do as well (or, at least I think so). Looking back now, like any games that leave an impression on you, it’s not just one thing that makes it stand out. It’s that combination of gaming experiences that would make it special. The first time you fire this game up it was easy to see what had been changed since the previous gen. Everything had been upgraded from previous installments. As it was, the very first thing you see before the game introduction is the Konami logo, and that was already looking a lot better than before. The next scene after that is a slow pan up to the new game logo. All the while lightning crackles in the background and a host of insects crawl around the screen. The graphics were both dark and moody and would showcase some the new capabilities of the Super NES. Throughout 11 stages, players would be treated to multiple levels of parallax scrolling (when you layer multiple planes of art to simulate depth of field), rooms that would rotate and scale, and special effects would be even more vibrant with an expanded color palette. While I may hate these enemies, the medusa heads had never looked so good until this iteration of Castlevania. Needless to say, the visuals were far superior to their previous iterations and we would celebrate in its light.
The music. Oh gosh the music. Castlevania, ever since its first game had always been known for having fantastic music. Always playing on themes and chords that, while simple, would resonate with the player. The series could have gone the route of horror themed music, but, thankfully, they took a more melodic approach to its style. And, even though the tunes in the original NES lineup were great, hearing it through the Super NES’s upgraded sound chips was even harder hitting. This Castlevania is, in essence, a recreation of the NES original game, and seeing and hearing the music through the new console was like falling in love all over again. The music is just as catchy and, at times somber. The song during the opening starts off slow and one note at a time begins to set the tone of the game. Everything up until the moment you cross the draw bridge is slow and moody. But, the moment you cross that bridge, the game and the music catapults you into the world of Castlevania. It’s at that moment that you know this is going to be bad ass. If you somehow weren’t convinced up until this moment, then, this is where you know that the ‘ish’ is about to get real. When that music starts pumping the only thing you know is your journey towards Dracula is on like Donkey Kong.
The pace of the whole game is probably one of its greatest strengths. Not content with boring players with the same old thing, this game is constantly challenging its user. Enemies come at you fast and furious, and not once ever let up. The game is also not just a simple side scroller also. Unlike many games until that point, the simple just take your character from the left of the a level and go right just wouldn’t do for the 16-bit era. There are levels that have you controlling Simon (Belmont) through cemeteries, riding on falling logs, climbing up castles and even rooms that are constantly rotating. Enemies of all types and from different lores are there to stop you from reaching Dracula. At the time it was a real showcase for the Super Nintendo. The amazing thing was, that the capabilities shown were at the beginning of the system’s life, and so we were treated to an experience that we had not seen before. Player controls were also spot on, and while somewhat more complex than previous outings, the precision of moving your character around was tightened up. While there had been been previous incarnations of the game before, it wasn’t until this one that we had seen this level of control. You could move in all of the same directions as before, but, now you have full control of your weapon. The whip. The iconic weapon of the Belmont clan is now fully at your control. You can whip and destroy your enemies in any direction. The ability to attack in all directions is innately satisfying and a welcome addition to the game.
This was one of the last of the Castlevania games that was to be played in the traditional style, before the Metroid style (or Metroidvania as some people call it) was adopted. While there was a pseudo sequel named Dracula X (Rondo of Blood) for the Turbografx and later Super Nintendo, the way that Castlevania was played would never go back to it’s original playing style. Well, then again, there was Castlevania Chronicles, but, that that wouldn’t be released until 1993 and wouldn’t be available to North America (and the world for that matter) until 2001. Either way, it was only in this game where you would have full movement of your whip, and the freedom to attack how you wanted. It is considered by many to be one of the last pure Castlevania games. SCIV would be one of the last games in the series that would be unfettered by extra playing dynamics and quirkiness that would become hallmarks of the series in years to come. Though not necessarily a bad thing (need I even mention how awesome this would later play out in Symphony of the Night?), the true experience of the game was cemented in this particular title.
Now, nearly twenty five years after its release, Super Castlevania IV has cemented its spot as one of the best SNES games ever, and it’s a classic that just deserves to be enjoyed. It is one of those games that you know the developers enjoyed making. Any labor of love such as this deserves to be enjoyed as the developers intended. So, turn the lights down low, pop this cartridge into the port, power up your Super Nintendo, grab a hot plate of Totino’s Pizza Rolls and enjoy the ride. From that opening logo to the image of the tombstone getting hit by lightning, the ride through this adventure is like none other that you will come across. Even now, after all these years playing this gives me satisfaction that only the fairest games can do. I can’t wait to pop this one back in and take on Dracula one more time. And if history has anything to say about it, this won’t be the last time. Such is the players life in Super Castlevania IV.
Words and Photos By Daniel Navarrete
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This article was prepared or accomplished by Daniel Navarrete in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spektrum Magazine, or its affiliates.