Consoleation Revisitation: Super Castlevania IV (SNES)
Late last year, I took a brief look back at Super Castlevania IV, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of its release here in the United States. With Halloween approaching, I decided to revisit Super Castlevania IV and see if I was still up to the challenge of taking Dracula down nearly 21 years after playing it for the first time. It was a fun journey to take, and I covered it on Twitter and via photos on Instagram. Super Castlevania IV still holds up as one of the best games in the series, though issues with slowdown and some overly frustrating sections fed some doubt into my opinion in my piece last year that the game was “fair” with challenge.
One of the notable things about Super Castlevania IV to me is that the first half of the game covers Simon Belmont’s perilous journey to Dracula’s castle. By the time the castle door is reached, Simon has already faced significant challenges. It’s a small victory just to get that far– and then the game really begins as Simon battles his way through rooms including the castle library, dungeon, and treasure chamber. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I consider to be the best game of the series, takes place almost entirely within Dracula’s castle. While there’s plenty of exploration inside of the labyrinthine take on the castle in Symphony of the Night, I did miss that sense of “the journey” that Super Castlevania IV gave to players.
The other thing that still stands out for me is the use of Mode 7 graphics. There are three areas where Mode 7 really shines. The first is Block 4-2, which I like to call the Rotating Room. When I got Simon to the whip holder and held on, despite knowing what was coming next, I was still impressed with seeing the room rotate and then having Simon battle that annoying group of Medusa Heads. It’s a tense moment; the platform that Simon stands on is pretty narrow and one hit from a stray Medusa Head usually sends the vampire hunter falling to his death. Block 4-3 is the Spinning Room, which is meant to give players the illusion of being on a walkway inside of a spinning cylinder. Unfortunately, the relatively slow clock speed of the Super Nintendo’s CPU leads to a chugging frame rate in this room. Everything seems to move at half-speed. We tended to overlook this a bit more back in 1991, but in 2012, it’s much more difficult to ignore. The last major use of Mode 7 takes place in the second half of Block 6-1. Simon must jump across giant swinging chandeliers, and there’s definitely some tension here because a misstep or failed jump sends Simon all the way back to the start of the block, which is tough to navigate without taking at least some damage.
Slowdown doesn’t happen all the time in Super Castlevania IV, but when it does, it can have negative effects on gameplay. The treasure chamber in Block 9-1 has platforms made of gold that disintegrate as Simon crosses them. As this happens, the frame rate drops significantly and response time for jumps and attacks dips as well. Some adjustment in timing is required to get through this block, but a few cheap deaths can result while making this adjustment. If you’re going for a high score or trying to beat the game with no continues, these cheap deaths can be very frustrating. It actually took me a few continues to learn the adjustment and apply it. Block 9-1 is just one example of this slowdown; there are other areas where it’s noticeable as well, if not also at least somewhat hampering to gameplay. It doesn’t break the game or make it unplayable, but it’s certainly worth mentioning after a full playthrough in terms of impressions and what was taken from the overall experience.
I did have some nagging difficulty with a few sections of the game. These occurred during the second half of play, inside of the castle. I already mentioned Block 9-1, which was frustrating on a few levels. The slowdown problem was part of it, but there were also instances of classic platform cheapness where enemies appeared in the exact spot that Simon head to jump to, leading to his getting hit and knocked backwards to his death. Block A-1, the Clock Tower, was more of an exercise in trial-and-error in terms of (re)learning where obstacles were and exact timing for certain platforming sequences. Block B-2 was also trying; collapsing stairs meant death if Simon made one wrong move, and then floating platforms late in the stage took practice to learn and predict movement.
I was surprised that I had relatively little trouble with the boss battles until late in the game. In fact, I had breezed through most of them until the last four. Slogra proved difficult until I picked up its pattern of movement, and it got harder when Slogra changed its attack to its charge after its life bar had been depleted halfway. When I did get past Slogra, I only had one hit point left and the next boss, Gaibon, killed me quickly. Then came Death, who gave me the hardest time of all. I blew through no less than ten lives trying to dispatch Dracula’s right hand demon, and a lot of those were because I could not figure out the correct pattern. Aside from boomerang-like sickles (which drain Simon’s health meter quickly with repeat impacts), Death also has a two-pronged gravity and scythe attack that can do some major damage if the correct evasive tactics aren’t followed. As for Dracula, I actually had little problem taking him down. My memory kicked in and I followed the strategy that I used over 20 years ago. I did lose one life, but that wasn’t bad.
Playing through Super Castlevania IV was a generally enjoyable experience for me, despite the flaws that came up. I do cut it a little slack, given the age of the game and the hardware that it was developed for. The slowdown is bothersome and the cheap deaths can be a bit annoying, but the game overcomes those problems. The music is still some of the best in a Castlevania game (Sorry, Michiru Yamane), and there is a definite sense of accomplishment that you feel when the credits roll. There aren’t any difficulty settings or sliders here; if you beat the game, you beat the best that it could throw at you– especially in the later stages.
Feel free to share some of your Super Castlevania IV experiences or opinions in the comments section below. If you haven’t played it in awhile, why not give it a spin and compare notes with mine? I’d love to hear what you think.
Bonus: Below is a slideshow of the pictures that I took during my Super Castlevania IV experience. I played the game on my GxTV using the original cartridge in my SNES and snapped the shots using my iPhone 4S. I thought it would be neat to share these images with you. I hope you like them!