Castlevania was released on the NES in 1986, unlike a lot of Konami’s other franchises, this one started on a home console and not in the Arcade, and unlike a lot of other NES games, this game had unlimited continues, as well as gorgeous graphics, and an amazing soundtrack with some incredibly iconic compositions, but what made it all come together is the gameplay, which that alone contributed to its uniqueness and it really stood out amongst the other franchises.
The game was directed by Hitoshi Akamatsu, whom having an admiration for films, decided to take a more cinematic approach with the game, giving it the feel of a classic horror film, he even credited himself as Trans Fishers, a reference to film director Terence Fisher, although the main reason he didn’t use his real name was because Konami did not allow the use of real names at the time to avoid other companies hiring their staff, having the protagonist, Simon Belmont, wield a whip was inspired by the hit film Raiders of the Lost Ark and generally matched the world of Castlevania. In 1986, Castlevania was released on the Family Computer Disk System, and a later released on the NES in North America, Castlevania was a huge success.
The year is 1691, Dracula has once again been resurrected, and it is up to Simon Belmont, descendant of the Belmont clan, to kill Dracula with the Vampire Killer, the whip that the Belmont clan has used and passed down for generations in the Belmont Family. In the game the player travels throughout various points in the castle from the castle’s entrance all the way up to the grand staircase. The first stage starts off at the entrance as mentioned previously before going into the Interior of the castle which makes up a good chunk of the stage. The second stage has the player ascending the castle’s floors. In the third stage the player is on the exterior of the castle, and at a great height. Then in the fourth stage the player falls into the underground of the Castle. Then in the fifth stage they are in a dungeon, and with the sixth and final stage, they are in the clock tower. Then at the Grand Staircase where they fight Dracula. What I like about it is that it is interconnected and is made even more so with the map. I like how it explores other stage themes other than being just inside the castle, like outside of the castle, underneath the castle, and in the inner mechanisms of the Clock Tower. It adds a lot of variety across the adventure, and the visuals have a lot of texture and detail which further helps with the distinct theming of the stages.
The graphics are amazing for NES standards, it has fantastic texture, detail and it uses colors that contrast well with each other. The result is a game that looks visually gorgeous, and each stage is distinct from one another. The music is another huge part of the Castlevania series, and here the soundtrack is just as memorable and iconic as the later games in the series. The whole soundtrack is memorable, Wicked Child, Stalker, Heart of Fire, Out of Time, and of course, the most iconic track in the series, Vampire Killer. This song is one of my absolute favorites and is so well composed, and incredibly memorable, overall, the soundtrack is fantastic, and iconic.
The player starts at the castle entrance, but there are no enemies which allows the player to get a feel of the controls. Right off the bat Simon is slow only strutting and mid-air momentum is completely locked, meaning that when the player jumps left for example, they cannot at all change the direction of the jump until landing on the ground. All of this is intentional as the game design is built with these controls in mind. Also found in the castle entrance are candles that can be whipped. Some of them contain bags of money that increases the player’s score, or hearts which act as ammunition, or five sub weapons, more on that later. The game is broken up into only 6 stages, and while that is a short amount, they are not easy, which leads into the most infamous thing about the game, the difficulty. This game is incredibly difficult, the first stage is moderate with a few pits only in one room and fairly easy enemies, but then the second stage ramps up the difficulty with even more pits, and the Medusa heads. These creatures wave up and down, that doesn’t sound so bad, but they do spawn frequently. With only the limited jump is hard to master, and then the 3rd stage bumps it up with the Flea Men. The Flea Men jump directly at the player, and can kill Simon really quickly, especially in numerous amounts, and the difficulty escalates from there. It isn’t all bad though, it will take time, but the player will eventually be able to learn the patterns of the enemies and stage layouts and react accordingly. If the player manages to attack the Flea Men when they hit the ground they can be taken care of relatively quickly. If the player lines themselves up with the Medusa heads’ arc then they can dodge the attacks with relative ease. The game has unlimited continues, so if the player gets a game over they only get sent back to the beginning of a level, so they can keep on trying until they are good enough to beat it and move on to the next stage.
In addition to the whip, the player can also carry one of five weapons to use as an alternate method of attack compared to the whip. The first sub weapon is the dagger which travels across the screen until it hits an enemy. The Axe is thrown in an arc and can hit multiple enemies in a row. The pocket watch stops time, but it does not work on boss fights. The cross behaves like a boomerang because it returns to the player after reaching a certain distance from the player. It travels across the screen like the dagger and hits multiple enemies in a row like the Axe. Lastly, the Holy Water is thrown in an arc like the axe, though it’s much lower than that, and it bursts into a small flame upon impact that can inflict a lot of hits while stunning the enemy. Along with the sub weapons, there are upgrades that can be found with the roman numeral two (and three) on it. What they do is increase the amount of times the player can throw the sub weapon they have by two or three times.
The Bosses are based off of the Horror icons. The first boss is the bat which swoops for the player in an attempt to attack them. This fight is a demonstration of how useful the axe can be as it, as stated earlier, can be thrown in an arc to hit the bat. The Medusa Head is incredibly easy, even with the whip. The boss sends projectiles and homes in towards the player. The Mummy is just as easy, if you kneel then you can whip them and whip the projectiles with little effort. The Frankenstein makes a huge jump in difficulty, the part that makes it so difficult is the Flea man which, as stated earlier, has erratic jumping patterns. Then there is Death which makes another huge jump in difficulty. Although if the player has the holy water they can cheese the boss with it.
At the end the player comes face to face with Count Dracula himself, and the fight has the player dodging the projectiles. The player has to hit Dracula’s head in order to damage him. The projectiles can be whipped, though the player still needs to be in the proper position to whip it. Dracula can also teleport, and where he appears next is random. There was a good rhythm of jumping and whipping Dracula while avoiding his projectiles. After defeating Dracula, he reveals his second form. It is the same as before but instead of teleporting he now jumps across the room. It is more difficult than the first form and it is a really intense fight and one that will definitely keep the player on their toes. After delivering the final hit Dracula is defeated and then the castle crumbles. What follows is the credits and the names are parodies of famous actors in the horror movie genre.