You just knew this had to be on the list, didn’t you?
Is there any game more Halloween-y than Castlevania? Perhaps, but we’ll get to that. Konami’s whippin’-good classic for the Nintendo Entertainment System is one of my favorites, though I’ll freely admit it’s more for nostalgic purposes than anything else.
With great graphics and a superb soundtrack, Castlevania was basically what it was like if someone watched a Universal Monsters marathon, stood up at the end, and said “no more” as they headed for the backlot. As Simon Belmont, vampire hunter, you go through the castle of Count Dracula in order to put the evil Count down for a three-count. Along the way, however, you’re accosted by pretty much every other villainous monster from movie history and beyond, ranging from low-level zombies, fishmen, and bats to the larger vampire bats, mummies, Frankenstein’s monster (with Igor in tow), Medusa, and even the Grim Reaper himself.
Fortunately, though you’re alone, you’re also moderately well-equipped. In addition to your standard Vampire Killer whip that can be upgraded twice into more of a morning star for both range and power, you can also pick up items such as arcing battle axes, swift daggers, boomeranging crosses, watches that stop time, and the fiery explosions that come from hurling a bottle of holy water at your foes. You can find these weapons and other items within the candles and walls of the run-down estate the Count calls home, which one would think could have better upkeep between all the money and treasure laying about and the dedicated workforce.
Unlike later games in the series, you can see above how the original game plays up the Hollywood element with a filmstrip-like decoration across the top and bottom of the title screen, an element that would persist on the NES but be dropped in later years. Few sights in gaming are as iconic to me as the following animation of Simon strolling up to the gates of the titular castle, ready to knock some heads.
The only problem? Much as I like the game, I was just never very good at it. To me, it’s perhaps the hardest of all Castlevania games, save maybe the crappy one on the Game Boy I never played (but was remade for WiiWare as Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth). I wasn’t as bad as whoever made the attract mode for the game, but I don’t get too very far when I play — I think I made it to Stage 3 once, possibly to the end?
Still, it’s not so much a case of poor design as simply being “Nintendo hard.” A well-practiced and skilled player can clear the entire game in about half an hour. That may not seem like a very long time, but you try doing so on your first, second, or even 50th time. As the saying goes, “it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.” And this journey is by no means a short one.
I’ve got this one on the Wii Virtual Console so I can boot it up, soak in its charm, and soon enough remember why I’d rather focus my energies on pretty much any other installment in the series. But I’ll never give it up.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.