I love me some Castlevania, I talk about the classic linear games an awful lot and I hold them in high regard as examples of superb 2D platforming with great level design, enemy placement, and a strong emphasis on utilizing the intentional flaws in the controls into pinpoint execution. Well, except for Simon's Quest, where the same 'Vania meta didn't apply. Then there's Super Castlevania IV, widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, entry in the series, and a standout title on the SNES. I still think it falls behind Dracula's Curse and Bloodlines. I do enjoy this game, but aspects about it bug me a little.
Developed and published by Konami in 1991, Super Castlevania ups the presentation tenfold with amazing music supervision and enhanced visuals powered by Mode 7 that provides awesome OST, bigger bosses, and a showcase of some of the most impressive graphics early in the life of the Super Nintendo. This is one of those games that was very jaw dropping when shown on the weekly GamePro series and for kids who may have only had an NES at the time would cause a great deal of salivation. Super Castlevania IV (or just Super Castlevania. or Castlevania IV...it's complicated. Stupid end labels) truly hammered home the "Super" in many a SNES game. As a game, it's amazing. As a successor to Castlevania, I found myself more attached to the NES trilogy. Again, not to take anything away from 'Vania IV, there's just some things about the gameplay that made matters easier and more accessible. Mind you, this doesn't mean Super 'Vania is a cakewalk, but decisions made about how it's approached have been streamlined.
For instance, one of the pieces of the core game design in previous Castlevania entries was how tied to your success the alt weapons are. Simon's whip, which had a was never always the best option for clearing enemies from your path, had a clunky delay and star-up to it. The Holy Water dispatched frantic hopping Hunchbacks. A well-timed Boomerang Cross cleared Medusa Heads and their stupid wavy pattern. The arc from the Throwing Axe took care of overhead flying foes like crows and eagles adequately. Understanding the balances of Simon's alt weapons made planning out the trek through Dracula's castle very integral and memorable.
I never felt that kind of paramount choice for me in Super Castlevania. The whip is so powerful, so fast, and can attack in eight directions, it's the most viable asset available! You CAN use the secondary weapons, it's not like they're completely useless, but their necessity isn't quite as impactful as 'Vanias 1 and 3, so they feel more like a luxury than a solution.
It can also be felt in the enemy placement and level design, I feel like Super Castlevania is way more like the arcade counterpart Haunted Castle basted in the flavors of the previous games. Most monsters generally come straight at you and the first couple of levels are pretty simple, but this picks up in intensity about midway through and it gets pretty fierce. Spikes become among your worst enemies, some platform jumps can be incredibly stubborn, and the obstacles become demanding. It doesn't reach the same levels of as frustrating as Dracula's Curse, but Super Castlevania turns into one hell of an endurance round in the later half.
The soundtrack is fantastic, some of the arrangements from past games coming through the Super Nintendo's sound system is beautiful on the ears. The haunting atmosphere is felt throughout with crisp sound effects. Veteran Kenichi Matsubara's composition of bloody Tears on the SNES just a work of art.
I do like Super Castlevania quite a bit. While I don't hold it in as high a regard as the others of the 8 and 16 bit era, it's nonetheless satisfying and worth pumping some time into. I guess my biggest criticism is it really brings nothing new to the table. Most of the SNES sequels to previous NES games had a monumental leap to advance the foundation of their predecessors. Mega Man X, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, so much new was added to these games, they felt like generational advancements. Super Castlevania added a neat swing trick with the whip and that's the only thing different. That might be more harsh than it intends on sounding. It's pretty dang good. Just, not that kind of good. Or not the kind of Castlevania good I like.
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