Reviewed by mdaniels26

Written 3/3/02

A brilliant beginning.

The premise of Castlevania is surely a boring one. You assume the role of a literally faceless hero and set forth to counter Dracula and his demon clan before they overtake the countryside. Then one learns that surname of our hero is Belmont, in this case Simon. While you can't look it up in Roget's, Belmont should undoubtedly be a synonym for success.

Castlevania was a sight to behold upon its release. The gothic atmosphere and ghoulish enemies that lie within the cartridge just beg to be eaten up by the player. If Halloween were real, it would be Castlevania. Bats fly out of nowhere seeking fresh Belmont blood. Black cats seem like they are just going to dash off the screen, when suddenly they turn around and before Simon can look over his shoulder, strike him from behind. Fishmen jump out of the river, trying to take Simon out from underneath, where he is probably the most vulnerable. After a few more ghosts are slaughtered, a doorway is found with an enormous bat lying motionless above it. As Simon makes his way up the stairs towards the door, the bat springs to life, and a battle with the first boss begins. It's going to take some skillful guerrilla tactics or the right artillery to bring this overgrown airborne beast down.

And it's only just begun.

Simon's enemies have a decisive advantage over him. While they move in a pattern, as most do, they are typically more nimble that Simon, who trudges through his journey at a steady slow pace. Not only are they quicker though, but when possible, they will often times walk into Simon and land such a powerful blow that he loses his footing and goes freefalling off a ledge. In fact, Simon is almost a moving target. When climbing up stairs, he loses the ability to jump, and descending stairs also poses some problems for him as he usually falls right through them. His hulk-ish nature does manage to work to his advantage though, as he can land fatal blows onto enemies with his whip, or when upgraded, a ball and chain. By striking candles with his whip, the young Belmont can reveal useful weapons such as knives and axes, a stopwatch that freezes all enemies, hearts, health replenishing roast beef and even bags of loot.

The levels are not the typical left to right affair. Paths sometimes lead you all the way to the left, only to have you climb up a set of stairs and begin a journey back to the right on a higher path. Sometimes you'll be led to a staircase that leads down a level, or for that matter, up a level. Every now and then you'll be given the choice of taking either the high road or the low road, and one may very well be easier than the other. Pits are typically not difficult to cross, but if one loses their focus for even a fraction of a second they may end up plummeting Simon to his doom. The gothic theme makes the game all the more eerie for that matter, with beautiful blends of colors that accent the age of the castle, blowing the average Super Mario Bros. castle out of the water. Perhaps the only downside to the breathtaking backgrounds is that Simon himself isn't the most handsome hero to star in a Castlevania game, although his characteristics are at least recognizable.

While nowhere close to the level it would reach in future Castlevania games, the original did manage to have some memorable tunes that have survived nearly the length of the series. Although the music doesn't take the game to a new level, it manages to go well with the mood of the game, and gives senses or urgency, achievement and courage when appropriate.

The Castlevania series is ultimately Konami's claim to fame, and the self-titled first set the standard of what was to come. The detailed backgrounds and dark invigorating music have become the trademark of the series, while the games have never lost a step in being fun, challenging experiences. Welcome to Dracula's Castle.

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