Super Castlevania IV Is Still Super
It’s hard to believe that a game such as Super Castlevania IV—stuffed with amazing moments, superb Mode-7 graphical effects, and thrilling soundtrack—is already 32 years old. It’s Konami’s first attempt to boost the Castlevania genre from 8-bit to a 16-bit console, and most of the time, the choices made were spot on—and still are. From the moment you enter the first castle gates, until the drawbridge slowly closes and the Theme of Simon Belmont track starts pumping adrenaline in your veins, you know: this is a true Castlevania classic.
Simon Belmont’s moveset has been extended somewhat compared to the latest NES entry: while jumping, you can now more accurately choose where to land, although you should not expect the fluidity of a Mario platformer here. His whip action has been rethought as well: whipping in diagonal directions is finally possible, as is below while jumping over obstacles and rotating it while standing still to get rid of boss projectiles.
For players in 1991 coming from Castlevania I-III, it must have been a very transformative moment, but for me, even though I played the game on and off the last 20 years, it still feels as if Simon is an armored slug with a sluggish whip. If you’re standing on a stair, you’re still a sitting duck: you can’t jump, although you now can attack. It’s still frustrating to see bats coming towards you while you can’t do anything but fall into a pit and try again. Some stages seemed to trigger masochists behavior with the level designers, and although that’s not unusual for a Classicvania, it felt awkward to continue plodding along this way. In one particular stage, you have to quickly ascend to the top of a tower as a pointy rotating blade is chasing you. Every badly judged jump kills you but you have to jump, and you can’t on stairs, and you can’t on the edge of a stair, even though you’re aiming for another platform!
That said, the difficulty of previous games is a bit toned down and more evenly spread across the ten stages. When people say “Castlevania IV is easy”, they actually want to say “Castlevania IV is easy compared to its predecessors”. It’s still hard. I was only able to reach the final battles with Death and company by save state scumming, as I played it via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection edition on the Nintendo Switch.
The game itself is only 4 hours long, but I doubt anyone could have finished it in less than 10 hours back in the day, where sometimes platform and enemy placement memorization will be obligatory to pass. The absence of a RAM chip is made up by the presence of a decent password system, and if you happen to die on your quest half-way through a stage; no worries; they’re divided into separate segments and you simply restart there. For example, the above screenshot shows on the top right
BLOCK 4-3, while the one below is the beginning of stage 9 (
BLOCK 9-1). Breaking walls to reveal a tasty chicken breast is still a thing here, as are sub-weapons and hearts gained by whipping the heck out of all candles you come across.
I did not perceive most bosses as enormous difficulty spikes, although some, like of course Death, certainly are more powerful than others, requiring more than a few tries to figure out their attack pattern. At the end of the last stage (
B), you’ll encounter Dracula, but not before first defeating three other bosses! By then, I was ready to throw in the towel, but again, I think the game does deserve frequent replays that will flex your vampire-killing muscles. I wish I owned a SNES as a kid. Pouring endless hours into this, while listening to the killer soundtrack, would surely have been a blast.
I was surprised to see Gamespot rate the game a
7.8, but their main gripe with iteration IV is more or less the same problem I had with it:
You never know when a medusa head is going to come out of nowhere and knock you off that platform into the abyss. Oh, and was that your last life? And you were just about to make it to the boss? Sorry, it’s back to the beginning of the area for you. If this scenario sounds familiar, and you don’t mind plunging ahead anyway, Super Castlevania IV is probably a worthwhile play for you.
For me, it’s difficult to digest that kind of gameplay, especially after Symphony of the Night, and my much beloved Castlevania GBA games. Still, if you’d like to check out a “Classicvania” but are too scared of the NES games, this is as good (and as easy) as it gets.