To be Frank, I completely lost track of Halloween this year and don’t care much for holidays or parties. It’s a bit of fun that can lead to great eShop sales, but I don’t need a reason to be spooky. It all seems a bit forced to me when people dress up and post selfies. Not my thing.
Now I’m gonna stop being Frank and be Simon. You see, there’s a much bigger event than Halloween going on. Every 100 years the forces of good become weak, and Dracula uses this opportunity to wake up from slumber and terrorise the world with his minions. Unlike Frank, Simon Belmont is a very quiet individual who lets his whip do all the talking. The Belmont family are the only known group capable of fighting Dracula, and they have been passing down their skills and information for generations. They really just have a SNES hooked up, but don’t tell anyone. Simon must use all his platforming and combat ability to get through this awesome, scary and challenging game that Dracula has made.
He’s a pretty tall dude, and the controls are appropriately heavy. I had seen this game in videos before and always thought the controls looked a bit stiff. To my relief it feels very good to play, more of a solid feeling with great response time to cancel out any stiffness. Simon struts with an air of confidence and his whip is very robust and fun to use.
The stages are thriving with danger. Hands crawl out of the floor, lights fall from the ceiling, skeleton snakes wiggle out of the walls, and armoured soldiers thrust towards you with bloodlust and determination. It’s a game that’s ALWAYS trying to kill you… yet I somehow feel a certain calmness towards it.
Great controls combined with a relentless challenge make this game so engaging. You basically can not stop. Firstly, because you can’t backtrack very far, and secondly because enemies will keep spawning, presumably from the brooding hatred emanating from Dracula. He just thinks about how much he hates the Belmonts and a new enemy spawns. Simon isn’t that salty though, in fact he’s having a great time. The non-stop pacing of Super Castlevania IV creates this peaceful mental focus where you have no choice but to take in the entire stage at once. There is a zone of safety around you that can not break. It’s the highest level of engagement you can have with a videogame, in my experience. It’s something I have also felt while doing Super Metroid speedruns or playing hard Mario Maker levels. Super Castlevania IV absolutely nails that intensity for the entire duration of the game, without any special conditions.
The challenge of this game is daunting, but ultimately fair and fun to tackle. There were some annoying bits where I died unexpectedly on my first try, but I’ll never equate a few deaths with bad game design. It simply has depth, and in SCIV there’s just a lot of things you shouldn’t do. Don’t jump over gaps if a projectile is coming at you, don’t trust every platform, don’t hit spikes with your head, and be VERY careful around stairs. You’re not just dealing with enemies in this game, but tricky platforming and hazard management. It’s a very methodical game that you can not just run through blindly at full speed.
There’s a lot of awkward back-and-forth dancing with enemies, but this is where the flexible properties of your whip really come into play. Since you can aim in any direction, there’s usually a few different ways to beat an enemy. You might feel safer whipping diagonally from another platform, or you might take on the enemy head on if a platform is crumbling and you need to move. A lot of times I found that jumping while whipping was actually the safest way to get somewhere, and it creates this incredible feeling of momentum. It’s a double-edged whip though, since mistakes on your end can often open the door to more disaster. Damage has knockback and quite often getting hit once can turn into a trainwreck of damage and suddenly you’re crying in a pile of spikes on the floor. All part of the experience.
The soundtrack of Super Castlevania IV is also a big part of the experience. The music in every single stage is badass, and the biggest strength of this soundtrack is that it sounds like Castlevania. It’s fast and videogamey, but also a bit spooky with a creeping base, distant drums and minor scales going crazy. I can just picture a skeleton running its boney hands along a keyboard in some of these songs. I love how perfectly fitting the music is, while still sounding absolutely incredible and catchy. This game has become one of the examples I would use to describe a perfect videogame soundtrack.
The Clock Tower music is so good I have to stop and dance on this gear. This is close to the end of the game and incredibly motivating. The punchy music really gets you hyped as you climb the tower. There are some quieter songs too, around the middle of the game. The music is just as well paced as the level design. I also have to give a special mention to the Game Over music. Yes, I heard that a lot, but I’m not ashamed of dying in a difficult game. When you get put back at the start of the stage, you still learned something. If you didn’t learn anything, you experienced something. That’s how progress works in my mind. Anyway, back to the music before I turn into Frank again.
The Game Over song is 8 seconds of magic. Rather than make fun of you, it’s a soothing tumble of comfy notes that makes you reflect. Almost like the Inn music you hear while going to sleep in a JRPG. I never got mad at this game, and the welcoming nature of the sound and graphics is a big reason why. It’s just so cool. I love how perfectly themed Super Castlevania IV is in every aspect. The gruesome, detailed graphics. The twisted enemy designs. The tricky platforming. The fearless controls. They all compliment the daring and exciting music. Then you die and lose it all, but the game says “It’s okay. I’m still here.“.
I beat this game in one “sitting” over multiple nights, with the auto-resume of Wii U enabling that. When you get Game Over (losing 4 lives) it only sends you back to the beginning of the Stage, which means as long as you keep playing you can progress. This makes it a pretty easy game to practice and conquer, even with its raw difficulty and stages being split into parts. Despite this modern convenience, I still took some time to appreciate the password save system. It’s tied to the filename you want to pick, which means you could input your own specific password on anybody’s SNES but it wouldn’t work for their name. If you had a SNES back in the day, and friends, I imagine that would have been cool. I’m playing through a second time just to write down all my passwords.
I played it for the first time this year, but if there’s one word I’d use to describe Super Castlevania IV it would be classic. Everything holds up, even the graphics which stretched the SNES hardware in 1991. The game has massive hilarious framerate drops in one graphically intense room, but the enemy placement is scattered to make it a non-issue. It’s quite a spectacle honestly, and I really can’t fault the game for trying so hard. I’m so glad I finally played it and I’m really happy to have it on my Wii U. I’m determined to play quite a bit more until I can clear it in less continues, it’s just a really satisfying game to play well. I wouldn’t recommend this game if you’re put off by difficulty, but for anyone who loves a classic this is definitely a classic. The best Castlevania I have played, one of the best SNES games, and an absolute masterpiece in game design.
Now if you’ll excuse me… I’m late to a party.
3 thoughts on “Super Castlevania IV – Hardcore Halloween”
YES! Super Castlevania will always be the BEST Castlevania, i also played it for the first time earlier this year and i was completely blown away by it. Really makes me sad they didn’t actually build off this game and instead went back in game design with the games after it until symphony of the night came around and compeletly did away with classic Castlevania all together.
This game kinda opened my eyes to just how far third partys had fallen, this game took such great advantage of the super nintendo and it was amazing for it, its frustrating to see developers no longer take that extra step anymore with hardware and game design.
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Yeah, nowdays there is this stigma that 2D games can’t push the hardware and it’s so disappointing. When a game breaks this trend like Tropical Freeze or Yoshi’s Woolly World, the result is incredible. Even then, you are stuck with 15-30 second load times and awful 3D-ish hubworlds. The SNES era showed 2D game design at its peak with games like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, and SEGA doing the same with Sonic. I wish there was a way to capture that development environment again.