Game Review

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

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Looking back, it's incredible to think that Konami took such a risk with the Castlevania series during its formative years. Having tasted critical and commercial success with the original NES outing, the Japanese company decided to give its direct sequel a different spin. The result was Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, a game which is fondly remembered by some fans and totally reviled by others. While Simon's Quest was — and still is — an interesting fusion of platforming action and RPG adventuring, it wasn't what players of the period really wanted. Thankfully, Konami was listening and for its third and final NES Castlevania produced one of the finest games ever to grace Nintendo's world-beating 8-bit console.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse reverts back to the linear level-based formula seen in the original game. Trevor Belmont's Vampire Killer whip can be upgraded by collecting certain power-ups, and there's the usual selection of special sub-weapons which, when used, deplete your stock of hearts. As ever, hearts can be replenished by whipping the various torches and light-fittings located throughout the game — one of the hallmarks of the Castlevania series which, even after almost thirty years, is utterly charming in that it makes no sense whatsoever.

Konami clearly spent a lot of time fine-tuning the gameplay here, because the control feels utterly perfect. And by that, we mean it gives you just enough control to play skillfully, but never so much that it becomes a cakewalk — a criticism which is often levelled at Super Castlevania IV, which added multi-directional attacks to Simon Belmont's repertoire and consequently made it slightly less punishing than its predecessors. In this third game, you can only whip horizontally, which means you have to time your movements and attacks precisely in order to avoid taking damage. Enemies are placed in positions which make them tricky to hit unless you plan your offensive and sub-weapons become essential in later parts of the game, where they must be deployed to manage a certain airborne assailants while you use your whip to dispatch land-based enemies. Dracula's Curse is at times brutal and unforgiving, but never to the point where it's completely unfair — learn the levels, monitor enemy patterns and master the sub-weapons, and you'll soon find that you can master even the most demanding of stages.

However, aware that a straight sequel wouldn't cut the mustard, Konami made sure that it included new features in this title. The most obvious is the branching pathways, which allow you to take several different routes through the game and add immeasurably to the replay value. You'll also get to call on special companions, which Trevor can switch places with at any time — the catch being that you can only have one companion with you at any one time. These three additional characters — Sypha Belnades, Grant Danasty and Alucard — have since become part of the fabric of Castlevania lore, but back at the time of release the biggest deal was that they added tactical depth to what was already a fantastic title; certain levels are easier to stomach with the right partner. Alucard would of course go on to star in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the lead protagonist, and seeing him make his series debut will surely be one of the biggest kicks new fans of the franchise will get when experiencing this title for the first time.

Given the time of the game's release — it actually launched after Super Castlevania IV in Europe — it should perhaps come as no great shock to learn that Dracula's Curse is one of the better looking (and sounding) NES games. Granted, it is leagues away from the 16-bit opulence of the SNES sequel, but compared to other 8-bit titles, it's a real feast for the eyes. The variety shown in the environments is striking; one moment you're stalking the ghoul-filled streets of a Transylvanian town, the next you're trudging through thick, oozing mud trying to avoid the unwanted attention of frogs as large as horses. Elsewhere, the usual tropes exist (what would a Castlevania game be without a clock tower level?) but on the whole, this is an incredibly fresh journey into hell, and one that some fans would argue has never been bettered — at least not in the traditional side-scrolling entries.

Musically, Dracula's Curse improves on its prequels dramatically, offering up some amazing tunes which break away from the limitations of the host hardware to create some of the strongest and most memorable aural offerings in the entire franchise. NES soundtracks have a quality all their own — hence the desire of many modern developers to imitate that iconic sound — but the songs on offer here can be regarded as some of the best you're likely to hear in any game. That might sound like nostalgic hyperbole, but spend five minutes in the company of Dracula's Curse and you'll soon come around to our way of thinking.

Conclusion

Castlevania has taken many twists and turns as a franchise, from the side-scrolling originals to the "Metroidvania" epics of more recent memory. Given that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 seems to have performed poorly and alienated many hardcore fans, there's never been a better time to play what is unmistakably one of the highlights of the lineage. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse may have been released close to its visually and sonically superior SNES successor, but many devoted followers will argue that the NES game offers the better experience; the branching pathways, the additional characters and — possibly most importantly — a sterner, more rewarding challenge. This is rightly regarded as one of the finest NES titles ever made, and now is the perfect opportunity to rediscover its charms.

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User Comments (28)

unrandomsam

#1

unrandomsam said:

I agree with 9. What I don't agree with is us not having the choice to have the Famicom version.

(Think the Famicom version should have 10 though - I think I think that music is better than Super Castlevania IV - but not as good as X68000 or Rondo of Blood).

I still don't like Super Castlevania IV (The Super Famicom version is slightly better (Less slowdown) but the changes to the basic mechanics spoil it.)

ricklongo

#2

ricklongo said:

Interestingly, I don't think the pre-Metroidvania Castlevania games aged well at all... with the exception of Castlevania II, which at least has some interesting elements beyond plain platforming.

I recently got Super Castlevania on the Wii U Virtual Console and it was one of those disappointing times when you realized a classic of your childhood just doesn't measure up to your memories.

DamoAdmin

#4

Damo said:

@unrandomsam I'd actually place CV4 above CV3, but that's purely down to personal taste and a large degree of nostalgia. CV4 blew me away when I played it, and I didn't experience CV3 until a little bit after.

@ricklongo Ironically, CV4 is one of the few 16-bit games I personally feel has aged better than the others. The attempt by the artists to make the visuals semi-realistic rather than cartoon-like (as seen in Rondo and Bloodlines) has resulted in a game which still looks great today...and the soundtrack remains my all-time favourite.

Ralizah

#5

Ralizah said:

Hopefully we'll see this in NA soon. Ths is the only one of the NES Castlevanias I never played.

Shworange

#7

Shworange said:

This was my first castlevania game. I still have the NES cartridge. It was my favorite of the three original.
@unrandomsam
You're spot on about the music! If anyone gets the chance, look up the Nintendo Voice Chat podcast about Castlevania. They play the music side by side. It's an incredibly stark contrast. If we got the Famicom music in the virtual console release, I would buy it in a heart beat. My NES works great though and it's hooked up to an appropriate CRT tv.

Ryno

#9

Ryno said:

Hurry up and come to the Wii U VC in the US! This is my 2nd favorite Castlevania behind Super Castlvania IV by only a slim margin. Castlevania III is one of the best games on the NES, no question.

Mommar

#10

Mommar said:

@Damo I hadn't revisited Castlevania 3 since the SNES came out. Looking at it now I'm VERY impressed with how the graphics have held up. I kind of wish there were a 3D treatment of it on the 3DS, I think the backgrounds are complex enough that it would really pop.

sdelfin

#11

sdelfin said:

@Damo I've, coincidentally, been playing Bloodlines and Rondo extensively in the last several days. I think both look excellent and have aged very well. Bloodlines goes a bit further with slightly exaggerated comic-style graphics, but I think Rondo strikes a great balance being colorful while still looking somewhat realistic. Super Castlevania 4 is a game I have not played, but it's next on my list thanks to playing the two games I mentioned. I've heard varying opinions on it, from it being the best, to not living up to the hype. I'll judge for myself, but I plan to enjoy it for what it is, as I have no nostalgia to go along with it.

One small nitpick in the review, the previous games in the series are not prequels. Prequels are later works set at an earlier time.

With that out of the way, this review came at the perfect time for me. I may have to slot this one in right after I play CV4. It looks great and has a great reputation. Your review was excellent and fun to read as usual. Thank you.

DamoAdmin

#12

Damo said:

@sdelfin They're prequels in that they came out first - I understand that CV3 takes place before CV and CV2 in terms of series chronology, but I used the term to suggest previously released games in the franchise.

sdelfin

#14

sdelfin said:

@Damo I wasn't even factoring in the chronology of the series. It is a common misuse of prequel to refer to previously made works in a series. The first two Castlevanias would be predecessors or precursors to part three, not prequels.

Luna-Harmony

#15

Luna-Harmony said:

The was my first vampire game for the nes back in the days i was just a kid and found it hard but loved it so much then an the manual was amazing used to draw pictures from it for hours on end. And this is what got me into vampires many years ago.

BearClaus

#16

BearClaus said:

This game just isn't fun. Not even the extra characters can save it. I guess this series isn't for me.

Action51

#22

Action51 said:

It wasn't that Castlevania II Simon's Quest isn't what players "wanted"...it's that Castlevania II Simon's Quest is a deeply flawed game.

The fact of the matter is that Simon's Quest was eagerly anticipated and that style of platforming adventure would be highly popular for years. The dislike many have for this game is well earned.

  • The game feels rushed with some areas feeling barely finished and repetitive.
    There are a few places where badly translated clues and nonsensical puzzle elements might lead people to get stuck. -Oh yeah, the translation is hilarious.
  • Aside from the broken puzzle elements, the game feels really easy compared to other Castlevania games. Most deaths feel cheap or caused by poor level design.
  • The final battle with the count is so broken, there are several ways to kill him without even trying. The first time I killed him, I didn't even know beforehand, and ended up killing him in seconds before he could even fight back.

Anyway...Castlevania 3 is the best of the 8-bit Castlevania games, with the original Castelvania being the most iconic.

legend_of_Shawn

#23

legend_of_Shawn said:

always was my favorite until I finally played Symphony of the night, but it will still always be one of the best games of all time in my opinion.

Gashole

#24

Gashole said:

Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod (HUFF, HUFF, HUFF).... WHEN is this game coming to N.A.?!! It's like, the most freakin' AWESOME Castlevania game EVER!!! I know that's up for debate, but WOW!!! This is to Castlevania what SMB 3 was to Mario! (HUFF, HUFF, HUFF).... I just saw this today, and this day, like, exploded into video gaming BLISS!!! (HUFF, HUFF, HUFF)....
Sorry about that, folks.
To me personally, this is the last must-have game for the 3DS Virtual Console, regarding the NES, and the most treasured childhood haunt I ever experienced in an old-school video game.
But, yeah, I kinda want it now, please. And thank you.

SirQuincealot

#25

SirQuincealot said:

As i have not played it yet i Can't truly judge, but i dont think any game will Be better than Rondo of Blood, i Will try to fond one though.

if This Game ever makes it to American 3ds' i will give it a go, untill then back to order of ecclesia, and lords of shadow

Gashole

#26

Gashole said:

SirQuincealot, don't forget Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin for the DS, too!
As for Castlevania 3, excellent graphics, and some of the finest NES music ever, even if it was released in the 90's! You should check it out on Youtube.

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