After the success of the original Castlevania title on the NES system, Konami decided to change things up quite a bit for Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Gone was the straight-ahead platforming action of the original, replaced with a much more rpg-flavored approach that placed more emphasis on item collection and exploration. While Simon's Quest was a great game in and of itself, many fans felt betrayed by the direction Konami took the popular series in. Thankfully, Konami decided to abandon their experiment and return the Castlevania series to its roots. Not only did they bring back the magic of the original game, but they also managed to add in a wealth of new game play twists, not to mention a much lengthier quest to form what many diehard fans of the series consider the best Castlevania title of them all.
Dracula's Curse brings back the standard action-platforming of the original, only this time there are a few new twists. While you still control your main character, you'll also encounter allies along the way that you can take on as your partner. There are three additional characters, each with their own unique powers. Grant the pirate is extremely effective at climbing, Syfa the Magician is adept at casting powerful magic spells, and Alucard, Dracula's son, can turn into a bat and fly around freely until your supply of hearts run out. The trick is you can only have one of these additional characters in your party at once, so it's up to you to decide which character will be most effective as your partner given your current situation.
Another new twist is the multiple paths you'll encounter. There's no longer only one way to Dracula's Castle. At the end of certain levels you'll be given a choice of two different paths to take, each featuring a different level. This means you don't have to play through every single level in the game in order to reach the finale, but it also means you can go back and play through the game again taking different paths which adds quite a bit of replay value to the overall experience.
All the traditional Castlevania game play is all still intact. Your character still uses his trusty whip which can be powered up several times in both length and power. He can also pick up the standard Castlevania special items such as the Holy Cross and the Magic Potion. Even the level designs and platforming action will feel immediately familiar to fans of the original Castlevania game. One thing fans might notice is that the levels are quite a bit longer than in previous games, so you'll be happy to have your new partner to help you make it through them alive. The boss fights are also a bit more challenging this time around as you can't rely so much of your special items anymore. There's also a lot more diversity in the many areas of the game; you'll travel through a haunted forest, a ghost ship, and even a fully functioning clock tower in your efforts to reach the Prince of Darkness.
As impressive as the visuals in the first two Castlevania titles were, Konami was somehow able to eclipse even them in this third release. You'll see the NES execute visuals that are absolutely mind-blowing at times. Dracula's Curse might only be an 8-bit title, but you certainly wouldn't know it from looking at it. The enemies and bosses might resemble those of old, but the backgrounds in the many areas are quite a ways above those found in the previous NES releases, some by a very significant margin.
The music is pretty much a mix of old and new. The old tracks will sound familiar to fans of the series and the new titles are every bit as good, if not better. There's not a bad musical track in the entire game and some of the newer music found during the last few levels of the game are absolutely amazing by 8-bit standards. It's clear that Konami wanted to push the envelope of what the NES sound hardware was capable of and the end result is easily one of the best sounding NES titles ever crafted.
If you're a Castlevania fan, there's absolutely no reason you shouldn't own this game. It's everything the original title was and so much more. While some Simon's Quest fans might be a bit disappointed with the return to the standard Castlevania platforming experience, there's no denying how amazing Dracula's Curse truly is and just how well it carries on the tradition set by the original title. It's easy to see why so many Castlevania fans consider this to be the pinnacle of the series as Dracula's Curse is truly an amazing game from start to finish and a worthy addition to the Virtual Console service.