Every now and then you play a game that simply changes your life. To me, Super Castlevania IV is that game. I recall playing it at a friend's house and regardless of the slow pace of the first few levels, it had a real impact on me. The game was quickly purchased and hasn't left my collection since.
If your Castlevania experience is primarily from Symphony of the Night (1997) onwards, you're going to notice a stark contrast in the design of Super Castlevania IV versus today's outings. For starters, Super Castlevania IV is very linear. Aside from a few hidden areas, there are no real alternate routes to take here. The other major difference is that Super Castlevania IV requires more platforming skills than many recent Castlevania games.
Jumping deaths may occur more frequently than you'd like, especially if your timing is off and you forget about incoming Medusa Heads or that pesky enemy that hits you just as you land. Learning these enemy patterns and getting your timing down was a vital strategy in beating games like this, and Super Castlevania IV is an excellent example.
You're also not going to see any RPG elements, either. You won't be able to stock up on potions or level Simon up to ridiculous proportions. The player can only obtain items like hearts or health power-ups by whipping candles or hollow walls. Additionally, aside from subweapons like the axe and cross, you can't carry any items. That means that if your life bar is running low, you'll need to find a pork chop or backtrack to one, or you're worm food.
Visually, Super Castlevania IV still holds up well, despite its age and a few bouts with slowdown. Some of the monster designs from this game would carry over to Symphony of the Night, such as the boss tag team of Slogra and Gaibon. You'll also see appearances by several now-familiar mainstays of the Castlevania series, including the aforementioned Medusa Heads, Bone Dragons, Skeletons, Ghouls, and bosses like Death and The Mummy.
One of the most amazing aspects of this game is the music. Up to this point I'd been used to the rather primitive sonics of the Mega Drive. CVIV made it sound like there was a full orchestra hidden inside the SNES! I recently purchased the soundtrack on CD and it is still listened to on a regular basis.
Although Konami eventually bettered this with the stunning Playstation release Symphony of the Night, this is still the best traditional Castlevania game, and one of the finest action platform titles on the machine. Consider this an essential purchase.