With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (EU), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. Now we turn our attention to Castlevania; don't forget to check out the first two entries in this series, in which we look at Balloon Fight and Bubble Bobble.
In the first two entries of this series we've looked at games that first found acclaim and fortune in the arcades before moving across to home consoles. With Castlevania we have a title that was developed with home console gaming in mind, a game that - alongside other similarly ambitious releases - helped to establish the appeal and excitement of NES gaming. It also reminds us of a time when Konami were truly among the elite developers in the games industry.
It may seem odd to refer to Castlevania in such terms, but back in 1986 when it arrived on the Famicom Disk System as Akumajou Dracula, it would have come across as a relatively mature title. Sure, plenty of players - including those in the West when it arrived in 1987 (NA) / 1988 (PAL) - would have been children, but unlike colourful Nintendo games Castlevania was grimy and intimidating. That, naturally, made it rather exciting, with its gothic settings and monstrous foes no doubt capturing the imagination of young gamers. The fact that it was based in Dracula's castle and included graphical representations of classic monsters (like Frankenstein's Monster) only added to the appeal.
It's also the first in this series of articles (having previously covered Balloon Fight and Bubble Bobble) to be a sidescroller, a genre considered as fundamental to the NES legacy. Yet it was ambitious beyond that core approach; when you consider Simon Belmont's moveset - whipping, ducking, jumping, even the fact there were stairs to traverse - it was certainly impressive on a technical level. Throw in secondary weapons and hidden secrets, and what you have is a game that was perfect for the Nintendo Power / playground era.
Played now by those that have mastered it, you're looking at a sub-30 minute game (a full playthrough is in the video below). At the time, however, its variety of stages and difficulty level would have seemed far grander to young gamers sitting underneath the TV.
The difficulty level certainly fits into the 'NES hard' category, for most gamers in any case; Simon's habit of getting knocked back into pits is legendary and often joked about online. Yet with practice and persistence it's possible, and despite the technological flaws of slowdown and wonky bits of code, it can certainly encourage players to be strong-willed and conquer the challenge.
At the time, the challenge would have been easy to accept because of how immersive the game was. It may not look much by modern standards, but the visuals and music are highlights; plenty of retro gamers likely know the most famous music tracks by heart.
Intriguingly, this was a title that actually came to arcades after its debut on the NES (plus there were ports on some other home systems). Details are sketchy, but apparently Nintendo did the heavy lifting to bring a version to its 'Vs.' range of machines in 1987; the units seem relatively rare. This is demonstrated in the video below by the Esoteric Arcade channel, which also looks at a follow-up arcade from 1988 called 'Haunted Castle'.
This title has been ported and revived multiple times, with a notable example being its release as part of the Classic NES Series on Game Boy Advance. Weirdly a 'Rebirth' release on WiiWare was based on a Game Boy successor, rather than the iconic NES original. Castlevania has done the rounds on the Wii, Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console platforms too, and though later entries in the 2D series delivered substantial improvements and franchise innovations (on Nintendo hardware we've had trilogies on GBA and DS, and of course Super Castlevania IV on SNES) there's certainly a special place in the IP's history for the NES original.
Sadly, it's difficult to see where the franchise goes next, especially with Konami seemingly being more erratic than ever. One thing's for sure, plenty of fans old and new should get plenty of pleasure out of tackling this one on the mini NES.
In fact, it'll be worth digging out some headphones and playing late at night - you might as well get in the right mood for monsters.
That arcade port of Castlevania looks terrible compared to the NES version. Colors are unnatural looking, and the character model lost most of its detail.
That Haunted Castle game looks interesting, though. Frustrating, but interesting.
I started the series with Castlevania III, and eventually learned to love it through all the agonizingly clunky gameplay mechanics. After beating it, I picked up Simons Quest... a very different game from what I was used to. And again, learned to love it through its weirdness.
Then I went back and played the original, and I just couldn't. All the little tweaks and upgrades in the next couple games that I was used to had spoiled me. I've only ever gotten a few stages in before losing interest. I really should give this a fair chance. It would be like not playing Super Mario after playing SMB3, y'know?
Maybe with this little resurgence of intrests from the NES mini, I'll finally give it a proper play through. Its not like we'll be getting an NEW Castlevania entries any time soon. (Unless it's a pachinko machine)
I still need to play the first 3 NES games...
Should I skip Simon's Quest? Not sure based on what I've heard of it.
Already played Super Castlevania 4 though.
@Gridatttack the only entry in the franchise I would skip is Castlevania 64. And that must be avoided at all costs!
@samuelvictor If ever there was a clue that you might somehow be tied to or invested in the movie industry...
Man, I sure love these articles!
@SuperCharlie78 Same. These articles are ramping up the Mini NES hype for me!
I like to relate Simon's Quest to Adventures of Link. Its a great NES game, but it's very unusual as an entry to the series it's from. There's a town structure, shops for upgrades, and lots of back tracking. As a Castlevania title it could be passed, but you might end up liking it anyway. I'd at least play around with it to see if it's something that vibes with your play style.
Still a good game.
Still enjoying that lemon hat from my Nintendo. Rewards are just getting so good
I'm strangely excited to play all of these old games... Can't wait for NES Mini!
So getting an unfair arcade port is like the retro equivalent of getting a micro-transaction ridden mobile port.
I love the soundtrack in this game. One of my favorites of all time. The gameplay is definitely unforgiving but I love the challenge. Castlevania Rebirth on WiiWare was also excellent.
@samuelvictor Haha, indeed, I shall correct that.
Ah! I rented this one and the third quite a bit in my childhood. Never did get very far. This game is tough! It's still really good though.
Actually, Simon's Quest is pretty good. At least try all three. It plays similar to games like Faxanadu, Adventure of Link and StarTropics. It actually introduced a lot of things in later Castlevania games, like free roaming areas, shops etc.
Bloodlines on the Genesis and Harmony of Dissonance on the GBA aren't so hot and could be skipped, unless the person is a completionist and hardcore fan of course.
Faxanadu was the highlight of this genre. Castlevania II is amazing game, but Faxanadu was something truly unbelieavable awesomeness.
I wish they would sell extra game packages for the Classic-NES, although that is not going to happen I would gladly pay 50€ a year for new package.
A great series for a long time. I don't love all the games, but there are quite a few that I would go back to again and again. I replayed the original thoroughly a few months back along with part three. I had a great time in the process. Glad it's included on the mini NES, though I'd rather Dracula's Curse was also there in place of Simon's Quest, which is not my style.
My experience discovering "Castlevania" was very much like It's a Pixel Thing here:
Since I had an Amiga, I could not understand why a 8-bit system could put out better games than the incredible ones my Amiga was putting on the TV. Of course the lacklustre Amiga version of "Castlevania" didn't help much. I have grown to become much wiser and despite loving the Amiga, the Famicom has by far one of the finest library of games ever produced! When the SNES arrived and I played "Super Castlevania IV", I knew I would be a fan of this series for a lifetime. It is hard to pick a favourite from the original NES trilogy, but if I had to, I can't help not to pick the Famicom version of "Castlevania 3" which is basically this game but with more of everything (including the fantastic removed for the west soundtrack powered by an on-board synth chip in the cartridge). Still it's great in the West we got both this and the cryptic "Belmont's Quest".
@Tempestryke Harmony of Dissonance is not that great, I'd agree, but what's wrong with Bloodlines? It's up there in the top 3 Classicvania titles, if you ask me. Top 5 for sure, at least.
@samuelvictor lol. I always assumed it was because the monster was the "son" of Frankenstein, and if your dad's last name is Frankenstein then wouldn't your last name also be Frankenstein?
Outside of a divorce or something, of course.
First game I ever got for Christmas!
I want to play this now. All the NES games were great. I actually think Castlevania 3 was tops in that era. The gameboy games were like the original only shorter and easier. I did not like those because they were a waste of my money back in the day. The DS and GBA games were the best by far. They had Challenge and moved towards RPG elements. All the haters of Simon's Quest do not seem to realize that this is where the GBA/DS games got its roots.They always say Symphony of the Night was the influence. This is why people call games" Metrovania".SNES was solid with C4. Although, I do not think it had a high replay value. I actually liked Castlevania64 when it came out. I kept on renting it. I look back now and say WTF was I thinking. I wonder why Konami never released one for the gamecube?
Don't be silly! Castlevanias future is sequels to erotic violence!
In Haunted Castle it looks like he has to poop while he walks. Oh and the NES version looks best.
To each their own, I personally found the controls clunky.
Actually it was because of a best 100 Nintendo games that I discovered Faxanadu. Took me a while to get into, but it's become one of my most favorite nes games ever.Its fantastic!
I'm hoping they make a new Castlevania for the NX Old school game play with Updated graphics !
I'm planning on importing the Famicom Mini, I'm hoping it will have the cartridge version of Akumajou Dracula as that has an easy mode! I've never been able to beat the original without save states, I think the best I ever managed is getting to the last level, but I don't think I reached Dracula.
With every new minireview of the 30 games included in the NES Mini I'm more eager to get it, after a few days ago I was able to secure a preorder.
I've never played any Castlevania games, so it will be the perfect opportunity to enter the series with the first entry. Although the MSX2 one will remain unplayed for now -because it isn't mentioned but in 1986 they released the Famicom AND the MSX2 version, Vampire Killer in the West, which is a different game rather than a version-.
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