Konami's classic series is....well, classic for a reason. Tons of great games, with great atmosphere, action, platforming, music and graphics.
But even the best franchises have their weak spots, and Castlevania's SNES debut is it, IMO. Maybe not in terms of an action game, but as part of the series. As a sequel to Dracula's Curse this game fell short of impressive. Let me explain why.
One of the most important things about Castlevania is level design, and how the character interacts with it. In previous games in the series, the Belmont clan have been...rather normal-sized. Not tiny sprites on the screen, not super tall. They fit the world they inhabited, and the game is well-designed around them.
See? He fits. Simon in the SNES game though? He's HUGE.
It's not just Simon that's big now. Even the enemies are huge now. They crowd the screen, totally taking up a lot of real-estate on everyone's 4:3 TV sets back in the day. It makes hitting enemies far easier since there is less space to move around. Enemy placement isn't as important this time because...nothing is too far from Simon's whipping wrath. Also feels more cramped than normal.
Not so cramped.
Simon's about the same size as Frankenstein's Monster. WHAT.
You Only Play As Simon
You know what another bummer thing is? And this is totally my hang up, so I don't blame anyone for not feeling the same way, but...you only get to play as one character in this game. In Castlevania III, you could team up with other characters. A ghost-pirate. A magic-casting vampire hunter. Dracula's freakin' son! All offered different ways to play, had different abilities and weapons.
This game? You get this guy.
That's it. A guy and his whip. Enjoy.
Graphical Flair For No Reason
When the SNES hit the market, it had some of the best, if not THE best graphics for home consoles. Tons of colors could flood the screen. Parallax scrolling added depth to the environments. Fog and clouds could be transparent, not just solid colors. And the SNES's ace-in-the-hole? MODE-7, baby!
This graphical trick enabled games to have 3D effects. Rotating, spinning, growing and shrinking sprites were a thing to behold back in the day. Some games, like F-Zero and Pilotwings used this effect to create new IPs, new ways to play. Super Castlevania IV also uses this effect, but not always in the best way.
The map screen zooming in was nice. Added some "whiz-bang" to what would normally be a static image of your route to Dracula's throne room. But then you get stuff like this:
This is fairly early on in the game, but you come to a room with a hook in the middle. So you whip your over-powered super-weapon onto it, and....you just hang there. For like, 30 seconds. No enemies come to attack you. No dangers to avoid. You just sit there idly while the room ssssslllllloooooowwwwwwllllllyyyyyy spins around. And you do nothing.
Is it a neat effect? Sure, maybe. At the time. Is it fun? Nah. Waste of time? Pretty much.
There was also this weird thing in the very beginning of the game, during your approach to Castle Dracula's interior. As you walked past the drawbridge, there was this huge, iron gate that rose up in the background. And during certain (seemingly random) parts, you'll come to a door at the gate that you can have Simon walk through, to the other side.
For no apparent reason. I mean sure, there's a giant pit there that you wouldn't be able to cross if you didn't go to the other side of the gate...but that's more of a conceit for the game. Nothing really changes on the other side of the gate. The game plays exactly as it did before, except now you have these weird iron bars kinda/sorta obscuring your view of the action. What's the point? Why not just NOT have a hole there, developers? It's not like going on the other side of the gate did anything useful.
Maybe it was just to show that it was something they could do? I remember it being kind of a big deal that Mario could climb on a chain-link fence in Super Mario World, so maybe the fact that a sprite can be partially seen behind another one was...impressive back in the day?
But the thing is, at least in Nintendo's game, when Mario climbed a fence, it actually affected your gameplay style. You could climb around enemies on the fence, or punch them off if they were climbing on the other side. You could use the fence to reach higher areas. Or lower ones. You could avoid certain enemies by getting to a flip panel and going to the other side yourself. They did a lot with the idea. Konami? Not so much.
Heck, Nintendo even put more effort into the simple act of going to the other side of the fence. Mario would punch the flip panel, and you could see him rotate around to the other side. When Simon goes to the other side of the iron gate? The gate animation shows the door opening (on it's own, apparently) and then Simon's sprite "pops" to the other side, with only the grass around his feet being an indicator that he moved from one "plane" to the other.
And what's worse? This idea was never revisited later in the game. I'd forgive it if they were just showing you something early in the game as a mechanic you'd use later to greater effect...but this idea never comes back. It's just some weird one-off and...that's it. Done.
Seriously, so strange. What's the point?
Graphical Flair Nearly Breaks The Game
Here's another odd...um, oddity. The NES Castlevania games are some of the most expertly crafted pieces of software on the system. Each of them are devoid of simple, easy to accidentally activate game-breaking glitches, feature some top-notch graphics, and all run incredibly well on the 8-bit hardware. Very rare is it that you ever run into "flicker" or "slow down" which was pretty common for many games back then.
We were all pretty much expecting the exact same level of polish for the SNES sequel. And we didn't really get it. There is a really cool-looking corridor you go through after the weirdly boring rotating room. But with all the cool effects going on in the background, it takes a toll on the frame rate.
Everytime an enemy or two gets on screen, the action gets a little jumpy. And when an enemy is destroyed and the pieces go flying every which way? Forget about it.
There's also this enemy in the cavers that splits into smaller versions of itself each time you hit it. Which sounds threatening, but really it's just annoying. Because not only do these guys not doing anything different with each successive hit, they also nearly bring the SNES to its knees.
So these slow-moving, boring, damage-sponge guys bring the FPS down to like, 10 each time you encounter them during the stage. Lame.
Weird Mechanics For No Real Reason
Hey, you know what else is lame? And kind of weird? Simon's ability to attach his whip to hooks and swing from them. It sounds cool on paper, but it's ultimately kind of pointless. Castlevania is an action game, but also a platformer. In which you jump from platform to platform, and the challenge is created from your character's ability to jump, and the player's ability to judge said jump from a certain virtual distance and execute a safe landing on the next platform. So what does Super Castlevania IV do? Not only did it already throw out the jumping mechanics of the first games, but it also nearly threw out jumping altogether by letting Simon easily swing from one point to another.
Oh God, how would I ever have been able to traverse this pit without this hook? Besides with my inhuman jumping ability?!?
It's not even that the swinging thing is hard, either. You just hit it with your whip like you would anything else, and then jump off when it's safe. Where's the challenge in that? Bah.
Music Is Good...Kinda?
The music is good. Don't get me wrong. But not nearly as hummable or memorable as the NES stuff. Or even the stuff after it.
Could just be my opinion, but....yeah. To me, it's just background filler.
Bosses Are Too Easy
Another case of "it's only my opinion" but...were any of these bosses really difficult for anyone? The "fake-out" of the first boss was kind of novel, but none of them were a real threat, IMO.
The original game on NES had "that one boss" that I think anyone that has played that game knows what I'm talking about. The SNES game? Not so much.
Whip Is Too Powerful
You might as well just watch Egoraptor's "Sequelitis" video. He covers it pretty well. I may edit it in later. And I have:
Okay, it may not look powerful HERE, but trust me, it's a force to be reckoned with.
Sub-Weapons Are Useless
Refer to Egoraptor's video. Again.
Dracula Is A Joke
This is probably the most disappointing part. Confrontations with Dracula usually always end with epic final battles, with a Belmont versus a giant demon from Hell. It's kind of a staple of the franchise.
Not to spoil anything for the SNES game, but if you're expecting some huge battle at the end of this game, with a really awesome-looking, graphically impressive final boss? You're gonna be disappointed.
Wat. The single most disappointing game in the series? Even considering the series' latest change in direction or the first Game Boy outing? Oh, right, I almost forgot who I was talking to. Seriously though: No friggin' way. I think I disagree with every single point on this list. The not-so-ambitious gameplay use of graphical layers is a pity, I'll give you that, but I definitely don't think it hurts the game in any way.
Hey Grant, sorry I stepped on your toes by putting out my poll first! Didn't know you were working on a big ol' top ten, and I would've held back if I had.
That said, it's time to rebut this sucker!
10: My DKL review lambasts the game for having a camera too close, but it's not an inherently bad thing. I feel that it's a problem in platformers like that (and some Sonic games) because you're frequently at the mercy of creatures coming in from offscreen before you have time to react. SC4's a much slower-paced game with enemies designed around the pacing and Simon's movement, so you never have that issue. Instead, you only get the good stuff about the large sprites, which is a higher level of detail and a more intimate immersion into the game's environments (a big plus for an atmospheric horror game like this).
9: Eh. Multiple characters isn't really the first thing that comes to mind for me with Castlevania. And as much as I love Rondo of Blood (which is a lot), it had kind of a major issue in balancing its two playable characters. Maria was ridiculously better than Richter.
8: This point is sort of strange to me. I'll (GameDad)grant that the spinning room is kinda gimmicky, but it's one of those "neat-for-the-time" things. I personally really like the front/back gameplay of the fence stage. It's a cool effect and it's incorporated into the gameplay. I don't really understand your "why" question--naturally, Drac's grounds are going to have obstacles designed to keep the Belmont clan out, so it's up to them to work their way around it. Having the two layers is a cool way to immediately set up the game as different from its predecessors ("This is the SNES! We can do stuff like this now!") and they designed it to be rather non-annoying, with minimal backtracking. Who cares if it doesn't show up again in the game? It's not like the title is short on variety as it is.
7: Small infrequent dips in framerate don't really bother me in 2D games, particularly when it means extra variety like with these rooms and enemies. The rotating corridor and spinning room and fence stuff all attribute to this game's personality and memorability for me, so I'm willing to take the lumps with that mashed potato.
6: SC4 hardly throws jumping "out the window" when there aren't really that many of those hooks in the game. It's a neat mechanic provided to add variety, similar to DKC's vine-grabbing element. It feels more adventurous to Indiana Jones your way across pits from time to time, so what's the issue?
5: Background filler! What the heck, man? Dance of the Holyman (Simon's Theme) hangs out with the best of them. Love the bridge with the organ (which also plays each time you beat the level, giving the soundtrack a nice sense of unity). Some are oddly peaceful.
Clockwork Mansion has a great fugue going on, and then steps up the intensity in the second half. The theme for entering the castle grounds is appropriately foreboding. That tense theme for jumping across those giant chandeliers. (Really, I feel like I can post every song in the soundtrack here...) Treasury Room, one of the coolest stages of the game, has a very strong melody that's super catchy. Listen to this incredible theme that plays when you fight Dracula! That is seriously atmospheric and complex and uses the SNES's sound library brilliantly. And that's not even going into the great remixes of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and Trevor's Theme (setting the standard for those three songs being classics in the series).
4. The bosses are a little more action-y than other games in the series. I actually agree that, as a whole, they're on the easy side! But Death (as always) gives me trouble, as does Drac himself. And that Rock Monster thing from stage 4, after I'm worn out from the stage.
3. Eh. The whip is your number one tool and the main way you interact with the game. The placement and behavior of your enemies is designed around the whip so I find it quite fun to use it throughout the game. And your main method of attack should be fun.
2. This is pretty much the same as #3, right? The sub-weapons have their use. The cross deals big damage, the clock is always handy, and the axe has its moments as well thanks to a huge arc. Yeah, the dagger is kinda poo, but isn't it in most Castlevanias?
1. I don't really see this one. I thought it was an intense, classically-designed battle with a little twist of its own. Although I would've liked if the game didn't give you meat during the fight.
Wat. The single most disappointing game in the series?
Yeah, most disappointing. Because of expectations. This was SNES! Nintendo's newest, powerhouse console! This game should have taken Dracula's Curse and cranked it to 11! But instead they kinda sloppily remade the first game. Which was not only unnecessary, but they also kinda botched it.
I wasn't as disappointed by the Lords of Shadow change since... well, I knew it was a totally different developer and was essentially gonna be a "God of War" clone, so I basically knew what I was getting myself into. Expectations were set appropriately. Expectations were also set appropriately for the first Gameboy outing, too. I mean, when The Adventure came out in 1989, the last game in the series we had was Simon's Quest (which, coincidentally, is the worst game in the series IMO) - so the first Gameboy game was kind of a nice return to form. Plus, the pure novelty of having Castlevania on-the-go made up for any meager shortcomings the game had for me.
Also, "whiz-bang", huh? You watch a lot of Sofia The First I'm assuming. You are a dad like me, so...yep.
Aunt Tilly needs medication, I think. For reals.
As to your point about gimmicky stuff; I'd agree *some* DS/3DS games do gimmicky stuff, but I'm not claiming those as my favorites on either system. I mean, I'm not condemning entire SNES system just because I was disappointed by Super Castlevania IV.
@GameDadGrant I suppose the feeling of disappointment is highly subjective since it relies on your personal expectations, and I suppose my neo-Castlevania example wasn't the best. But ultimately, I'm pretty much with @TriforceBun on this. I don't see how any of the technical points above could result in such disappointment even if one would prefer a Castlevania III type of deal with multiple characters and routes.
#10: Simon's a Giant Yeah, not a fan of big sprite characters in platformers. Which is why Mega Man 7 and MM and Bass don't work for me as much as the classics.
#9: Simon Only Not necessarily a deal-breaker to have one playable character, but I don't find him all that fun to play as in this game.
#8: Pointless Graphical Flair When I got to that part with the rotating room and you just hang in the middle, I was so sure some deadly trap was going to spring at the halfway point where it pauses for a bit, so I kept trying to swing to the other side and escape. But nope, you're supposed to just hang there forever until you fully appreciate Mode 7.
#7 Poor Performance To be fair, the NES games absolutely had their share of slowdown and sprite flickering and stuff. It didn't especially matter, since they were fairly slow-paced anyway, but it was there. But yeah, SuperCas has its chugs, especially that one enemy you pointed out. Though, again, I don't find it all that big a deal. Unlike the hitches in, say, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts.
#6 Pointless Mechanics I agree, the swinging never really felt like a meaningful mechanic to me. It was just sort of there.
#5 The Music Yeah, I'm not a huge fan. I love Simon's theme (the opening stage music) and the remixes of classic Castlevania tunes, but the more "moody" BGM that populates most of the game doesn't really do it for me.
#4 through #1 -- Lose a little steam there? Haha, but I agree.
Now I'm gonna rebut your rebuttal! It's all buts and rebuts in here!
10: That's kind of what I'm getting at. It's not that the enemies close in on you too soon. It's that they are never out of reach. Too easy to kill, in a series known for it's brutal (yet fair) difficulty. This game was like easy mode.
9: Yeah, this is a "YMMV" kind of thing. Ever since Dracula's Curse, I've always enjoyed having more than one character to play as. Might be one of the reasons why I wasn't disappointed or think the worst of Castlevania 64. But it's a cool concept, and it's returned in multiple games since, so I was bummed when Super Castlevania IV didn't even attempt it. (on a side note, I was also disappointed that Super Mario World only had two real power-ups, after Super Mario Bros. 3 had no less than five - the beginning of the SNES era was odd to me as a kid, ha ha)
8: They never had this kind of thing before, and they haven't tried it again in any game since. Why? Because it's dumb. At least they brought back other things games before this one have done - namely having more than one character to play as. MEH!
7: You enjoy your lumps!
6: No, this isn't anything like DKC's vines. C'mon.
5: I dunno, these themes didn't stick with me like others have. I guess YMMV. *shrugs*
4. Speaking of that Rock Monster? Apparently that's not a sprite - it's a background image. The SNES's Mode-7 graphics could originally only be applied to backgrounds, so to get the growing/shrinking effect on a boss like that, they had to program it as a background instead. You can kind of tell by the way it interacts (or rather, doesn't) with the health bar and other HUD stuff at the top of the screen. Neat! But yeah, meh. Bosses were not that great in this game.
3. It does make things a bit easier, and far more versatile, so I can see why players like it. I prefer the old-school way, and I think Konami (or at least, Igarashi) did, too. Notice how Super Castlevania IV's whip mechanics NEVER made a return? The developers *knew* that it broke the game. So they got rid of it for good. Which was the right choice, for sure!
2. It's kind of the same as three, but only because the whip just steamrolls everything...so it's almost like, why even have sub-weapons? Or maybe better yet, how about different sub-weapons that are more useful? I dunno.
1. Did you ever play (and beat) Dracula's Curse? Going from THAT final boss to Super Castlevania IV's final boss was just....so deflating. The worst part? The player doesn't even get the satisfaction of actually beating Dracula! He's killed by a ray of sunlight from the roof that just happens to creep in! What! Belmonts kill Dracula, not the sun! BAH!
I think we mostly agree. And you know something? I never got around to playing Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts! Was there a lot of slowdown in that one?
And yeah, I was basically falling asleep by the time I got around to the last four or so points. I shouldn't have started this list so late at night - especially on a school night. I need my beauty rest!