The Main Review
Castlevania (or Akumajou Dracula aka Devil’s Castle Dracula in Japan) is a 1986 action platformer for the NES developed and published by Konami. The plot takes place back in 1691 where Simon must enter Dracula’s castle and eventually defeat him causing its collapse.
Title screen is quite nice with the huge logo and the animated bat including the grey parts which is meant to make the screen look like part of a old film strip. Not really a fan of the large Konami logo to be honest but I heard its actually part of anti-piracy which gets triggered if someone tries to change it. Quite strange just how often it shows demo play and what levels its willing to show (including a small bit of stage 12 which is 2/3 through the game).
Nice how it starts with a small cutscene that shows you Simon entering the castle yard with silhouette of said castle in the background.
Getting into the game the graphics are alright and the soundtrack is quite memorable but the action does keep you a little distracted from it. The controls were easy to get used to although some people may get put off by how weak your whip looks and especially how it only hits in one direction like most old games (something that got vastly improved throughout the series). Luckily the upgrades are easy to find inside candles which can also hold a variety of other things including subweapons like knives, axes, holy water, stopwatch’s and the awesome boomerang like cross as well as the hearts that power them. You can also find a pendant looking item that clears the screen of enemies (which to my amusement can be hacked to be used as a 5 heart subweapon) as well as the occasional money bags that give you points.
If there was something that people that played this game hated it’d be the knockback, there’s a lot of instant death pits and when you get hit you always seem to gravitate towards them although I personally didn’t find them as annoying as they are portrayed. There seems to be a trick to infinitely respawning enemies like medusa heads which go across the screen but I kinda just lucked out with them.
Something that I quite liked is the secrets, not only could you find things in candles but some of the blocks could actually be destroyed too which revealed things like cooked meat which gave you health and these odd numbered items that let you throw more than 1 of your current sub-weapon (up to 3). There’s even secret money bags which aren’t as simple to find, in the case of the 2nd screenshot you need to break the block and then seemingly whip to the left which spawns a 1000 point money bag.
Other than the money bags (which can be useful considering you earn 1up’s starting at 80,000 points) you definitely need health and the ability to throw more subweapons to beat the various bosses which all feel different despite being mostly simplistic, I really liked how said bosses did not have invincibility frames meaning its easy to combo the subweapon (especially the cross) with the whip in order to take them down quickly and feel like a badass. Except Dracula himself of course who like most bosses had a second form and kicked my ass quite a few times before I eventually won which was satisfying. The silly credits using made up names was quite an amusing reward.
Overall its still quite an enjoyable game despite controls, length and variety that pale in comparison to some of the later entries in the series. However the game does start over in a hard mode once you win the first time so hardcore gamers can still get a lot out of the game if they somehow beat Dracula really easily.
How do Ports compare?
Ignoring platforms that are literally the same thing (like the Nintendo Vs system) the original Castlevania wasn’t ported to much so I can only compare to Commodore 64 and DOS which were both done by different groups of the same company (USI aka Unlimited Software Inc).
Loading up the game the graphics are kinda recognizable but the music was a really annoying rendition that I kinda wish they just didn’t have at all. Sadly it was even worse in the game itself with every thing that got hit completely drowning out the terrible music with an even more annoying and repetitive noise, some of the colors were quite odd as well. Despite seemingly being fully playable it was a chore just to get to and defeat the first boss despite difficulty-wise being quite simple.
The only saving factors of it was that you were so much faster going up steps and the fact that the developers did actually program the secret money bags in (so its not like it was a no effort conversion or anything). Perhaps with some (pointless) modding it’d be alright but it doesn’t stand up to the original.
The Commodore 64 version seemed different in some areas compared to the above one since they’re converted by different people, title had no music but was amused by some random stuff like putting Alan on the gravestone on the black and white picture that pops up (the programmer for this version) and calling the leaderboards Dracula’s Hall of Blame (instead of Fame). As for gameplay it is a surprisingly good conversion in most places despite enemies looking a bit weird (and being seemingly faster while you seem a bit slower) plus the music was quite decent too although it had its obvious flaws.
The biggest flaws was the fact up was now jump as well as climbing stairs making it a bit awkward to start climbing and you also seem to go slower up them. There’s also the fact that the screen clearing pendant is a huge epilepsy risk since the black including the huge border around the game flashing white multiple times was horrible enough to even hurt my eyes. Also kinda sad that they seemingly didn’t program in the secret money bags. Overall a good conversion although not on par with the original, easily the best of the two USI conversions though.
Thanks for reading, remember that you can always suggest other games to play but do note stuff like this takes longer than you’d think (other than me being busy with other stuff).