Review: Castlevania – Classic NES Series (Game Boy Advance)

Genre: Action/Platformer
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Rating: E (Everyone)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Konami

Everyone’s heard me pissing and moaning about the “Classic NES Series” for the GBA by now. I was pleased that Nintendo was reissuing classic games, but simultaneously infuriated by the fact that there was only one game per cartridge, and and that they were retailing for the ridiculous price of $19.99 each. These are games with no facelifts whatsoever; it’s the same stuff you played over a decade ago, and you can get the originals themselves for quite a bit less than buying the GBA versions. Regardless…I checked out Castlevania, one of my favorite games of all time. Yes, I’ve got the original NES version. Why did I pick it up yet again? Read on and find out…

(And if you want more Castlevania action later on, check out my retrospective here.)

STORY

Simon Belmont is a vampire hunter, from a long line of vampire hunters. And man, has he got his hands full. Instead of getting a quick workout by staking a few Eurotrash weakling vampires, he’s got to throw down against the King of the Undead himself, Count Dracula. As if that weren’t bad enough, Dracula’s amassed quite a group of lackeys to kill our hero. Aside from the usual bats, zombies, and other pests, the Count’s brought out the big guns in the forms of Medusa, Frankenstein’s monster, Death, mummies…plenty of problems for ol’ Simon to deal with. A simple story, to be sure, but it gave rise to such a rich tapestry of tales to come that its place in video game history is one of crucial importance. Solid, to the point, and legendary. What more could you possibly want? (Rating: 10/10)


Kick some merman tail. Pun intended.

GRAPHICS

For a game released nearly two decades ago, the graphics are pretty damn tight. Simon and his foes are sharp and well-animated. The backgrounds look great, and the collision detection is spot-on. And enemies burst into flames as they perish! That rocks. However, since the NES’ screen resolution was larger than that of the GBA, some sacrifices had to be made. The most obvious of these is where text is concerned: all of the fonts have been “squished.” Some of the sprites and backgrounds have also had a few of their horizontal lines deleted, and the same was done to the various blocks that make up the ground and platforms. It doesn’t affect the overall gameplay, and it’s not highly noticeable unless you’re a Castlevania diehard. (Rating: 8/10)


Gah! Giant bat!

SOUND

How I love the classic Castlevania theme song, “Vampire Killer.” It’ll get stuck in your head, just like the themes from Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. And that’s just the first level’s music! All of the tunes in Castlevania are fantastic. The sound effects don’t fare nearly as well; it’s not that they suck, but they’re not anything mindblowing. They’re primarily whipping noises and cracking noises as enemies meet their end. There’s a single piece of digitized speech in the game; whenever Simon takes damage, he’ll audibly grunt. Hey, you’d make noise too if you got bit by a giant f*cking vampire bat. (Rating: 8/10)

CONTROL

The control scheme itself couldn’t be any more simple: the d-pad moves you around, the “A” button jumps, and the “B” button lets you attack with your whip. Hold “Up” and hit “B” to use a subweapon (boomerang, dagger, holy water, axe, or stopwatch). Those are acquired by whipping various candles on the walls, or by breaking certain blocks. Some people have complained that the controls in Castlevania don’t respond fast enough, or that they respond too well, or any other litany of excuses. The simple fact is, the controls work just fine, and if you die, it means you suck. Granted, it’s a tough game, but c’mon, just practice. Sheesh. And may I point out that Castlevania is one of the few games that has “realistic” jumping? Simon cannot turn around in midair like so many other video game characters can. If you fall off that ledge, you’re falling to your doom! (Rating: 8/10)


Damn skeletons!

REPLAYABILITY

Castlevania is a great title to play through, over and over again. However, unlike modern games, repeated plays will not earn you any special items, unlockable characters, etc. There’s a “second quest,” much like The Legend of Zelda, but completing it won’t really accomplish anything. Castlevania is very linear, with no hidden stuff. You play it, you beat it, and that’s the entire game. How often you replay it depends on how much you just enjoy the game itself. (Rating: 5/10)

BALANCE

Every heard us old farts talking about how “games are too easy these days”? Play Castlevania and you’ll understand why. This game is damn hard, and it’ll cause anyone to swear up a storm, even the Pope. The first few stages may seem okay, but the difficulty shoots up exponentially from there. And don’t even get me started on the boss fights, specifically the very last few. The term “Castlevania Frustration Syndrome” was coined back in the 1980s for a reason! (Rating: 7/10)

ORIGINALITY

Konami took the Universal Monsters and banded them all together. That’s f*cking genius. And it’s not even a cheesy black & white horror film! This is the original horror game…the hell with all the funky computer games that came before. Castlevania singlehandedly raised the bar for horror titles. Horror doesn’t have to be all about blood and gore, which is sadly what the genre has devolved into. Castlevania proved that you could have a great story with powerful monsters, showing what horror is really all about. It’s a shame that a shitty film like Van Helsing completely ripped it off, and badly, but at least we’ve got the classics to enjoy. (Rating: 10/10)

ADDICTIVENESS

You’ll get your ass beat by mummies. You’ll get knocked into bottomless pits by Medusa heads. You’ll get sliced to death by axe knights. But you’ll keep coming back for more. Regardless of your masochistic tendencies, Castlevania is just so much fun to play, that you’ll gladly step up to the plate to face monsters repeatedly. And soon, young vampire hunter, you will emerge victorious and send Dracula back to the grave! C’mon, you can’t resist… (Rating: 7/10)

APPEAL

Horror fans, buy this. Action fans, buy this. Adventure fans, buy this. Platforming fans, buy this. Are we seeing a pattern here? Classic games often crossed many boundaries, making them appeal to gaming fanatics of all types. Castlevania is no different, and it offers a worthwhile experience for any type of gamer. Except for maybe those PC gamers, who play Counter Strike all day and live in their moms’ basements. (Rating: 8/10)

MISCELLANEOUS

Here’s where the big bomb drops. While I’ve played the US release of Castlevania for the sake of this review, I didn’t actually buy it. Instead, I imported Akumajou Dracula, the Japanese version. Suckers! Over there, it’s part of Nintendo’s “Famicom Mini” line, which I must say is much cooler that their American counterparts. Not only did they get hell of a lot more games, but the packaging is f*cking intense. Full reproductions of the classic Famicom (or Famicom Disk System) boxes, poster-style manuals, and loads of classic crappy artwork. Take a look:


Eat it, Nintendo of America!

And the icing on the cake? Akumajou Dracula has full battery save. See, the original Famicom Disk System title had three save slots (just like the original Zelda), and they were removed for the American release, since the US didn’t have the Disk System. Saving isn’t as big of a deal when you’re playing at home, but GBA games are designed to be portable. The US version has an interrupt save system, but the Japanese version just seems to be more effective. All of the Classic NES titles should’ve had a complete battery save system put in (if they didn’t have it already), but Nintendo dropped the ball. They added wireless support to some games, so the lack of battery save is inexcusable. Even a simple interrupt save system would’ve been something. Stupid Americans. As far as other differences between the two versions are concerned, there’s obviously some Japanese text (though surprisingly little, for this particular title), some minor sound changes, some candles in different places, and so on. Oh, and there’s this:

That’s the screen a Famicom Disk System user would get if no game was inserted. Pretty cool, huh? (Sorry about the crappy quality…I had to take a picture of it on my TV.) See, Akumajou Dracula was available on the Famicom Disk System in Japan, and since the GBA port is taken directly from that version, Nintendo threw in that little screen for nostalgia’s sake. (To see it, hold down “A” or “B” while booting up the GBA…if you’ve got the Japanese version of the game, of course.)

Nintendo of America really should have included a lot more bonus stuff with their Classic NES Series, and there’s really no excuse to the contrary. Not to mention that the packaging should have been full reproductions of the NES boxes and such, but oh well… (Rating: 5/10)

Final Scores:

Story: 10/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 8/10
Control: 8/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 10/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10