#122 – Castlevania

Mr. Belmont, your castle awaits…
This cover’s for the ladies.
That’s a big bucket of pass from me, thanks.




GENRE: Action


Playing through every NES game really puts Nintendo’s entire gaming output into perspective. Games traditionally failed on the NES, not because they weren’t marketed properly like today, but because they were bad games. Read my Castelian and Castle of Deceit reviews to see why no one has ever heard of those games. Castlevania was released in 1987 for the Nintendo, and, if I’m not mistaken, was one of the first side-scrolling action games for the NES along with Kung Fu, Ghosts N Goblins, and the original Super Mario Bros. Out of all the aforementioned games, only Mario and Castlevania truly live on today. Kung Fu and Ghosts N Goblins were hardly bad games for their day, and in fact, sold quite well, but Castlevania was a huge success. It’s for good reason: even 24 years later, Castlevania is one of those Nintendo games, like Mega Man or Contra, that possesses the ability to still feel fresh, exciting, and challenging on every playthrough.

Anyone who’s ever been moderately interested in the Castlevania series has read a thousand retrospectives on the series; articles on why the first game was so influential, unique, interesting, fun, on why it launched a dynasty, etc. Even if you didn’t read past the entry on Super Castlevania IV in said retrospective, everyone knows the story and the gameplay behind ¾ of the series. Some member of the Belmont goes to take on Dracula and his several reincarnations. Later, in the GBA and DS games, they introduce several new characters and soap opera plotlines, but that’s none of our concern. What is important is each person’s take on their time with Castlevania. In other words, where were you when you first played one of the original Castlevania games on the NES? So in a sort-of, kind-of break from tradition, I would like readers to leave a comment, stating their first experience with a Castlevania game. I’d prefer if your first experience was with Castlevania I-III on the NES, but beggars can’t be choosers. Any reminiscences will do!

Simon embraces death, but not un-death.

When I was a child in the early 90s, I never tried the original three for the NES or Super CV IV for the SNES, and I honestly can’t say why. If I had to guess, though, I’d say a part of me was scared. I read game magazines and hint books at the time, and I knew Castlevania games were hard and not for the weak at heart. Don’t get me wrong, I could handle a challenge as a kid. In a way, my argument implodes on itself because I know I rented every Mega Man game about a couple dozen times. I just could never beat really challenging games over a three-day rental period at Blockbuster, and I suppose, Mega Man, although challenging, was covered in a shroud of cuteness, which made him appealing to me. Despite his power, no one’s going to look at Mega Man’s adorable face and be terrified. Castlevania was dark, disturbing, mysterious. While my family was Christian, they wouldn’t have objected to me playing the Castlevania games, so that excuse is out. Also, I enjoyed scaring myself, so Castlevania seems like a series I would have been drawn to. ALL THE PIECES FIT! Alas, I will never know my reasoning. While I later tried all three games on an NES emulator in the early 00s (yes, I was behind), my first Castlevania game was indeed Castlevania for the N64. Like many pitiful N64 owners, I swallowed up anything that looked remotely good. I hated the original Castlevania for the N64, but later I tried the “director’s cut” Legacy of Darkness and found that much more enjoyable for reasons I can’t recall. Nevertheless, neither of those games are solid first entries in the series if you’re looking for a place to start.

Yes, all of the retrospectives are true: the original Castlevania is a masterful game and a love letter to monsters in general. Its six levels are intricately designed to make you feel like you’re traversing the grounds of an evil castle in Transylvania. Instead of simply latching onto vampire mythology, the game throws every creature in the book at you: mummies, medusa heads, large bats, witches, and for flavor, Frankenstein’s monster. For 1987, this was high-quality gaming that only the NES could provide (or, if you were in Japan, the Famicom Disk System). Beautiful atmospheric graphics, mostly tight controls, and some of the best music found in gaming, then and now, provide an all-around excellent experience. Complaints? When enemies hit you, they send you flying backward. Since there are a lot of flying enemies and a lot of precarious jumps to make, simple hits can lead to many instant deaths. If you’re a fan, you know all of this already. If you’re not a fan, why are you still reading? Go play Castelian or something.


First Frankenstein, then Dracula, then… the world.
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21 replies on “#122 – Castlevania”

I really enjoy castlevania even to this day. I was originally introduced to castlevania by watching my father play ( I vaguely remember as I was a mere 5 years old when it came out). In fact, when Lindsay told me she wanted to buy a classic nintendo, I was excited to buy a copy of the original castlevania and get back to the simple days of my youth. To this day, some of my best memories are siting on the floor sharing a pepsi and playing this and blaster master with my Dad.

My first experience with a Castlevania game with Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest on the NES. My best friend had a copy, and I borrowed it once, and… quickly got lost, frowned upon it, and it took a long while of time plus some stern convincing to even get me to try re-entering the Castlevania mythos. In retrospect, yeah, quite a series, to say the very least.

Like you, my first experience was with the 64. The two scenes I remember are the pathetic skeletons and there motorcycles from the first level (?). And also being chased by the demon dogs through the hedge maze in what was a truly atmospheric and creepy part of the game. The overcast sky was enough. The dogs (which were nigh impossible to kill) made it worse. Ian bested it. I gave up. And haven’t looked back since.

First experience with the series was the original Castlevania…my mother had taken me for my weekly visit to the local “Movie Loft” which was a little video store in a smallish, two level, all-brick plaza tucked away in front of a cornfield off the main road. In addition to movies, Movie Loft had penny candy, Nintendo games, and a very distinct smell (not a bad one, just very distinct). I saw Castlevania and although the box art made me somewhat unsettled, I rented it. When I got the game home and played, the difficulty was scarier than the floating vampire head on the box…I don’t think I made it past level 3.

My first experience with the Castlevania series was with the original game. I still have a VHS tape of myself playing trying to beat dracula, continue after continue, death after death. I rented that game when I was a kid like 10 times. This game is one of my favorite because it mixes fun factor and skill very well. Also, it’s one of the game I’ve beated that’ll make me very proud of !!

Great series. Although I played Castlevania I, I have more frustrated memories of playing Castlevania II and never being able to finally beat the game because I never could get the stupid tornado to come down and pick me up! Anyway, the game which locked me in as a true Castlevania fan for life was Castlevania III with its multiple characters. I do remember playing, enjoying and beating Castlevania I, though my memories are a bit vague.

VERY similar experience here.. Really getting into the NES around 1988 meant I was playing mostly Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2, and Duck Hunt since most kids just didn’t have an entire LIBRARY of NES games at their disposal.. (I remember parents would pool funds together to buy a single game such as SMB2 for a kid for their birthday!) You could always borrow Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Contra, or Megaman from your neighbor (or get lost and overwhelmed by Metroid or Zelda, just a bit too much indeed for the 6-7 year old crowd).. Or you could rent from the local video store. Castlevania 1 was my first foray into the series, and well—it was atmospheric, and scary in a good way–but it was no Mario. It was no Megaman. It was slower, tougher, and it sucked that you couldn’t control Simon in the air. It sucked that you could get knocked back off a platform, and would fall THROUGH the stairs that you were just climbing. Yes, I suppose the physics were more “realistic” or something.. Infinite continues made the experience tolerable, and yes, even a young kid could tell that this was a good, challenging game.. But that same young kid can only take so many Medusa heads knocking you into the abyss before I’d eject the game and try my luck tackling Cutman. (I mean, hey, I got to choose my levels in that game!) I think perhaps the detailed, creepy graphics made it a little tough to discern characters/items/enemies from backgrounds and platforms at times when compared to the simpler, brighter visuals of Mario or Megaman. And not that Castlevania was too complex, but it always felt slightly more complicated to me, like I was missing something, compared to other platformers. Perhaps it was the healthy amount of sub-weapons, the random items/health you would occasionally get, the quick whip upgrades you’d get each time you died, the money-bags, the hidden treasures, the “2” and “3” weapon-upgrades, etc. All made for an experience that was just a touch too mature for the younger gamers. I definitely appreciate this original game much more today than I did back then. I probably would have had my mind blown in 1987 had I been used to playing “Baseball” and “Balloon Fight” and “Donkey Kong” and then this great game comes along..

The original was my first taste of the greatness of Castlevania. I played it at a friend’s house, because my mom would not let me have this game. I enjoyed finding hidden items in blocks, and the wide range of baddies to whip. I finally beat this game a few years ago, but it took at least a year to defeat Dracula’s two forms. I love this series but have not played any 3D version.

A buddy of mine raved over to my house to announce his joy over getting Castlevania 3 as a special gift, and we threw it in my NES to open a world of horror that Friday the 13th or even nightmare on elm street could not have possibly prepared me for. Even though i was only 6 at the time, my friend and I were huge.horror fans. After staring slack-jawed in awe while my friend progressed through the game I asked if I could borrow it. Not wanting to part with his newest game quite yet, he allowed me to borrow the first two. As frustrating as they were, I played the hell out of them for.the next week waiting for him to conquer part 3 so I myself could be at the helm of Grant. I finally got to play it and continued my love affair with the franchise that I still have the fondest memories of, despite never having completed a single castlevania game until Symphony of the night(borrowed from the same friend 6 years later). I recently reacquired an old school NES and plan to rectify never having beat the original trilogy very soon.

Ah, Castlevania. Its a mixed bag for me on this one. Honestly I can’t remember if I ever owned it or not, but it was always in heavy rotation between the young scofflaws of the neighborhood. I put in many hours on this one and its subsequent sequels and at the time was one of my faves. I have always been drawn to the horror genre as a whole and to this day I am a huge fan of the movies, books and music. Unfortunately, upon further review, I must second-guess my childhood fascination and break it down proper for Simon and the Belmont clan. The bottom line is, the controls suck on this game. Whats up with having to press straight up to climb stairs? And the jump has a definite delay to it, not to mention, getting slung across the board ninja gaiden style after incurring a small hit. These may sound like minor beefs, but within the tight confines of the game’s layout, it quickly becomea a major concern for anyone attempting an old school “monster mash.” It is, and will always be, a solid title for the nes. But you better be patient, grasshopper. Props to DC for correctly tagging “Frankenstein’s Monster” in the review. I’m amazed how many people have no idea that Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster.

My first experience was with Simon’s Quest. For real, my nephew and I loved playing that game, played it constantly, to try to beat it. I think he did, using a guide.

MY first CV experience was also Simon’s Quest, rented from the video store in my early childhood. Although I loved this game it took me 4 rentals (they only did 1-day rentals in the small bayside town I was from) I beat it, after scribbling passwords in my sheet during all 4 rentals. I rented CV1 after 2, but was not as interested because as a child it shadowed in comparison to #2 IMO. After having played and (barely) beaten all 3 NES games I see I missed out as a child. -Robb K

Sorry I’m not as old as you lot here, but my first experience with Castlevania is with a rom of the first one right now after I finished reading this article! IT looked so cool.

I was dirt poor as a kid and only had a NES and 8 games (Mario Bros 3, Legend of Zelda, Battle Tank, Rocket Ranger, Mickey Mousecapade, Goonies 2, Gauntlet, and Krion Conquest) until PS2 came out and a friend gave me his old PS1. A couple months ago I started downloading emulators an roms to catch up on all the games I missed out on, and the first thing I played was Castlevania. I was not disappointed.

Can’t remember playing it for the first time… But I played it a lot! Probably more than any other CV GAME and up there with my most played game ever. I think the game asks a lot out of the patience of a child as what seemed like a very very hard game when I was young is quite a bit more tolerable now.

It was a long time ago, but I believe my first exposure to the game was a friend of mine who had it, and we’d take turns playing it. It was creepy, in a good way.

The first CV game I remember really being into was the SNES version, though – I still have that one, and remember the graphics being a big deal. I don’t actually have the NES Castlevania, maybe I should hunt it up, as I still have a few of my favorite NES games that I enjoy playing (and introducing to my children) now and again.

Also, I love that you mentioned Castelian. I used to have that game, and that is NOT one that I saved.

My first memory of Castlevania was playing it at my grandparents house during the holidays when we would visit (my uncle was still in high school and living with them at the time). He had both CV 1 and 2. I loved them both. Still do. I still remember the first time I beat Frankenstein (level 4). I was so nervous as I watched his health go down little by little while dodging his fire spitting monkey (he always looked like a monkey to me). That adrenaline and excitement is what really got me (and kept me) into gaming. Little did I know at the time that was just a warmup for the next two levels (Grim Reaper and Drac himself). It would be another couple years before I could say I was able to complete the game. Great times!

Derek F.

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