Tuesday, October 5, 2010

VC Look - Super Castlevania 4

One thing that always bugged me about the Castlevania series is that apparently all Dracula has to do is enter the land of the living, set up his huge castle, and then local vampire-hunters want to see him put to rest. The way I see it he seems pretty content chilling in his house while his minions stalk the hallways. Maybe a nearby village gets razed and a bunch of people get sacrificed but eh that’s their problem. If some huge Castle appears out of nowhere and it’s all spooky and starts changing forms so there’s a second castle or maybe multiple castles from other dimensions attached to it, I would probably bug the heck out and never look back.

Okay maybe it isn’t that simple and I should probably cut out the lame jokes but that’s not really important. Dracula coming back again and again is as good an excuse as any for Konami to keep pumping out Castlevania games. This time around I’m looking at Super Castlevania 4. Apparently just calling it Super Castlevania or Castlevania 4 wasn’t enough. It’s all rather strange since this game isn’t considered a sequel. It’s actually a re-imagining, sort of like Jet Set Radio Future. Castlevania 4 re-tells the epic story of Simon’s quest to defeat Dracula and the game just happens to have about twice as many stages, a bunch of new enemies and bosses, and a pretty serious makeover in terms of level-design and controls. Don’t call it a sequel though because somebody will cut you.

For not being a sequel this game definitely must have been the extended edition that was held back for the Blu-ray release. All of the stages are very lengthy and offer everything from spiked floors, to a rotating room, to a bunch of excuses for showing off Mode 7 tech, and well any idea that Konami thought would look good in a Castlevania title. At times it’s like wandering the halls of a real house of horrors as some stages trade the difficulty curve for something like portrait-ladies ineffectively grabbing at Simon and whatever else that sounds cool. It’s nothing that really affects the game and even today we’ll remember silly nonsensical sections like jumping across giant chandeliers. The bosses are a bit more creative and trade their hard-hitting attacks for moves that look cool and offer variety. Back then Dracula would just shoot you with a fireball that took a quarter of your life away. Now he’s got several attacks that do maybe 1 to 3 points at the most. Still Konami keeps forgetting to tell their programmers to figure out a way to keep Simon from merely spamming his sub-weapons to lock most of the bosses down and make them trivial encounters.

Simon is still wielding the Vampire Killer and aside from looking spiffy with his fine leather and theme song he’s got some new tricks. For reasons unknown he got the bright idea to swing his whip in multiple directions. I’m not quite sure if it’s really necessary but it is appreciated as he can now cover just about any angle his foes are likely to come from. By holding down the button Simon can also flail his whip around and uh..admire the effect…yeah this technique isn’t all that useful. The Vampire Killer can also control his jump while in mid-air. This is really big news as it makes him more maneuverable and offers a bit of protection so if for whatever reason it looks like he’s about to jump into danger he might be able to save himself. Somehow if this wasn’t enough he can also swing on magic-floating-thingies to traverse pits his jump just can’t cover. There’s also the crouch-walking cause sometimes you have to duck, walk, and whip. Oh and before I forget Simon can also jump onto and down from stairs. Wow! Suddenly he’s not a sitting duck while climbing stairs.

At this point Konami might as well have made Simon invincible. He’s barely the same man we remember. However I’m not quite finished. The precious pot-roasts of the original Castlevania could only be found hidden inside a handful of secret walls. Now there are candles that hold freshly-cooked chicken legs which will restore a portion of Simon’s vitality. I mean that’s just great. Now there’s a good chance I’ll go into any boss-fight with full-health because there’s some meat lying around nearby.

Yes yes I’m well aware of the consequences and implications that all these changes bring to the game but you know what? I’m cool with it. Sure you’d all like to think that I’m all “grumble grumble Konami ruined Castlevania oh God my life is over” but nope things don’t work out that easily. I for one can appreciate what Konami tries to do with the series. And aside from that if nothing else all of these additions and changes are OPTIONAL. That’s right if I don’t want to whip in multiple directions I don’t have to. Suddenly the game becomes slightly harder. What about all of that extra meat? Well I prefer my meat coming straight out of the wall thanks. If I jump somewhere and realize I’m going to land in spikes well oh well maybe I better stop being dumb. This goes for nearly every new feature to the game which leaves me with plenty of options to make the trek as easy or as hard as I want.

I can allow the game to go easy on me so I can focus on the excellent atmosphere and one of the better soundtracks Konami has produced, or I can purposefully weaken myself so when I replay the game I’m forced to be a little more careful or perhaps even a bit more creative to get through situations I may have glossed over in the past. This method of variable difficulty is well-implemented and Konami deserves high-praise for such a thoughtful idea. Still it can be argued that it just isn’t enough for those seeking a real and “pure” Castlevania challenge. To be fair there’s truth in that as some sections are definitely lacking in the “hey this would go great with some medusa-heads” or “if they moved the axe-armor down here instead of up there it would be a serious threat” kind-of challenge. Konami throws a bone in the form of a second quest that offers up more enemies but those looking for a serious controller-throwing challenge will probably have to be some rom-hacker to copy-paste up some spikes or other random enemies to make everything complicated.

Like I said way back though, Super Castlevania 4 is a re-imagining. It’s like complaining that Jet Set Radio Future wasn’t a better Jet Set Radio. Sometimes it’s about making something different instead of making something better. What makes this game great is that it focuses on things besides situations that take multiple retries to solve and goes for something that works properly with the pacing it goes for. I’m really not sure I’d be able to stand the game if it was super-hard and I was re-doing entire stages multiple times over. Sure that might have been viable for a 15 minute-long game like the original CV1 but at near an hour CV4 is not a wall I want to bang my head against.

So forget everything I might have said in the past because this game is one of my favorites in the series and it’s a pretty class affair that everyone should play through once, twice, a million, or okay maybe just several times…that’d be enough I think.

Game Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
The only thing that really hurts the game is the ineffective bosses. I guess I could go without the sub-weapon abuse but even then these guys tend to be stunned for just a bit too long with each hit. Maybe they could have done just a little bit more damage but its possible Konami was shooting for a slightly more epic feel. I can’t really blame them for that because the only thing epic about hitting a guy 20 times when he only has to hit you once to win is that it is an epic kick to the rosaries. I gotta say though why does Konami keep bothering to put effort into the scoring system when there’s no high-score table or anything? It’s hard to focus too much on score anyway since the game just loops around. I guess if you play it enough without continuing you’ll eventually have the highest score of all time...hurray?

My Rating – 5 out of 5 stars
It’s already one of my favorite Castlevania games what else do I have to say here? Well I like the music, the art-direction is pretty fab, I replay it at least once to four times a year. Simon’s theme is great and I can play through it without the more fragile objects in my house feeling threatened. So yeah awesome stuff and I love it.

1 comment:

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