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RELEASE DATE (NA): December 1991 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

A grave adventure!

Simultaneously both a remake and a new title, Super Castlevania IV reroots itself in the quivering boots of Simon Belmont, the legendary vampire slayer from the original Castlevania for the NES (and its quirky sequel). Super Castlevania IV reimagines Simon's journey to defeat Count Dracula and end his grip over the land of Transylvania for another 100 years, until he is destined to rise once again and another member of the Belmont clan will need to defeat him. The North American branch of Konami fudged this up a bit, specifying that it takes place AFTER Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (as Simon must "once again" visit Dracula's castle), thus meaning that he recently defeated Dracula and now has to do it again. But the storyline contradictorily states that Dracula is only revived every 100 years, which really makes you wonder how long Simon Belmont can actually live. So, which is it? Did Dracula come back to life really quickly? Or is Simon now a decrepit old man? I would much prefer to follow the Japanese canon, where Super Castlevania IV is simply a retelling of the story behind the first Castlevania. I guess you could say it's a reCOUNT! Get it? Eh? Yeah? Yeah, you got it.

Super Castlevania IV is not just a simple matter of retracing the steps taken years ago in Dracula's castle on the NES. While the latter half of the game is dedicated to advancing through that bloodthirsty dark citadel in search of Count Dracula, the first half of the game brings entirely new areas to the forefront as we follow Simon on his journey TO the castle. Simon visits an abandoned mansion, creaky caves, rippling rivers, and more, all before he even sets foot in the home of Dracula. Once he arrives, however, he will be subject to even more deadly traps and creepy characters. Fans of the original Castlevania will immediately recognize the first level of Dracula's castle; the staunch gray walls and aimlessly floating zombie women are synonymous with that game. Each area is rather detailed, far moreso than the NES Castlevania trilogy, whose graphics occasionally crossed the line between macabre scenery and abstract vomit. Things are much more crisp and clear here. The stairways are far more visible and discernible, and for that I am thankful.

As this is a classic Castlevania game, you can expect the standard style of gameplay. Simon Belmont sports a whip, the Vampire Killer, that serves as his primary weapon of choice. For the first time, Simon can whip in eight different directions, allowing for a little more control over his surroundings, as he can now take out enemies from numerous angles. It definitely comes in handy. He can also just... kinda... swing it around like a limp noodle. That helps deflect projectiles, but it's very weak against enemies. Plus, it looks downright ridiculous, like you're trying to fend off demons and skeletons with a silver skipping rope. Simon starts out with a pretty weak and short whip as it is, but by picking up a couple of bonus (dropped from hanging candles, just like pretty much everything else), he can achieve a much longer and more powerful whip. That doesn't sound right for some reason. He can even use that whip to connect with rings in the air for some Tarzan-style swinging. The controls are pretty spot-on; because the game isn't horribly difficult, any mistakes made usually feel like your own.

Fictional Fun Fact: The band Devo was a fan of the Castlevania series. Whip it!

Simon is also privy to a number of secondary weapons, including holy water, knives, the boomerang cross, a stopwatch, and an axe, all of which require hearts to use. Luckily, pretty much every hanging candle around will give you hearts; they're in incredible abundance. Must have been a sale on candles nearby. Gotta love those farmer's markets. By the way, health inspectors beware: Castlevania games are known for their surplus of hidden vitality-restoring meat. Sometimes whipping those candles will drop a tasty chicken drumstick, but othertimes, you'll have to crack into a wall for one of those full-on pot roasts. Simon has no problem chowing down on meat found buried within the dusty walls of Dracula's castle. They can't possibly be fresh, but that matters not for the frugal gourmet. If it gives you more life, dinner is served.

As I said, the graphics are cleaner than the NES Castlevania games, making for an improved overall experience. You can actually fully comprehend what you're looking at, unlike the more blocky original Castlevania. The game still looks like a first-generation SNES game, but it's probably among the most graphically impressive of that period. Simon is much bigger this time around, as are the enemies in his path. The bosses are rather large and detailed; one of them (the Rock Golem) is stretched by the power of sprite scaling to seem gargantuan, though you can knock him down to size with some well-placed whippings. The music is also pretty impressive for an early SNES title with tunes ranging from dark orchestral pieces to more lighthearted jazz affairs (the latter doesn't seem to fit very well with the Castlevania atmosphere). Some tracks are remixed versions of older Castlevania songs, but there are indeed many new ones. Also, get used to Simon's grunt when he is injured because you'll hear it plenty of times.

Even though it was intended to be a remake, the confusingly-titled Super Castlevania IV actually serves as the next logical step in the series' evolution, both visually and in terms of gameplay. Just the addition of a multi-directional whip feels like a breath of fresh air. Granted, Super Castlevania IV is hardly a huge innovative leap, but there is the feeling that Konami was continuing to improve on the Castlevania formula with this title. And, for a game released so early in the SNES' lifespan, it's quite impressive even today. Castlevania enthusiasts and fans of action games alike will find much to enjoy about Super Castlevania IV, as it very well symbolizes the heart of the series.

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