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Super NES Classic Reviews Game by Game #3: Super Castlevania IV

Join us as we review every Super NES Classic game. Next up: Simon Belmont's excellent adventure.

Review by Nadia Oxford, .

Join us as we review all the games on the SNES Classic Mini Edition in chronological order!

Like Super Mario and Mega Man, vampire hunter extraordinaire Simon Belmont was overhauled for his brave new 16-bit world. Unlike other mascots who ascended from 8- to- 16-bits, however, Simon's new look and skillset lasted for a single game.

Super Castlevania IV's disparity is part of its appeal, though. The NES Castlevania games share a distinct aesthetic, and the 2D Castlevania titles following Castlevania IV all inherited key traits from their great-grandfather, Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine. But Castlevania IV's subdued color palette, percussion-heavy soundtrack, and loose whip-handling is one of a kind.

Castlevania IV is probably also the last Castlevania title to use a light touch with its story. Dracula is back, and Simon Belmont needs to put him down. That's about it. In fact, Japan regards Castlevania IV as a reboot of Simon's debut adventure, and both narratives work just fine.

Castlevania IV's seeming lack of a driving story never bothered me, because the game's visuals tell you more about Dracula's haunted manor than reams of text ever could. I still look back at Castlevania IV with a bit of disbelief; a first-generation SNES game has no right to look so good. While Simon's sprite looks kind of weird and arthritic, the areas he trudges through are filled with details both tiny and huge. In the opening stage alone, ivy crawls up tall fences at an unnatural speed, and ghostly horses swish their tails as they watch Simon pass. Later stages play with the SNES's Mode-7 graphics by turning whole rooms on a single pixel, and by rocking massive chandeliers back and forth (wavering candle flames and all). Eat that, Phantom of the Opera.

"It's a cursed world we live in (thanks to Drac)!"

Castlevania IV is as linear as the first NES game. Gone are the branching paths of Simon's Quest and Castlevania III. The game never makes you feel fenced-in, though; there are eleven levels, most of which are broken up into sub-sections that contain entirely new settings and music. Though not as massive as Super Mario World, first-timers probably won't be able to clear Castlevania IV in a single sitting.

Interestingly, there's a rhyme and reason to Castlevania IV's sprawl. Before Simon is allowed access to the Count's castle, he needs to trek through his huge estate. Hence the haunted stables, the clockwork mansions, the gardens, the caverns, the shallow rivers, and the rest of it. Though Castlevania IV predates Symphony of the Night by several years, it might be the first game in the series that makes Simon's eternal rival feel like less of a Universal Monsters stereotype and more like the twisted Wallachian warlord that Dracula's legend is based upon.

The monsters draw straws to see who goes up and re-lights the candles when they go out.

That may also be why Castlevania IV lets Dracula's castle appear almost normal at times, but pulls the rug out from under you before you get too comfortable. The castle's ballrooms are filled with ghosts, its library is filled with living statues and paintings, and its most affluent quarters are reserved for Dracula's own personal bodyguards: The demons Slogra and Gaibon, and Death itself.

Even the most secret corners of the Master's abode aren't free of wraiths. Astute players may discover a treasure room in level six that contains a ghostly old man and his dog. If Simon kills the dog, the man weeps over its corpse until both pass into eternity.

The treasure room is hard enough to find on its own. There's no reason for the old man and his dog to have their own little narrative tucked away in that obscure crevasse. Nevertheless, they do. It's just one of a million little touches that make Castlevania IV feel timeless despite its age.

Be careful who you say "Frankenberry cereal sucks" in front of.

The unique whip mechanics at the core of Castlevania IV also make the game a blast to return to time and time again. Simon still plods along like Mr Heavyfoot, but his ability to whip in eight directions – an ability exclusive to Castlevania IV – makes the game's platforming much more malleable, especially when combined with Simon's traditional repertoire of sub-weapons (throwing knives, holy water, the cross boomerang, et al). Cheap deaths are less of an issue when you can whip diagonally at a writhing dragon skeleton from the safety of a lower platform.

Simon can also grab onto special rings with his whip and swing back and forth like another adventurer of note. This mechanic is used to great effect in the Clocktower level, which, by the way, has the best song on a soundtrack that's singularly stunning. Not even Symphony of the Night offers anything as haunting as the music that accompanies Simon's final throw-down with Dracula.

Castlevania IV is a nearly-perfect package. Its graphics, sound, and gameplay are as solid as Dracula's front gate. It's a rare example of a game that's worth buying several times over because it should always be near you. No matter how many times I come back to it, I still get a thrill out of watching the gates rise on Dracula's front lawn and listening to Simon's Theme build up. Castlevania IV really whips the vampire's – ah shoot, Mike already took that joke.

Castlevania IV is one-of-a-kind. There's no other Castlevania game that looks or plays quite like it, and it's deeply satisfying to work through. This is action game aristocracy.

5 /5

Super NES Classic Reviews Game by Game #3: Super Castlevania IV Nadia Oxford Join us as we review every Super NES Classic game. Next up: Simon Belmont's excellent adventure. 2017-07-13T18:40:00-04:00 5 5

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for kidgorilla #1 kidgorilla 4 months ago
    Unpopular opinion: this is one of my least favorite Castlevania games. I love that they gave some evolution a shot, but I find it really hard to come back to.

    But I like that everyone else does. Just not for me.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #2 nadiaoxford 4 months ago
    @kidgorilla [swallows you whole]
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  • Avatar for yuberus #3 yuberus 4 months ago
    Still baffles me that Konami won't rerelease the third game in their 16-bit trilogy, Bloodlines.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #4 SIGGYZtar 4 months ago
    @yuberus Is that canon anymore?
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  • Avatar for nilcam #5 nilcam 4 months ago
    I loved this game until I hit the spinning room and got motion sick.
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  • Avatar for guillermojiménez88 #6 guillermojiménez88 4 months ago
    @SIGGYZtar Bloodlines has always been canon. It's the sequel to the novel "Dracula" by Bram Stoker (also canon) and it's got it's own sequel in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on the DS.
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  • Avatar for mganai #7 mganai 4 months ago
    The 8-way whip only serves to make Simon's plod pointless and a liability to the game's pacing, since it sullies the otherwise methodical approach necessitated by expertly positioned enemies, who, save for a few exceptions designed with regards to the whip for this game, pose little threat, especially since the whip's reach extends to cover most of the screen. (Maria mode from Rondo was almost as broken, but was actually fun at least. You know why? At least she could run through the levels!)

    I also prefer the divided between paths approach of Dracula's Curse and Rondo. The 11 levels here (combined with aforementioned pacing problems) really wear out their welcome toward the end.
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  • Avatar for BigPrimeNumbers #8 BigPrimeNumbers 4 months ago
    This is actually my favorite Castlevania - Symphony of the night is one of my all time favorite games, but it just never felt particularly like Castlevania to me. This is partly because of what is described above absolutely blew my 10 year old brain at the time of release, and mostly because it is the best of the traditional, linear games in my opinion (I love that whip handling and extra control when jumping). Very glad this was included in the lineup!Edited July 2017 by BigPrimeNumbers
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #9 riderkicker 4 months ago
    I would love to hear the soundtrack done with uncompressed samples.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #10 MetManMas 4 months ago
    I love SC4's atmosphere and nonstandard art style, but in my opinion the game gets a little too carried away with Kid Icarus-esque ascents in the latter quarter, where the bottom of the screen turns into a bottomless pit of death because VIDEO GAME.Edited July 2017 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for WiIIyTheAntelope #11 WiIIyTheAntelope 4 months ago
    You know.. as much as I love Symphony of the Night, I hate it in equal measure. As soon as that came out, the linear Castlevania games essentially ceased to exist, and still to this day haven't had a comeback. And probably never will thanks to Konami being Konami.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #12 yuberus 4 months ago
    @SIGGYZtar Far as I know. They reference the hell out of it in one of the DS games (Portrait of Ruin?)
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #13 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    I haven't played any of the pre-SotN releases, but this is the one I've been itching to play the most just because it's a one-off for the series. Something about that speaks to me.
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  • Avatar for Xemus80 #14 Xemus80 4 months ago
    The best Castlevania soundtrack, full stop. Not even Symphony touches it.
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  • Avatar for BellyFullOfHell #15 BellyFullOfHell 4 months ago
    @Xemus80

    I just bought it on Double vinyl. Fantastic.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #16 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    I think this is the game I'm most looking forward to on the SNES-mini. Great review!
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #17 Vonlenska 4 months ago
    > Squealing intensifies!

    This is my favorite Castlevania, sharing that place with Symphony. Both of them have the best soundtracks, in two completely different ways.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #18 Mooglepies 4 months ago
    I like this a lot (although I didn't like it at all until last year) but if I had to pick one Castlevania 1 remake to take with me to the grave, it would be x68000/Chronicles. Just personal preference here perhaps, but I don't think SCIV has anything that even gets close to the intensity of the Werewolf fight from x68000 until you get all the way to the end boss rush. I also think that x68000 looks better than SCIV, but again I think that's going to come down to preference.

    That said, SCIV does a lot of very creative things, the hook swinging being the major one, and it also does subvert player expectations from time to time (the big bat boss only shows up towards the end of the game and has a new way of damaging you when you hit it), so it's still amazing. I understand why they'd include that rather than the slightly strange but better looking port/whatever of Rondo that came much later to the SNES.
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  • Avatar for BulkSlash #19 BulkSlash 4 months ago
    This is still my favourite Castlevania game; the music, the graphics, the gameplay are all fantastic and I frequently replay it. My favourite version is the Super Famicom release because it's uncensored (I'm not bothered by the loss of the topless statues but changing the dripping blood in the dungeon to green was pretty lame).
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