Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
The horror genre reaches out to all matter of entertainment. Whether it be novels, film, television or comics, there really is no limit to what medium of entertainment can be touched by the dark side. Given that the Deadhouse is a place for anything and everything horror related, it was only a matter of time before we would cover video games. As a life-long gamer, I have always been intrigued by when video games and horror crossed paths. Many games take influence from the genre, while not being directly based on it. A perfect example of this would be the horrifically overrated Call Of Duty games and their inclusion of the Zombies mode.
In this day and age with the technology available it is easier than ever for developers to create immersive worlds steeped in our beloved genre, but the horror based video game has been around forever. Even back on the Atari 2600 there were games based on the greatest films of all-time, specifically Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That alone was a win for any hardened genrephile despite the fact that these games were slightly better than warmed dog shit. Once the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES hit in 1985, the landscape of video games changed. They were now longer than two or three repeating screens, and were able to encompass a story. The two best examples of the encompassing games in the early NES days would be Final Fantasy and Castlevania.
Castlevania was probably the first game that took the influence from the horror genre and was able to run with it. Based around many of the Universal classic monsters, it took everything to a new level.
Based in the year 1691, the game tells the story of Simon Belmont of the Belmont clan, who is tasked with entering the castle of Count Dracula, which rises every 100 years, to slay the famous vampire. On his way through it he encounters several different monsters, including Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, a Phantom Bat and the Grim Reaper himself. This helps show the true power of the Count when even Death himself works under him.
Ask any gamer what their thoughts on Castlevania are and it is almost a guarantee that one of their first responses will be how difficult the game is. It is notorious for being one of the hardest games not only on the NES but in all of video game history. In retrospect, if you took away the jumping back when you get hurt the game would be infinitely more manageable. Alas, due to the rather extensive number of pit deathtraps in the game, sometimes getting through one screen can be a chore. Thankfully, unlike most games it never seems to drag you down, but rather gives you a true sense of reward when you succeed.
Another absolute standout for the game is the music. It’s no secret that the NES didn’t have a lot of power to give game designers full reign when it came to music, which makes it all the more remarkable that almost 30 years later so many of the themes from that era have become incredibly iconic. And Castlevania ranks right up there with the absolute classics of the time, including Super Mario Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda. Very good company to be in. Hell, the music for this game still compares strongly to some of the best video game music of all-time, including Halo, Gears Of War and the Final Fantasy series. If you grew up in the late 80s or early 90s and were a gamer, odds are you know some of the sounds from Castlevania well. And believe me when I tell you if you go back, you will become accustomed to the sound played when you died. You will hear it….A LOT.
As for the AI in the game, at times it can seem brutal, but as I mentioned before you never become overly frustrated like the game is cheating. You will encounter enemies that you will loathe seeing every time they come on the screen (Medusa heads, I’m looking at you). The boss battles are the perfect blend of easy and frustrating, never causing you an aneurysm like some games can do.
Overall, Castlevania is well deserving of its place as one of the greatest games of not only the NES generation, but any generation. I never got play it as a child, but have become enamored with the game over the past few years thanks in part to emulators and the Virtual Console service on the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS. In fact, this review has been strongly based upon my most recent play through on my son’s 2DS. The game is a faithful port with the only change being the ability to save and load states, which does make the game’s difficulty a little more bearable.
If you haven’t played Castlevania before, it is definitely worth going back and trying. And if you have played it before now is the perfect time to go back and revisit it. Thanks to today’s technology it is easier than ever to be able to play the game. Whether it be through an emulator, the Virtual Console or websites offering arcade replayability, you owe it to yourselves to go back and relive some of the Belmont’s epic battle with Count Dracula.