Castlevania is a hugely important game to me. Heck, the series is one of my favorite series of all time. I discovered the original Castlevania on NES way back around the time of its original US release and I was hooked. Of course it was way too hard for me back then, and I never made it very far. But its Universal Monster Movies theme and its amazing soundtrack just really sucked me in. I was a lifelong fan from the start. And I managed to play the entire NES trilogy along with the Game Boy carts as they came out.
Over the years I've played every Castlevania game that I've had access to on every console I've owned. Which has amounted to a lot of Castlevania games. But this week I'm taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting that original game once again. This time via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection on Xbox One.
I think the last time I put SERIOUS time into the original game was in like 2008. Which was a long time ago now, as I'm writing this at the end of 2021. I mean over the years since I'm sure I've dabbled with it because it's one of my favorite games ever. I know I booted up the DOS port at one point some years ago. But I mean, it's been a while since I've taken a serious stab at completing this one. Because embarrassingly, I've still yet to kill Dracula in this first game. And I thought maybe I had it in me now that I've got Castlevania II under my belt.
But no. The original game is still really hard. There's no denying that. Yet, that doesn't make me love it any less. One day I'll see the credits roll. One day.
That being said, this game is still an absolute masterpiece in my eyes. Let's start with the music. This game has a soundtrack that is beyond iconic. "Vampire Killer" is easily one of my absolute favorite chiptunes of all time. Probably my favorite. And the whole soundtrack just really fits the vibe of this game perfectly. And that vibe is altogether ooky.
See, Castlevania was modeled around those old Universal flicks. You've got a big vampire bat, you've got creature-from-the-black-lagoon ripoffs, you've got mummies and Frankenstein's monster... But there's also something far more sinister here. Like when DEATH himself shows up. And that's exactly where I hit a wall.
We can talk all day about the Medusa heads that fly in weird parabolas. Or we can talk about the ravens that swoop down unpredictably hoping to knock you into a bottomless pit. And sure, there are some sections to levels that can really try your patience, like the crazy gauntlet leading up to Death where it seems like enemies are coming at you from all directions. But the boss battles here can be truly intense.
Most folks will tell you that Frankenstein's Monster is the legit difficulty spike. And they're not really wrong. Though really it's his little "flea man" friend that makes things tough. And if you can hang on to some holy water, you can probably make the battle a bit easier. That said, for me, it's Death that always messes me up. Once I've made it that far, and going through the gauntlet just ahead of him - I'm never at much health to begin with. And he's just brutal.
But the testament to what makes this whole game so good is that even when I'm constantly getting beaten down, I do love it. Once you know how the physics work (IE: understand how to jump; know how many frames of animation must pass for your weapon to strike) this game is pure perfection. It's hard, yes. But it comes from a different era of game design. If it were made today, it would get all those Souls-like terms tossed at it.
One day I'll beat Castlevania. Not TODAY, but one day. But I don't mind the wait. The victory will be all the sweeter. And until then, I'm happy to fire it up over and over again through the years and remind myself why I keep trying.