Super Castlevania IV (1991)
for Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Developed and published by Konami

It's always a joy when a cherished video game series makes the jump to the next generation of consoles. The gap between 8-bit and 16-bit isn't a wide one, though a number of games got tremendous facelifts when making the transition. Such is Super Castlevania IV.

The first three Castlevania games were all quite different from one another: the original was a straight-up platformer; the second was a lengthy adventure game; and the third was more like the first but featured a branching quest that you could replay to see different parts of the game. The fourth entry gets back to the basics; it is a completely linear platforming experience.

As before, you play as Simon Belmont, the classic whip-slinging vampire killer who habitually infiltrates Count Dracula's castle to put a stake through his goddamn blackened heart. Consider this one a re-interpretation of the original. While that one started you inside the bloodsucker's castle, you'll spend a lot of time in SC4 just getting to the castle itself.

You start off easy, in the stables, where you encounter floating severed horse heads and scary skeletons. Soon you make your way through some forest and cave levels, and then a sunken temple with a relaxed jazz theme. There is even a room where you have to sit and wait as it rotates around you – a deliberate attempt to show off the SNES's now-outdated Mode 7 special effects. This happens at a couple of other points, but besides that example, it's not intrusive.

The first level of the castle is much like the first level of the first Castlevania game. That is, until you get to the part where you have to combat dancing ghosts. I don't know if this was inspired by The Shining or is just an attempt to throw some levity into the affair, but in any case it is pretty weird considering the rest of the time, you are fighting demons, mummies, and Frankensteins.

From there you go to the library, with the requisite possessed flying books, and then it's off to the dungeon where any contact with the deadly spikes will end your life. In this version, there are green pools of acid everywhere. In the Japanese version, they are pools of blood in what is obviously a torture chamber. We dropped two atomic bombs on them and we are the ones who are squeamish at the site of blood?

After that there is a jaunt in a gleaming treasure chamber with a layering effect of ghosts flying up the screen, which looks as ridiculous now as it did then. Finally, after defeating a bat made out of gold coins, you climb the obligatory clock tower and across a crumbling bridge to do battle with Count Chocula.

It isn't especially difficult, which is at dire contrast with the previous Castlevania games, but it is challenging enough not to hold your hand all the way through. I still haven't accomplished my goal of beating the game without dying, but I am getting closer every day.

The gameplay makes it a lot of fun, too. In this one, Simon can swing his whip in every direction, swing from hooks over chasms, change direction in midair (somewhat), and jump on and off stairs, none of which he could do before.

The soundtrack to SC4 is a real gem. From haunting orchestral pieces to updated remakes of old Castlevania music, most of the tracks perfectly complement the levels they are on, and are memorable enough to hum along as you go. Even in the present day, these songs are shining examples of video game music done right.

Super Castlevania IV propelled the series to new heights in the 16-bit era, and remains a must-own title for the SNES. Yeah, like anyone actually owns these cartridges anymore. Let's say, it remains a must-emulate title for the SNES, you bootlegging criminal.

Review by Bock Lee Temjin