Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1991
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 4, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
So, thanks to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I recently found out that Super Castlevania IV is actually a remake of Castlevania (Konami, 1986), though the US version of the game positions itself as a sequel to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987). Either way, though, Super Castlevania IV (a grandiose title I adore as it implies there was a “regular” Castlevania IV), is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) entries in the entire Castlevania series thanks to its tight controls, gameplay mechanics, soundtrack, and, of course, sporting some of the most impressive 16-bit graphics ever seen. Despite the fact that I grew up playing the Mega Drive, I’ve probably played Super Castlevania IV the most out of all the classic Castlevania games thanks to emulators and the SNES Classic Edition. Of all the games available on the SNES Classic, this is one of the only ones I actually took the time to play and beat so I was excited to jump back into it as part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.
When the immortal vampire Count Dracula threatens the land, Simon Belmont, of the legendary Belmont family of vampire hunters, takes up the feared whip of his ancestors, the Vampire Killer, and journeys into Dracula’s castle to end this threat.
Super Castlevania IV is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that once again casts players in the role of Simon Belmont. Unlike every Castlevania I’ve played as part of this marathon, though, Simon actually controls well in this game. And not just “well”; his control is superb and unparalleled to his predecessors thanks to the 16-bit power of the SNES.
For the first time, you can properly control Simon as he jumps and he doesn’t feel like he has weighted lead in his boots. As always, he attacks with the Vampire Killer, a whip that can be upgraded to a chained variant within the first few minutes of play. However, unlike in all previous Castlevania games, players can now attack in eight different directions! This means Simon can attack airborne enemies much easier thanks to his upwards and diagonal attacks and while also making short work of those beneath him. Additionally, by holding down the attack button, the whip goes limp, acting as a shield of sorts and can be manipulated by the player to damage enemies.
Simon can also use the whip to swing across gaps and, of course, to destroy candles to acquire the traditional Castlevania sub-weapons, hearts (the ammo for his sub-weapons), and bags of gold for extra points. In a nice change of pace, he can also acquire a small health boost from chicken drumsticks also found in these same candles (as well as being able to find the odd pot roast by smashing breakable walls). While you can break through some walls to find hidden areas, or will often find power-ups and bonuses hidden away in the game’s stages, the branching path system of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989) is gone, replaced by a far more linear progression system, but the game’s various stages are so large and varied that I wasn’t even bothered. The game also does away with the frustrating auto-scrolling sections of Castlevania III and replaces them with far simpler (though no less exhilarating) sprints across crumbling platforms and walkways.
The majority of Super Castlevania IV is spent fighting your way towards Dracula’s Castle rather than journeying through it as in the original Castlevania. This takes Simon through some stunning and varied environments, each of which is populated by the usual traps, ghouls, and ghosts of the Castlevania series but also bolstered by some impressive graphical elements. You’ll go through gate doors in chain fences to explore the background of a stage, swing across gaps, leap across swinging chandeliers, and contend with a rotating background thanks to the SNES’s “Mode 7” capabilities. This graphics mode was further employed not only to rotate certain parts of levels in dynamic fashion, but also bolsters some of the boss battles; Simon will encounter the biggest, most complex bosses of the series so far in this game and they’re made all the more impressive by the way they expand or contract thanks to the added power of the SNES.
As always, a lot of Simon’s quest will involve him travelling through gothic environments; luckily, platforming has never been better. Simon still flies backwards upon being attacked, which can still send him careening down bottomless pits or into deadly spikes, but the flexibility of Simon’s attack range makes it far easier to strike enemies while making tricky jumps. Additionally, it’s much easier to ascend and descend staircases in this game than in Castlevania III; there was no accidental plummeting to my death when trying to do something as simple as going down stairs in this game and, even better, Simon can even “moonwalk” and is far less open to attacks when on stairs thanks to the flexibility of his whip.
Graphics and Sound:
Unsurprisingly, Super Castlevania IV was the best the series had ever looked at that point. Crisp, highly detailed sprites and environments are the order of the day as the game takes full advantage of the SNES’s vastly improved graphics power and colour palette. Backgrounds are alive with animation and additional elements, enemies pop out from behind background obstacles, and Simon and his gothic surroundings are finally fully realised in fantastic detail.
Thanks to the added power of the SNES and the Mode 7 graphics, the game can handle multiple enemies and projectiles on screen at once; though there is, admittedly, some slow down in some areas with more graphical effects than others (the rotating corridor springs to mind), it’s nowhere near as bad as in the 8-bit titles and there’s never any sprite flickering here. As for music, Super Castlevania IV has some of the most memorable tunes in the series. Even better, by the time you reach Dracula’s Castle, the game will bust out 16-bit renditions of classic 8-bit tracks like “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears”. The added power of the SNES really bolsters the creepy, gothic atmosphere of the game, allowing for weather and sound effects to punctuate the catchy, energetic soundtrack.
Enemies and Bosses:
Being as it was intended as a remake of Castlevania, all of the classic and traditional Castlevania enemies make their 16-bit debut in Super Castlevania IV. Simon primarily contends with skeletons; some will just walk back and forth, some pop out from the background, some throw bones at him, some leap at him and attack with whips, the red variants can reform after being destroyed, and the gold variants are tougher to destroy. He’ll also be swarmed by bats, Medusa Heads, knights who attack with lances or throw axes at either Simon’s head or crotch, and mud men who break into progressively smaller variants the more you attack them. There are some new enemies to content with here, however; the amusingly named “Mr. Hed” (which is a bloodied, disembodied horse’s head that attacks like a Medusa Head), ghosts, floating, severed hands, possessed caskets and dinner tables, and swarms of vipers that spontaneously spawn at Simon’s feet at the most inappropriate times. You’ll also contend with frogs and bothersome little gremlins, who jump around erratically, annoying little hedgehog-like creatures that roll into spiked balls, dogs that rush at you at high speed, and even enemies that emerge from the walls and scenery to grab or injure you.
Super Castlevania IV’s bosses that range from ridiculously easy (like the skeletal horseman from the first stage and the giant bat made entirely of gold coins from the ninth stage), the visually impressive (the massive golem Koranot, which grows so large it fills the entire screen), and the down-right frustrating (I’m looking at you, Slogra!) You’ll also notice that a lot of the bosses from past Castlevania games return here, rendered in all their 16-bit glory: we’ve got twin-headed, fire-breathing dragons, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Medusa Queen and, of course, the Grim Reaper. Unlike in the 8-bit titles, though, while Death is one of the more troublesome bosses, it is much easier to attack and dodge his scythes and he has a clear attack pattern this time around, making it a challenging encounter but not one I wanted to rage-quit over. Before you can even face Dracula, you’ll have to endure a gauntlet of three bosses: Solgra (who is a massive pain in the ass until you learn to dodge, duck, and jump out of his wide-reaching attacks and hit box), Gaibon (a gargoyle-like creature who, despite having a second, faster form, is a joke compared to Solgra), and the aforementioned Grim Reaper. While you might think that this will leave you at a disadvantage for the final boss, there is a well-known hidden staircase just before this battle where you can refill your health and hearts to give you a fighting chance.
As always, Dracula’s weak spot is his head; this time, however, he initially teleports across this throne room in beams of light and attacks with a spread of fireballs. With the boomerang, you can increase your chances of hitting his weak spot and concentrate on using Simon’s limp whip to block these projectiles; once you’ve done enough damage, Dracula spawns two flaming skulls that follow Simon around. You can destroy them relatively easily but still have to be wary of their splash damage; luckily, though, unlike other Dracula fights, you’ll be able to pick up a little bit of health during this battle, increasing your chances. You’ll also need to use the limp-whip technique to shield yourself from a smaller fireball that blasts projectiles in a circular motion and, after you’ve damaged Dracula enough, he’ll assume a more demonic visage and try to fry you alive with four columns of lightning. Standing between them, you can attack his head and, when his health is depleted, the morning sun will break through the castle windows and destroy the Count.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
All the standard Castlevania power-ups and pick-ups are available here; you can upgrade Simon’s whip three times, acquire the ability to throw two or three sub-weapons in quick succession, destroy all enemies on screen with the Rosary, and briefly turn invincible. All the same sub-weapons return in Super Castlevania IV in exactly the same way you’d expect; this time around, I favoured the axe and the boomerang and had little use for anything else. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that Konami didn’t take the opportunity to bring in some new sub-weapons or Simon’s fire whip but I guess they were more concerned with tightening up Simon’s controls and gameplay and taking advantage of the SNES’s increased graphical power than changing their tried-and-true combat mechanics.
As with previous Castlevania titles, Super Castlevania IV employs a password system to allow you to return to a saved game after a game over; additionally, once you finish the game, you’ll automatically return to the first stage with your score, lives, hearts, and last-used sub-weapon intact to take on the game’s “Hard Mode”. You can also earn an Achievement on the Xbox One Castlevania Anniversary Collection for finishing the game and apply the same frames and display options as the other games in the collection. In a way, it’s disappointing that Super Castlevania IV doesn’t offer more in terms of replayability (there are no additional characters or even helpful codes to input beyond the level passwords), but I would still rather come back to this title again and again than any of the previous 8-bit games (with, perhaps, the exception of Castlevania III).
With its tight controls and impressive 16-bit graphics, Super Castlevania IV finally allows the series to live up to the ambition it was striving for in Castlevania III and the game more than earns the its reputation as an absolute classic of the 16-bit era. I enjoy the first and third Castlevania’s but it was obvious that Konami had ambitions for their franchise that Nintendo’s 8-bit consoles just couldn’t realise; thankfully, the SNES changed that and we finally got a Castlevania game that looked, sounded, and (crucially) controlled the way they always intended. Every bit of praise you’ve heard for Super Castlevania IV is deserved; graphically, it’s on another level. It builds atmosphere brilliantly thanks to its gothic, moody environments, music, and aesthetic and the game’s difficulty builds just as naturally. All the familiar tropes and mechanics that made the Castlevania series work prior to this game are present, meaning you still have to watch out for sudden tumbles to your doom and the game requires only your very best platforming skills, making for a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable romp through the haunted hallways of Dracula’s infamous castle.
What did you think of Super Castlevania IV? Where do you rate it in the Castlevania series? What were your favourite games on the SNES? Whatever your thoughts on Castlevania, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.