I love ‘Castlevania’. It’s one of my favorite franchises, yet it’s also the one franchise where I’ve played the least amount of their games. Not just that, I only ever beat a handful of ‘Castlevania’ titles. Every time a new ‘Castlevania’ game came out I became a giddy school boy (that might have been because I was a giddy school boy…and on drugs), but as I said, it was a toss up as to whether or not I’d actually play the damn game let alone finish them.
So there I was, reading an EGM during class when I came across the first preview article for the N64 version of ‘Castlevania’. Even though I was only 15 at the time, nostalgia flooded through me (at least I hope it was nostalgia…15 is an odd time for all boys…), exciting me so much that I couldn’t shut up about it. Once my friends were annoyed with me enough to tell me to shut the fuck up, I silently waited, reading anything I could get my hands on about it, until the day when ‘Castlevania’ finally dropped…and I didn’t give a shit because I’m a hypocrite despite my affinity towards the series.
I did rent it though.
HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER:
I was used to funky controls after playing through ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Resident Evil 2’, so when I picked up the controller and started whipping the spawns of hell, I whispered under my breath “fuck, the reviews were right”. I tried to disregard the terrible reviews the game was getting, but one of their biggest complaints was staring at me in the face, slapping my cheek with its syphilitic dick. Though I was a ‘Castlevania’ fan that thought the franchise could do no wrong, part of me suddenly shattered at the mere thought that this game could suck.
And yes, the controls continued to be terrible, but I actually had fun with this game. Sure, whenever I had to do any sort of platforming I would let out a heavy sigh similar to a plumber hearing that a bathroom looks like a kiddy pool filled with soft serve, but just like that plumber I’d soldier through the shit until it was done. Once I pushed past these areas, there was a distinct ‘Castlevania’ vibe that some of the later games with better controls couldn’t nail.
Even though I enjoyed whipping baddies and wandering through a creepy castle, it did hit one wall…literally. I remember that there was a wall you had to blow up which required you to mix together different chemicals to create an explosive. When you had the right mixture, you had to walk slowly back to the wall, place the explosive in front of it, and…I never got further than that.
The fucking thing never exploded.
I remember wandering back and forth, mixing that sumbitch a hundred times, but I never figured out how to make it blow up that damn wall. I ever jumped up and down a few times to make sure I had the right mixture. Guess what happened? I fucking exploded. No shit right?
Going into the again, that’s what I want to reexperience the most. Not trying to relive some sort of nostalgia, no, instead I want to see if blowing up that wall is as painful a roadblock as I remember, or if I was simply a dumbass.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Well this game was full of surprises. Normally, my fucked up memory may completely forget things or misremember a key factor or two, but never has it completely reversed everything before. I don’t mean slightly off or mildly different, everything I remember was the polar opposite of what I experienced.
Remember when I said the controls were terrible and that the platforming was the equivalent of a (yadda, yadda, yadda) swimming pool? It turns out that they’re actually pretty good. Not perfect, but good. I was able to maneuver my way around the levels without issue, and this includes said platforms. Sometimes the camera would swing around like Kiefer Sutherland at a DUI stop, but I was able to navigate from platform to platform with only minor issues. Those issues were the infuriating relics of a bygone era (holding the button to hold onto the platform, immediately having to switch analog stick direction if the camera swings around, etc.), but they didn’t make the game unplayable.
What actually sucked was the combat. For some reason, I remembered the combat being somewhat enjoyable since, being a ‘Castlevania’ game, all I had to do was walk around whipping things until they died (again). While this concept is literally true, it works as well as a fat guy playing baseball. He can do it, but goddamn is it frustrating to watch.
Locking onto enemies is the most common way to attack with a melee weapon, which ‘Castlevania’ attempts to do, unfortunately since ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ was only released a couple of months before, it couldn’t rip off it’s tight combat controls. Thus we’re left with a system that’s like playing with a lazy eye; it locks onto an enemy with a push of a button, but you’ll attack the guy next to him, and that’s if it hits anything at all. I had to line myself up perfectly straight in order to hit anything with my whip. Most of the time I just ran away from enemies, allowing them to follow me, then I quickly turned around to whip them in the face. This turned combat into the least entertaining part of the game. Now sure, I could have chosen the other character with lock on magic or used my sword, but c’mon! This is ‘Castlevania’! It’s all about whipping and jumping!
Levels were large and diverse, which was a pleasant surprise, however it ultimately lead to the reminder that I’m old and don’t have the patience to learn every nook and cranny of each stage. Since there is no map, you have to explore every area thoroughly to find the items or levers needed to progress. Sounds good right? Well, after I get home from work, which includes staring at a monitor all day, occasional overtime, and up to a two hour commute via train, I get around an hour, two at the most, to play a video game before I reluctantly drag my ass to bed and do it all over again. You know what I don’t want to do in that free hour? Backtracking over and over again through hoards of enemies slowing your down to find the ONE thing you missed, get stuck and wasting time doing fuck all, and dying over and over again only to realize that my last save state was from forty five minutes previous, I can’t do this shit anymore. When I was younger, this wasn’t an issue, but now it’s a hassle. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but that’s what happens when you get older. Such is the nature of the beast.
In the end, I still enjoyed my time with ‘Castlevania’ even though I no longer have the patience or the time that my younger self had. It was chock full of the colorful yet gothic atmosphere that makes a ‘Castlevania’ game appealing. As usual, I watched a speedrun of the game to see the parts I wouldn’t have time to play. I found out how to blow up that damn wall, though I could have sworn I mixed everything the exact same way. Then again, I have a memory of seeing the movie ‘The Crew’ with my friend Matt, yet he swears he was never there and to this day has yet to see it. My memory is as reliable as Whitney Houston promising not to use crack.