September 8, 2015

NES30 #15: Castlevania

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

Akumajou Dracula was a horror-themed platform game released by Konami for the Famicom Disk System in 1986. The following year Nintendo of America licensed the title and released in for the NES under the title Castlevania. It was an immediate hit, and led to 38 sequels and spin-offs and counting.

The reasons for the game's success were pretty obvious: Castlevania is a remarkably strong game. It's graphics and appealing and crisply designed, the sound and music are great, and the gameplay - while fairly punishing on the novice player - is well developed, easy to understand and fairly addictive.

It also has a slight sense of realism to it. The player controls vampire hunter Simon Belmont, and he's a fairly believable character by videogame standards. He can't jump over buildings, he's not impervious to attacks, and his own weapons are more often than not fairly ordinary. The weapons are varied, however: to better defeat his enemies Simon can access the knife, the axe, the holy water and the cross, each of which has its own specific benefits. The gameplay mechanics took a little getting used to - Simon oddly takes a split-second to act when the player directs him to - but that's part of what made it so distinct.

The horror theme of the game included a variety of iconic end-of-level bosses. It may have been Dracula's castle, but to reach that villain Simon had to defeat Medusa, a Mummy, an enormous bat, Frankenstein's Monster and the Grim Reaper. Few genre archetypes were left out in the process.

So: great graphics and sounds, distinctive visuals, a neat horror theme and addictive gameplay. One of gaming's longest-running franchises began here, and even replaying it today it's pretty clear why.

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