The children of the night are all grown up!
Count Dracula. Lord of Darkness, master of evil, ruler of the undead, able to wear a cloak and get away with it. He's a classic villain, an eternal staple of the battle between good and evil who can be taken out as many times as you like and yet somehow always manages to find a way back to life. Best of all, he's out of copyright!
Castlevania is the umpteenth incarnation of the vampire-themed adventure from Konami, and marks the first time the stake-hammering vibe has appeared in 3-D. The previous games were complex 2-D platformers (the most recent, Castlevania X, appearing on the PlayStation) and, to keep fans of the old games happy, Konami has included plenty of platform sections into this new game as well.
The setting is the mid-i9th Century, and Dracula - long thought dead - has returned to Transylvania, casting a grim pall of doom o'er the land (sorry, but it's obligatory to write like that when doing Dracula stuff). As is traditional in the Castlevania games, it's down to a lone hero to penetrate Dracula's fortress of death and stuff the Count's fanged gob full of garlic bread before banging a stake through his black heart.
Castlevania gives players a choice of two characters - the latest in a long line of vampire slayers, Reinhardt Schneider, and the oddly-Hispanically-named-for-a-resident-of-Transylvania Carrie Fernandez, a young girl with magical powers. Depending which character is chosen, the route through the game changes, although most levels have to be faced no matter who you play.
In play, Castlevania comes over as a cross between Tomb Raider and Zelda. It's more like the former, with lots of platform leaping and switch pushing the Zelda-style bits (like the ability to force the camera behind your character) give the impression of having been added at a later stage of development. Probably shortly after Zelda was unveiled at Space World '97...
The camera is, annoyingly, probably the worst enemy in the game. Most of the time, it hovers rather like Banjo-Kazooie's (but without the ability to position it yourself) so that Reinhardt or Carrie can run around and fight enemies without it suddenly shifting position, but there are too many points where the camera unexpectedly swings around to give you a 'better' (ha!) view. Unforgivably, some of these points are in the middle of complicated platform sections, where an unwanted camera movement usually makes you jump in entirely the wrong direction and end up with your head looking like a dropped watermelon.
In tight quarters, the camera is often unable to decide where to go, and it ends up swinging madly from place to place as you move around. This is a common problem in 3-D games, but not being able to position the camera yourself makes it more irritating than usual. There are several sections where you come under attack, but it's impossible to get the camera to show who's attacking you!
Fortunately, Castlevania manages to elevate itself above the limitations of its dodgy camera. Heavy on atmosphere and filled with some clever puzzles to complement the vampire-killing and platform-jumping, Castlevania succeeds in moving beyond its 2-D ancestors while still keeping their feel. It also breaks with tradition by making one of the very first enemies you encounter a boss, chucking you right in at the deep end, and keeps you on your toes throughout. There's a nerve-wracking section set in a hedge maze, for example - if it doesn't get your heart racing you're probably already dead!
On the whole, puzzles involve the old 'find object A to open up area B' routine, but there are plenty of more involving ideas as well, like the planetarium conundrum or the time-based puzzles (a clock is always ticking away in one > corner of the screen) where certain places and people are only accessible at the right time of day. Vampires, of course, are more active at night...
The Tearless Vampire Killers
Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, the Belmonts of the previous games, Reinhardt is a born vampire slayer. His speciality is using his family's holy whip to separate the undead from their component body parts, but he's also a dab hand with a sword. Main Weapon: Whip, Secondary Weapon: Sword.
A young girl who has recently been orphaned, Carrie realises that the cause of her mother's death is of Drac, and sets out to get some payback. Although she's physically weak, Carrie's magic can be very effective, especially when powered up fully. Main Weapon: Homing spell Secondary Weapon: Xena-style rings-o-doom.
The variety that Castlevania offers is one of the game's best features. You never know quite what to expect as you enter a new area, and there are some genuine brown trouser moments when a seemingly innocuous situation takes a sudden twist. Try playing Castlevania with the lights out and the sound cranked right up. Before long it'll save wear and tear on your seat, because you'll only be using the edge of it.
The bad news, especially for those spoiled visually by the likes of Zelda and Turok 2, is that Castlevania's looks are... well, 'mixed' would be the kindest way of putting it. The early levels are plagued by some horrible blurry textures and occasionally obtrusive fogging, and there's a generally fuzzy look to the game as a whole. Despite some of the later stages having some very detailed scenery, the overall look is more like an early N64 game than one that's appeared three years into the machine's life.
As for the main characters and creatures of the night, these look better, but again Zelda has gone and ruined it for everyone else. After Nintendo's tour de force, Castlevania's populace has a somewhat mechanical feel, people bodypopping about like those stupid robot dancers that plague town centres of a weekend. That's not to say that they don't look good - Reinhardt and Carrie in particular are well-detailed, and some of the monsters are suitably ugly - but there's no real feeling of life behind them. Most of the time, the camera doesn't get in close enough to show the creatures of the night to their best advantage.
One area where Castlevania excels is in its music. Konami's games have always been noted for great tunes, but Castlevania is probably the best example of the N64's musical prowess to date. The music isn't non-stop, like Turok 2's ultimately repetitive background sounds, but comes in at appropriately dramatic moments. Cut scenes are also accompanied by music that suits the moment - the scenes with vampire maiden Rosa, for instance, are as mournful as her mood.
Castlevania is a good game with some infuriating faults, most of which could have been fixed given a bit more time. The camera definitely needed more work, and a lot of the textures on the scenery would have benefited from some extra attention. The translation of the text into English (despite appearing in the US first, Castlevania is a Japanese game) is also surprisingly shoddy in places.
On the whole, if you're prepared to overlook, or at least work around, the faults, Castlevania is well worth considering. To see all the levels you need to play the game with both characters, and it also has plenty of hidden extras (new costumes for the heroes, secret stages and the like) that have to be hunted down. If a bit more time had spent tidying up the rough edges, it would have been a cert for a Sizzler award.
The only thing that old hands at Castlevania will be left wondering is why you can't swing with the whip...
2nd rating opinion
This is what games used to be like - simple, atmospheric and bloody hard! Castlevania 64 takes the best elements of the classic 8 and 16-bit platformers and gives them a 3-D makeover. Mature gamers will love it but the difficulty level might put off younger fans.
Castlevania DownloadsCastlevania download
Not so much cheats for this game as handy hints and tips. It's a pretty challenging game though, so you'll probably need them!
Get the first green gem which is hidden inside a torch on a floating platform in the forest stage, and when you finish the game Secret One will be unlocked, letting you play the game on the Hard difficulty setting.
Alternate Costume (Carrie)
When playing as Carrie, look out of the top of the Tower of Sorcery and you should see a torch on a floating platform. Use some holy water to reveal the invisible path leading to the torch and break it to get the purple gem which unlocks Secret Two on the item list -- Carrie's second outfit -- once you finish the game.
Alternate Costume (Reinhardt)
When playing as Reinhardt, go up to the third level in the Tower of Execution and slash one of the iron maidens for the Exeaition Key. Go back down to level two and enter the Iron Gate, walk down the hallway and look over the ledge to spot a floating platform with another iron maiden which has a purple gem inside. This is Secret Two on the item list, and unlocks Reinhardt's second costume upon completion of the game.
Secrets In The Castle Courtyard
Wait until the stroke of midnight in the Castle Courtyard and a secret platform rises from the fountain, giving you access to the items on the top.
At the entrance to the garden, turn right and look upwards to see a platform. In front of it is an invisible ledge that you can pull yourself up onto. This is a good vantage point from which to attack the hounds once you open the gates.
Secret Of Renon's Contract
During the Villa stage, Renon tells you there is a section of his contract which you can't read. This section states that you can visit Renon as many times as you like but your expenditure can't exceed 30,000 gold. If you go over that amount you have to fight Renon.
Talking To Rosa
To talk to Rosa -- the vampire who waters the Villa roses -- simply enter the room in the Villa with all the red roses in it. At 3am Rosa arrives.
Inside the Villa, Charlie Vincent says he will defeat Dracula with or without you. If you use too many Sun and Moon cards from then on and take too many days to reach the final stage you'll find Charlie's reached there before you and been bitten by Dracula's servant, thus becoming a vampire himself. You then have to kill him, which results in the bad ending. If you manage to make it through the game fast enough to arrive at Dracula's servant before Charlie, then you get to fight the true forms of Dracula and watch the good ending.