Review: 15 years later, Super Castlevania IV still doesn't suck.
Super Castlevania IV is one of the more recognizable games in the long-running vampire-hunting series. Released in the USA on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991, Super Castlevania IV has little in terms of storyline or exploration like today's Castlevania entries. Instead it's pure platforming action at its best, as Simon Belmont (that's you) treks to Dracula's Castle to battle the famous vampire. Of course, the road to Dracula's Castle is littered with traps and enemies, so your skill with your whip and on your feet will make the difference between life and death.
If your Castlevania experience is primarily from Symphony of the Night (1997) forward, you're going to notice a stark contrast in the design of Super Castlevania IV versus today's outings. For starters, Super Castlevania IV is very linear. Aside from a few hidden areas, there are no real alternate routes to take here. The other major difference is that Super Castlevania IV requires more platforming skills than many recent Castlevania games. Jumping deaths may occur more frequently than you'd like, especially if your timing is off and you forget about incoming Medusa Heads or that pesky enemy that hits you just as you land. Learning these enemy patterns and getting your timing down was a vital strategy in beating games like this, and Super Castlevania IV is an excellent example.
You're also not going to see any RPG elements here. You won't be able to stock up on potions or level Simon up to ridiculous proportions. The player can only obtain items like hearts or health power-ups by whipping candles or hollow walls. Additionally, aside from subweapons like the axe and cross, you can't carry any items. That means that if your life bar is running low, you'll need to find a pork chop or backtrack to one or you're worm food. That also means that going into boss battles with only a few hit points left could mean a quick demise.
What you will see in Super Castlevania IV is a return to the Vampire Killer whip that the Castlevania series had been synonymous with for many years. Swordplay is non-existent here, but that's not such a bad thing as Simon is quite the renaissance man with his whip. Attacking from a distance is easier with the whip, plus it's required in order to clear several vast pits through latching onto whip rings.
As with the other SNES games on the Virtual Console, Super Castlevania IV requires either a Gamecube controller or the Classic Controller add-on. There are very few control issues to speak of with this game, although on some rare occasions I did experience some quirks with the Classic Controller's D-Pad when aiming upwards with the whip. Since the Classic Controller is shaped similarly to the SNES controller, gamers who have played the original game before will have no problem adapting to this version.
Visually, Super Castlevania IV still holds up well, despite its age and a few bouts with slowdown. Some of the monster designs from this game would carry over to Symphony of the Night'such as the boss tag team of Slogra and Gaibon. You'll also see appearances by several now-familiar mainstays of the Castlevania series, including the aforementioned Medusa Heads, Bone Dragons, Skeletons, Ghouls, and bosses like Death and The Mummy.
A mix of familiar areas (such as the Library and Clock Tower) and unique settings (like the Treasury) give the game a great, immersive look. The game also utilizes some early scaling and rotation technology, which was made possible by the Super Nintendo's Mode 7 feature. Rotating rooms, leaping between large chandeliers, and huge bosses were all attributed to Mode 7. These effects were certainly the eye candy of their time. The music in Super Castlevania IV also holds up very well. Some of the Castlevania series' recurring themes, including the now-legendary "Bloody Tears", are mixed with classically-influenced original compositions resulting in a gothic mood.