Late last year, I took a brief look back at Super Castlevania IV, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of its release here in the United States. With Halloween approaching, I decided to revisit Super Castlevania IV and see if I was still up to the challenge of taking Dracula down nearly 21 years after playing it for the first time. It was a fun journey to take, and I covered it on Twitter and via photos on Instagram. Super Castlevania IV still holds up as one of the best games in the series, though issues with slowdown and some overly frustrating sections fed some doubt into my opinion in my piece last year that the game was “fair” with challenge.
One of the notable things about Super Castlevania IV to me is that the first half of the game covers Simon Belmont’s perilous journey to Dracula’s castle. By the time the castle door is reached, Simon has already faced significant challenges. It’s a small victory just to get that far– and then the game really begins as Simon battles his way through rooms including the castle library, dungeon, and treasure chamber. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I consider to be the best game of the series, takes place almost entirely within Dracula’s castle. While there’s plenty of exploration inside of the labyrinthine take on the castle in Symphony of the Night, I did miss that sense of “the journey” that Super Castlevania IV gave to players.
The other thing that still stands out for me is the use of Mode 7 graphics. There are three areas where Mode 7 really shines. The first is Block 4-2, which I like to call the Rotating Room. When I got Simon to the whip holder and held on, despite knowing what was coming next, I was still impressed with seeing the room rotate and then having Simon battle that annoying group of Medusa Heads. It’s a tense moment; the platform that Simon stands on is pretty narrow and one hit from a stray Medusa Head usually sends the vampire hunter falling to his death. Block 4-3 is the Spinning Room, which is meant to give players the illusion of being on a walkway inside of a spinning cylinder. Unfortunately, the relatively slow clock speed of the Super Nintendo’s CPU leads to a chugging frame rate in this room. Everything seems to move at half-speed. We tended to overlook this a bit more back in 1991, but in 2012, it’s much more difficult to ignore. The last major use of Mode 7 takes place in the second half of Block 6-1. Simon must jump across giant swinging chandeliers, and there’s definitely some tension here because a misstep or failed jump sends Simon all the way back to the start of the block, which is tough to navigate without taking at least some damage.
Slowdown doesn’t happen all the time in Super Castlevania IV, but when it does, it can have negative effects on gameplay. The treasure chamber in Block 9-1 has platforms made of gold that disintegrate as Simon crosses them. As this happens, the frame rate drops significantly and response time for jumps and attacks dips as well. Some adjustment in timing is required to get through this block, but a few cheap deaths can result while making this adjustment. If you’re going for a high score or trying to beat the game with no continues, these cheap deaths can be very frustrating. It actually took me a few continues to learn the adjustment and apply it. Block 9-1 is just one example of this slowdown; there are other areas where it’s noticeable as well, if not also at least somewhat hampering to gameplay. It doesn’t break the game or make it unplayable, but it’s certainly worth mentioning after a full playthrough in terms of impressions and what was taken from the overall experience.
I did have some nagging difficulty with a few sections of the game. These occurred during the second half of play, inside of the castle. I already mentioned Block 9-1, which was frustrating on a few levels. The slowdown problem was part of it, but there were also instances of classic platform cheapness where enemies appeared in the exact spot that Simon head to jump to, leading to his getting hit and knocked backwards to his death. Block A-1, the Clock Tower, was more of an exercise in trial-and-error in terms of (re)learning where obstacles were and exact timing for certain platforming sequences. Block B-2 was also trying; collapsing stairs meant death if Simon made one wrong move, and then floating platforms late in the stage took practice to learn and predict movement.
I was surprised that I had relatively little trouble with the boss battles until late in the game. In fact, I had breezed through most of them until the last four. Slogra proved difficult until I picked up its pattern of movement, and it got harder when Slogra changed its attack to its charge after its life bar had been depleted halfway. When I did get past Slogra, I only had one hit point left and the next boss, Gaibon, killed me quickly. Then came Death, who gave me the hardest time of all. I blew through no less than ten lives trying to dispatch Dracula’s right hand demon, and a lot of those were because I could not figure out the correct pattern. Aside from boomerang-like sickles (which drain Simon’s health meter quickly with repeat impacts), Death also has a two-pronged gravity and scythe attack that can do some major damage if the correct evasive tactics aren’t followed. As for Dracula, I actually had little problem taking him down. My memory kicked in and I followed the strategy that I used over 20 years ago. I did lose one life, but that wasn’t bad.
Playing through Super Castlevania IV was a generally enjoyable experience for me, despite the flaws that came up. I do cut it a little slack, given the age of the game and the hardware that it was developed for. The slowdown is bothersome and the cheap deaths can be a bit annoying, but the game overcomes those problems. The music is still some of the best in a Castlevania game (Sorry, Michiru Yamane), and there is a definite sense of accomplishment that you feel when the credits roll. There aren’t any difficulty settings or sliders here; if you beat the game, you beat the best that it could throw at you– especially in the later stages.
Feel free to share some of your Super Castlevania IV experiences or opinions in the comments section below. If you haven’t played it in awhile, why not give it a spin and compare notes with mine? I’d love to hear what you think.
Bonus: Below is a slideshow of the pictures that I took during my Super Castlevania IV experience. I played the game on my GxTV using the original cartridge in my SNES and snapped the shots using my iPhone 4S. I thought it would be neat to share these images with you. I hope you like them!
Baseball games are some of my favorites on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Bad News Baseball is my go-to game, but the R.B.I. series, Baseball Simulator 1.000, Baseball Stars, and a few others are still a lot of fun for me to play even to this day. When I had the chance to pick up Base Wars after doing some work at Stateline Video Games last week, I jumped at the chance because I had some fond memories of the game. A mixture of Atari‘s Cyberball atmosphere, basic baseball mechanics, and having for fight for outs on the bases combined to deliver a unique take on baseball at the time.
When I got home and played a game of Base Wars, though, I realized that I’d been blinded at least partially by nostalgia and a bit of my own hype for the game. It’s not a dreadful baseball game, but its flaws keep it from being in the company of some of the great games on the NES.
The idea of robots playing baseball was novel at the time that the game was released back in 1991. Cyberball had been in arcades for a couple of years and had robots playing a dangerous game of football in which they could explode if they were in possession of a “critical ball” and had not scored. Base Wars has robot carnage as well, but the main draw is that the basic rule of force outs is replaced by fights. If the robot on offense wins the fight, it is awarded the base it was advancing to. If the robot on defense wins the fight, an out is recorded.
These fights are spiced up by different kinds of weaponry that the robots can equip. Guns, swords, gloves, and other items can affect how a fight proceeds. Some weapons are more powerful than others, but they require hit points to wield and this can have an effect later on in a game if that robot gets into other fights. Not all fights end in a complete loss of hit points, but multiple fights can eat away at that total and, if all hit points go away, the robot explodes and is out for the game. While it seems like a good idea to try to take extra bases if your robot is a strong fighter, parameters such as the distance to the destination base play a role in how much damage each robot can withstand.
The fighting adds a unique quality to Base Wars, and a certain amount of strategy must be employed to manage a team well. How aggressive should your team be? Which weapons should you buy to arm your players with? If your team is down late in the game, do you risk going for that extra base even though that robot is low on hit points? These decisions and more make Base Wars more than a basic arcade-style baseball game, and this strategy element helps to make the game as memorable as it is.
The problem with Base Wars is one that some baseball games have had before and after this game’s release: The fielding is flawed.
For starters, the camera works against the pitching team once the ball is in play. It sometimes can’t keep up with a struck ball and it’s possible to lose sight of where it’s going. The speed of the ball also makes it more challenging than it should be to position a defensive player to be able to make a play on it. This leads to the second problem with the fielding, which has to do with the CPU-controlled fielders. Sometimes the computer handles auto-fielding like a charm, and it has to since players sometimes can’t see where the ball is headed once it leaves the bat. Other times, inexplicably, the computer-controlled fielder winds up out of position or completely misplays the ball. This is made worse at times when a human player tries to take control of the fielder. Defense, in general, is more of a crap shoot than it should be. This means that it’s finger-crossing time for the pitching team if a ball is put in play, and that’s kind of a shame.
Unfortunately, this really damages the enjoyment of the rest of the game. Hitting is fine, although there may be a few home runs too many at times. Pitching has an interesting delivery mechanic where holding the pitch button down adds speed to the pitch and makes it harder to hit. The pitcher/batter battle is as good as many other NES baseball games, and that’s a definite positive. Base Wars does have battery backup, so players can battle through a full season with multiple customization options. Considering that only a few NES baseball games have battery backup (Baseball Stars, Baseball Simulator 1.000), it’s a nice feature to have if you’re able to overlook the game’s flaws.
I know that I’m coming down hard on a game that’s over 20 years old. Baseball games have evolved a ton since Base Wars made its debut, and complaining about a Nintendo game hardly seems worth the effort. The point here is that I let myself get burned by nostalgia. I got Base Wars for what I selectively remembered about it, and now I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t hold out for a different baseball game instead. I’m sure that this won’t be the last time that I make this kind of mistake, but it’s interesting to look at from a player’s point of view. As a collector, Base Wars is a decent addition to my growing library of NES games… but, as a player, I don’t think I’ll be playing this game as much as I will other NES baseball games going forward.
20 years have flown by since Konami launched Super Castlevania IV for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I have fond memories of the game. The visuals were impressive, the music was great, the challenge was fair, and it would be the catalyst that would make me a fan of the series for many years to come.
Back in late 1991, games for the SNES were still pretty scarce. Sure, we played Super Mario World, F-Zero, ActRaiser, Final Fantasy II (errr…FFIV, but who’s counting?), and others… but my friends and I were anticipating any new games that we could get our hands on. Gaming magazines had been hyping Super Castlevania IV, and I remember buying it as quickly as I could. I knew a little about Castlevania, but my exposure to the games on the NES had been limited at that time. I watched a friend play through Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest a year prior, but had little hands-on time with the games myself.
I wasn’t prepared for just how good a game that Super Castlevania IV would be.
For starters, the graphics and sound were top-notch. Some of the Mode 7 tricks were more than impressive for the time and I really liked the gothic setting and atmosphere. Areas like the treasure room and the library stood out to me, and the clock tower looked better than ever. The soundtrack was good enough that I’d actually taped it to listen to on the go, thanks to running my sound through my stereo. Now-familiar themes like Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer had arrangements that sounded fanastic thanks to the Sony sound chip and DSP that fueled the Super Nintendo’s sound output.
I also thought that the difficulty was just right. There were challenging parts of the game for sure, but I was able to play through it and was satisfied with the challenge. The experience reminded me a bit of Ninja Gaiden II versus its predecessor. Ninja Gaiden is notoriously hard, especially during the last act. Even to this day, I have not beaten it. Ninja Gaiden II, on the other hand, had a more forgiving difficulty and I was able to finish it. For me, a game is more enjoyable when it’s challenging without being cheap. Getting to experience a game at your own pace and with the feeling that the game actually wants you to succeed is important. Super Castlevania IV– like Ninja Gaiden II– felt fair. It was a ride worth taking, and a memorable one.
Super Castlevania IV provided some unforgettable moments for me. Block 4-2, with the rotating room, was imaginative. Having the room spin around you as you cling to a post from your whip was one of those “Wow” moments. 4-3 then showed the power of Mode 7 technology with the rotating room. Block 6-1 challenged my fear of heights as I leapt from one moving chandelier to another. The onslaught of bosses with Slogra, Gaibon, and Death was a nasty gauntlet to run. Then, of course, the final battle with Dracula stood between me and destiny. These are only the big highlights for me; I could play through the game today and comment on each and every event that stood out to me, and I’d still be excited.
Perhaps the biggest thing that I take away from Super Castlevania IV is that it hooked me on a series that I really didn’t have any interest in before. After playing through Super Castlevania IV, I would eventually go on to games like Castlevania: Bloodlines on the SEGA Genesis in 1994 and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation in 1997. I became a fan, and it was this one game that pulled me in.
The middle day of festivities at the Electronics Entertainment Expo here in Los Angeles was an exceptionally busy one. This entry is part one of two, as there were eight hours’ worth of meetings and booth tours that took place.
The day started with Kinect demonstrations in the Microsoft zone. Kinect Sports 2 really impressed me. I know that I have been less than enthusiastic about motion controls, but this game does a lot of things well– even though it’s still early. The Football demonstration challenged us to come back from a six-point deficit and march down the field using only four downs. The plays are fairly elementary, but the demo shined when the Kinect sensor was used for voice recognition and body tracking for the player who was the quarterback. The QB has to squat down into a position to receive the ball from his center, and the word “hike” triggers the exchange. Including football as part of the Kinect Sports 2 package is a big selling point for the game as football is extremely popular. Golf was equally impressive as the velocity of the golf swing translated well to the eventual reaction of the golf ball that was struck. Kinect Sports 2 has former members of EA Sports on its development team, so this is one game that I’ll be paying closer attention to as we draw closer to its Winter 2011 release window.
A trip to the Konami booth was next on the agenda, and the publisher’s slate of upcoming games has a lot of variation to offer. Neverdead has the rather unique premise of using the protagonist Bryce’s limbs as weapons and offering an environment that’s largely destructible. Bryce can also separate his head from his body to solve certain puzzles, but if you lose your head, you’re as good as dead. I also spent some time with Otomedius Excellent, which is a Gradius derivative and will be available later this summer. It’s a shoot -’em-up, as you might expect, but the ships are… people. It’s hard to explain, but as long as you keep on shooting, you’ll be OK. I also got to try a little bit of Frogger 3D on the 3DS, which seemed to hold true to the basics of the arcade original, but uses the 3D technology to show height and depth.
SEGA was the next stop, and with it came a demonstration of Gearbox Software‘s Aliens: Colonial Marines and some hands-on time with Sonic Generations. The line to see the Colonial Marines demo was long, but it was easy to see why after seeing the demo myself. It’s a matter of survival as you mut defend yourself from the angry xenomorphs. One of the new xenomorphs that was introduced was one that essentially comes with a shield as part of its body; players are forced to rely on different tactics tom progress, and that’s where the demo ended. The game looks, even at this early stage, to continue Gearbox Software’s successful run of games. Turning to Sonic Generations, SEGA and Sonic Team have keyed on speed and nostalgia– along with the addition of stereoscopic 3D– to fuel this latest Sonic effort. Some of the newly-imagined Green Hill Zone felt a little too automated, but there’s no mistaking the obvious retro feel that Sonic Generations is after. It’s “old meets new”, and that formula is working at this stage.
There’s a lot more to share, but time is short as the KmartGamer team has another early start coming up. As blog posts continue over the next few days, expect to see special content, including:
- Details and impressi0ns from a private screening of an early version of Soul Calibur V
- Hands-on impressions of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon; is change good here?
- Saints Row 3 is as over the top as advertised; wait ’til you read just how over the top that THQ means
- Hands-on impressions with Nintendo’s Wii U controller; does this innovation have the power to be a game changer?
Look for continuing updates over the next few days, including news from meetings with Square-Enix, Sony, and Take-Two, which are slated to happen today. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed for quick blasts and reactions to meetings as they happen. For now, time is short and it’s time to reload for one more full day’s experience here at E3.
Disclosure: As a part of my participation at E3 2011 on behalf of KmartGamer, Sears Holdings provided my travel and accomodations.
There once was a time that I was really excited for Microsoft‘s Game Room project. It sure sounded like a great idea, in spite of some arguments about pricing and game selection, I figured that the combined libraries of Atari, Konami, and Activision would supply us with games for a long time. Now, less than a year later, the project is in disarray. Updates have been inconsistent. The application and leaderboards have been buggy. There have been more obscure games released than familiar ones. Microsoft has arguably distanced itself from the project with little to no word of mouth about it coming from within the Xbox community.
In short, Game Room has been a huge disappointment… and the fact that there haven’t been any updates yet in 2011 (aside from a patch) certainly doesn’t give me any hope that good things lie ahead for the troubled application. What went wrong?
For starters, the uncertainty and eventual collapse of Game Room development house Krome Studios hurt the project significantly. Without stability on the development side of the project, quality faded pretty early. There were technical issues with Game Room from the very start, as servers crashed repeatedly which denied high scores and replays from being saved and uploaded. There also didn’t seem to be any quality control on the part of Microsoft Game Studios, which was surprising given the fact that the Game Room project anchored the Block Party promotion last winter. This lack of quality set the stage for the letdowns to come.
The next problem had to do with inconsistent updates. After the initial wave of games released along with the application last March, updates dried up for weeks and users quickly lost interest in Game Room. Microsoft’s inability to strike while the iron was hot cost the Game Room project valuable momentum, and gaming press sources started speculating early that the project was doomed. While updates did eventually begin rolling out with occasional consistency, there have been a few times within the first year where updates stopped altogether. This led to more speculation about the future of the project, especially once news that Krome had folded became public. There have been no updates for the past two weeks, and after Sunset Riders had been confirmed for release to the press late last year, the game still has not been posted for sale.
When the updates have come, there simply hasn’t been a good mix of familiar titles and rare gems. The titles from Konami‘s library have been the biggest area of offense in this aspect. It’s nice to be able to play TwinBee and The Main Event, but where are Gradius and Double Dribble? We haven’t (yet) seen Rush’n Attack, but we got its pesudo-sequel in Missing in Action. Why did it take so long to get Blades of Steel up for sale? The title selection has just been too weird; more familiar titles are needed to foster any kind of interest from anyone other than diehard arcade fans… and even they might not know of some of the Konami games that we’ve seen posted so far.
I’ve also noticed that Microsoft community staff, like Larry Hryb for example, all but ignored the Game Room project when talking about Xbox LIVE Arcade after a few weeks. It’s easy to get the feeling that Game Room is not at all a priority to Microsoft; consequently, why should consumers care when Microsoft obviously doesn’t? Yes, I see it occasionally advertised (in a less than prominent fashion) on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace… but when’s the last time you saw it mentioned on Hryb’s blog or on one of his Major’s Minute video shorts? It’s been too long, and the lack of support from Microsoft here is inexplicable. Again… Game Room is less than one year old, yet Microsoft has all but forgotten about it or sworn it off. That’s some excellent follow-through right there.
As someone who’s invested a lot of time and Microsoft Points on games for the Game Room project, I’m frankly tired of being jerked around. If the project is dead, then I would appreciate the decency of Microsoft announcing it instead of stringing along what few consumers are left who still maintain at least a passing interest. If Game Room is not dead, then Microsoft needs to be more proactive and not fix the problems that continue to plague the application… but they also need to dedicate themselves and the development team to getting the project moving again. Show some interest. Revive the Facebook page and Twitter feed and resume telling us what we can expect to see. Get back to licensing some familiar titles and make sure that the emulations are at least close… no more running games at half the frame rate or completely missing sound files (I’m looking at you, Asteroids.).
Either way, it’s time for Microsoft to show some accountability for Game Room. The lack of support for the project, combined with the decision to drop the highly successful 1 vs. 100 project, indicates to me that Full House Poker is doomed before it even arrives this spring. The trend has already been set.