|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Castlevania is a game with history, having previously appeared at least eleven times across five systems. Konami's now taken the series to two new levels: 64-bit and 3D. Enter Castlevania for the Nintendo 64.
In mid-19th-century Transylvania, Count Dracula has again arisen to threaten the land. Players choose one of two characters with which to oppose the vampire lord. Reinhardt Schneider is a whip-wielding descendent of the legendary Belmont clan of vampire-killers; and Carrie Fernandez — a girl who looks too young to be dating boys, let alone fighting Dracula — is blessed with magical powers. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses and will experience a different set of twelve stages from the game's fifteen.
The clock is ticking as the sun rises and then sets. There are a few more monsters at night, and some puzzles which can only be solved by the light of day; these are sometimes as simple as a door which can only be opened at a certain hour.
The game is 3D in the fashion of Mario 64. Our heroes can run in any direction, jump, climb, and attack with their short- or long-range weapons, or an acquired special weapon (there are four, though three are nearly identical).
Besides these basic functions is a lock-on button, similar to the Z-Targeting of Zelda — except when Reinhardt or Carrie are locked-on to a monster, they can't move, making our heroes easy targets. There's also a separate button for picking up items, rather than just walking over them.
Much action revolves around well-timed jumps. These are more frustrating than exciting, especially while getting used to the control and camera. When exploring, some minor enemies appear with irritating frequency; they present no challenge yet demand your attention. And despite the 19th-century setting, don't be surprised to see skeletons on motorcycles, or Frankenstein wielding a chainsaw.
The camera usually succeeds in finding the best viewpoint, but when it fails, there is no manual control. It is especially sluggish in responding to rapid changes in direction; for example, turning 180 degrees often leaves players with no idea what foe their character is facing.
Graphically, Castlevania is a mixed bag. There are few special effects, and many flat sprites and texture maps, yet smooth scrolling and good character design. The RAM Expansion could have made an incredible difference, had the developers chosen to support it.
The music is often good, with proper instrumentation to set the mood. But, Castlevania fails in one of the game's most important moments: the opening. The first stage, the "Forest of Silence", is devoid of any background music. This attempt at creating atmosphere has just the opposite effect.
Some dialogues are spoken, while others are subtitled. Though inconsistent in number, the spoken conversations are well-acted.
There is an element of exploration to the stages, though they are more linear than they were in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for PlayStation. Keys must be found to advance, or characters met from whom to acquire an essential item. Many stages would benefit greatly from a mapping feature; as is, players will need good memories to differentiate from the look-alike branching paths.
Saying Castlevania 64 is one of the worst Castlevanias is more a testament to the series' high standards than of this particular game's failure to entertain. The 3D game engine could use some tweaking and the graphics have much room for improvement. Even little extras, like the now-standard Rumble Pak support, were overlooked. Yet vampire-killers around the world still owe it to themselves to try this latest installment.
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 10-Feb-99