Back to our inventory…when it came to sub-weapons only one could be on the screen at any given time. However, should players find the hidden double shot, they could quickly fire off two in rapid succession. There was also a triple shot available if a player was already equipped with the double shot. The double shot is most often acquired by breaking open certain sections of walls, but can also be attained by killing a specific number of enemies or breaking a certain number of candles with a sub-weapon. And speaking of breaking open walls, one of the most popular and well known aspects of Castlevania is the hidden meat found within the walls of the ancient castle. Now, we won’t ponder too long on the freshness of meat found in a castle that only appears once every hundred years or exactly where the meat originates from, but we should point out that it is the only way to restore lost health other than our next item. The magic crystal fully restores a player’s health and ends the current block of stages. This item is only obtained after defeating a boss.

castle 10

There are also several hidden items that can be found, such as the 1-Up (which grants an extra life), the crown and treasure chest (which are worth twice as many points as the flashing money bag), and the Moai Head (which is worth twice as many points as the crown or chest). Another side note, the Moai Head is sort of the unofficial mascot of Konami, having appeared as a secret item in many of their games, but can only found during the second quest after having beaten the game once. Back to the 1-Up, the only other way to attain an extra life in this game is by accruing a certain number of points. Defeating enemies and acquiring money bags as well as the number of hearts, health, and time remaining at the end of a stage all raise the player’s point levels. At 30,000 points, players gain an extra life, then again every time they attain an additional 50,000 points (i.e. 80,000, 130,000, 180,000, etc).

And then there’s that incredibly catchy soundtrack! “Vampire Killer” and “Wicked Child” would go on to become staples of the series, being remixed and reused in multiple future titles. Chances are that many of you have heard these tracks and haven’t realized it. Composer Kinuyo Yamashita, credited as James Banana in the credits, truly struck the proverbial chord with players as YouTube is rife with covers of her “Wicked Child” in nearly every variation imaginable. By the by, James Banana? This was a parody of James Bernard, the composer for Hammer Studios’ Horror of Dracula.

Speaking of parodies, during the credit roll at the end of the game, each boss is also attributed a send-up of one of the classical actors that originally brought the beasts to life on screen. Nix Schrecks as the Vampire Bat, Barber Sherry as Medusa, Love Chaney Jr. as the Mummy Man, Boris Karloffice as Frankenstein, Belo Lugosi as Death, and Christopher Bee as Dracula. These are obvious nods to Max Schreck’s Count Orlok from Nosferatu, Barbara Shelley’s Megaera from The Gorgon, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Monster from Frankenstein, and Christopher Lee’s Dracula from Horror of Dracula (another Hammer film). However, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t remember Béla Lugosi ever playing the Grim Reaper.

Konami even paid tribute to the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney Sr., crediting him as Love Chaney for the role of the Hunch Back minion. Bram Stoker and Terrence Fisher were even referenced as Vran Stoker and Trans Fishers respectively. Stoker authored the original Dracula in 1897 while Fisher was a well-known horror director at Hammer Studios.

Before we get to the all-important bit at the end, let’s wrap this history lesson with a chat about the colors. As I mentioned in my Mega Man article, the NES had an available color pallet of 54 different colors. Simon’s sprite is bright orange and while most of the stages incorporate orange, they also use a heavy dose of blue which helps our eyes focus on the hero. These contrasting colors not only gave us something interesting to look at but also served as a unique way to set each stage apart as each had its own distinctive hue.

castle 11

So we’ve covered the bosses, difficulty, weapon upgrades, items, sub-weapons, soundtrack, and color…what else is there? Oh yeah, the actual review of the gameplay, the reason that you’re probably all here for and are kind enough to put up with me for. Folks, all I can say is that this game is worth playing at least once in your life. This is one of the progenitors of the modern action platformer and despite its difficulty, it’s an amazing experience! The linear design and enemy placement force you to develop the necessary timing, learn the patterns for each enemy, and discover the locations of all the necessary items – especially the meat!

Let’s face the facts: you are going to get your head handed to you again and again, but the challenge is what makes this particular title so appealing. The limited health refills, almost non-existent extra lives, and onerous character mobility make this a true test of a gamer’s skill and patience. It’s all worth it though because completing it is incredibly fulfilling. I admit, I have been humbled by this game multiple times, but I keep coming back for more because it captivates you, intimidates you, and teases you with the promise of what it means to actually complete your quest.

There you have it folks, the next entry in the reTROview series! Thank you so much for reading and hey, if you like what you saw (or even if you didn’t), drop a comment down below. There’s more to come as we explore the vast and varied Nintendo library…

Sai & Stormy are writers, gamers, and full time nerds. Sai can often be found with a comic in one hand and a game controller in the other. He specializes in the history/mythology of comic books, legends of video games, and sculpting figurines. When Stormy is not fully immersing herself into her 80's childhood fandoms, she enjoys making cosplay, desperately tries to get her old Nintendo games to work, and will do whatever it takes to make time to read her favorite books. They live somewhere down south where it gets very hot with a boneheaded dog named Melvin.