My Top 5 Games of 1991: #3 Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

Developed: Konami
Published: Konami
Genre: Action Platformer
Platform: SNES(reviewed), Wii Virtual Console

Another one of the earliest games I can recall playing, Super Castlevania IV is probably my favorite of the Castlevania series. It is a relentlessly difficult game with a few cheap enemy placement problems, which actually wouldn't be a problem at all if taking damage didn't knock you back. And it seems that more often that not a bottomless pit is waiting directly behind you. This was a source of much frustration in me as a child, yet I still consider the game to be one of my favorites.

The bane of every child's existence: Medusa Heads.
In Super Castlevania IV you take control of vampire hunter Simon Belmont in his quest to destroy Dracula for the umpteenth time. You start out fairly far from Dracula's titular castle, having to go through a good number of areas before you reach it and even when you do, you're only about half done with the game. Armed only with a chain whip called the Vampire Killer and a small arsenal of  throwing weapons you fight your way through hordes of undead and demons with some pretty tough bosses at the end, and sometimes the middle, of each stage.
The face of true horror.
I remember the game's intro scaring the crap out of me as a kid. All that happens is a grave gets struck by lightning while spooky music plays followed by Dracula's soul escaping and an expository text scroll so I don't know why I was so freaked out by it. The game does boast some crazy music though. Rather than being highly melodic and catchy as in it's predecessors, the songs in Castlevania IV are more moody and atmospheric. Don't get me wrong; many of them are really catchy but perhaps not as much as previous Castlevanias. Though there are a few returning favorites from those games, such as Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer, played during the long final stage. The sound design is also excellent with a huge variety of enemy and environmental noises, and you gotta love the shr-ah sound of Simon's whip.
As a kid, I always thought these platforms looked like sideways chicken nuggets.
While the graphics and animations weren't anything amazing, they set a great tone for the game. Enemy and boss designs can be pretty creepy at times, like the dancing ghost couple or a giant skull that attacks with its tongue. Level backgrounds have a lot of detail put into them at times with layered scrolling sections giving a great sense of scale. One area features a dizzying cylindrical background that furthers the difficulty as rotates around the collapsing platforms you must navigate.

Level designs can be downright devious at times with platforms arranged as if by a madman. In one area of the last stage you have to quickly ascend many flights of stairs to avoid being killed by a giant saw. The stairs not only collapse from the bottom up as soon as you step on them but there are also enemies blocking your path as you frantically make your way to the next platform. The section right after that is even crazier with diagonally ascending platforms that pass through rows of spikes, forcing you to keep jumping from platform to platform to avoid instant death.
Yes, one of the boss fights is against a dancing ghost couple who attack you with rapiers. Konami is weird.
For me, the boss fights are the highlight of the game. They include some horror icons like Frankenstein's Monster who throws different potions at you, a mummy who teleports and shoots rags at you, the Grim Reaper who relentlessly bombards you with scythes, and of course Dracula himself who is actually fairly easy once you get his pattern of fireballs and lightning bolts down. One fight that I love for its franticness is against a spear wielding bird creature who jumps all over the place and get even crazier when his spear breaks part way into the fight.

Probably the most annoying fight in the game is against the dancing ghost couple pictured above. They constantly crowd you into the corner forcing you to jump onto the platform above to get around them. Even then you can only get in a few good hits before you have to dodge again. And that's if they aren't doing their dash attack. Forget about attacking them if they are. Just dodge. Either that or whip them as fast as possible without dodging and try to win a war of attrition. My strategies are stupid.

Perhaps my only big gripe about Castlevania IV is the jumping mechanic. As I mentioned several times, jumping is a huge part of the game, while platforming or fighting enemies and bosses. The problem is you don't jump very far horizontally and once you jump you don't have much control over you movement in midair. So you'd better make every jump count and, for the love of Atlas, would you kindly watch out for enemies on the next platform(someone is laughing their ass off right now at that archaic reference). This game is almost as bad as Ninja Gaiden when it comes to enemies knocking you back off of platforms to your death. It's the thing that will kill you the most right next to boss fights.
Pictured: The most blingin' boss ever. A bat made out of freakin' gold.
It's funny that I place this game higher than 2 others on this countdown with all the negative things I've said about it. But that's because the good greatly outweighs the bad and when you adore something you should be able to see its faults and try to look through them to the things you love about it. That is how I feel about Super Castlevania IV; a slightly flawed but ultimately lovable experience that you would be remiss in your duty as a gamer if you skip it. through that whole article without a Devo reference...dammit...

Number 2 in my top 5 games of 1991!
A beloved RPG with a surprisingly dark, mature story for the time.

I'll leave you with Super Castlevania IV's beautiful ending theme, courtesy of YouTube user constantlimit:

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