I've been playing a huge amount of abandonware, lately, as I've found myself attracted more and more to the games of days past. This attraction is mostly due to the fact that I've had a bit of free time during the day, during which I do not have access to a PC that could run anything more than your basic toaster. Thus, I've been playing abandoned games on them. How surprised I was when I ran across a PC port of the NES classic: Castlevania! O joy, I thought, let the Dracula slaying begin... and begin it did.
You are Simon Belmont, a descendent of the Belmont lineage, who has come to Dracula's castle, Castlevania, to slay him. The Belmonts are a clan of vampire hunters but, more importantly, are possibly the toughest clan of people in the history of mankind. Whereas some action heroes take down entire groups of human antagonists with firearms, the Belmonts vanquish hordes of fiendish otherworldly creatures using only a whip, sometimes boosting their arsenal with small vials of water. You read me correctly: Whips and WATER. Granted, the Belmonts are from a time without guns and missiles, but the point should still stand.
The game stays relatively true to its NES counterpart: movement is slow on the horizontal axis, you can't maneuver yourself after making a jump, and the graphics are very similar. The graphics have been given a slightly larger amount of depth, but are ultimately the same.
Your whip is your main ally throughout the entire game. You use it to kill enemies, break candelabras (which drop powerups such as hearts, money, etc), and break walls to get healing food. Your whip begins alarmingly small, but you can pick up items that increase its length and power. Candelabras drop hearts (ammo for your sub-weapon), dollar-sign bags (score points), and sub-weapons. Sub-weapons include throwing knives that you toss in front of you, holy water that explodes on impact, and even a stop-watch that can pause time.
The controls of this PC port are a bit awkward to use. The arrow keys move you, of course, and space is the attack button. Holding up while pressing space uses you sub-weapon. Enter, however, which is awkward to reach when using the arrow keys, is your jump button. This complicates more than a few difficult fights.
The game is divided into levels, which are further divided into three stages each. These stages are of wildly varying length. Furthermore, their difficulties are a bit erratic as well. At about stage five I was able to develop a smooth groove that allowed me to be moving forward at almost all times, but near stage ten I began dying repeatedly, without fail, at the same spot. This happened for at least nine lives, which equates to several play-throughs. The difficult levels are cruel, unrelenting, and unforgiving, so don't expect the game to be a walk in the park forever. Boss battles are incredibly difficult as well. It is ridiculously hard to take cover from many of them, and taking at least half your health-bar of damage during your first play-through is nigh-unavoidable.
The worst part of the game is the sound. What the heck were they thinking?! The sound was originally meant for the basic "beep boop" PC speaker, but that doesn't make the music any less horrendous. The music, if you can call it that, is shrill and lacking melody, while the sound effects are a bit nonsensical. I did not mute the sound for posterity-sake, which may have been a huge mistake considering the huge headache I now have. The rest of the game makes up for the music, thankfully, but you should still mute the sound if you play the PC version of Castlevania.
Castlevania is a rather fun romp through Dracula's castle, even with the horrible sound and unforgiving difficulty. Great for die-hard fans of the series as well as anyone who played Castlevania "back in their day", but ignorable for anyone else.
NOTE: This game is distributed with DOSBox. DOSBox's license is contained in "DOSBox-license.txt"