CASTLEVANIA 64 / Konami / Nintendo 64

As a longtime gamer, Castlevania 64 makes me sad. It wouldn't make me sad if they had tried something experimental with transitioning the series to 3D, and failed; it does, however, make me sad that they seemingly didn't give much of a damn at all about bringing one of their most storied franchises into a new era.

Konami was seemingly content to just make a tepid cross between Mario 64 and Tomb Raider, with whips instead of guns (and none of the really compelling elements of either game). The play control is also much more slidey, the camera atrocious, and the level layout often so bad you wonder if complete rookies designed it.

Once again, some douchebags have gone and revived Dracula (as seemingly happens every few weeks or so), so now ... uh, Neckerchief Belmont goes on a quest through the usual spooky environs in order to whip him back into his coffin. There's also a little magical girl named Carrie that you can play as, though they mostly go through the same series of ten linear levels, but there are occasional divergences in the path depending on who your character is.

Neckerchief wields the traditional whip, although the whip is sort of clumsily welded to his body sprite and not treated as a separate object, so you don't get to do anything cool with it like twirl it around. It just goes straight out ahead in some generic strike, and for all intents and purposes might as well just be a long stick. He's a bit more robust than the usual Belmont hero, however - he can do a running slide, move while crouching, cast magic spells by finding cards hidden throughout the levels, use the usual sub-weapons, and also has a (very weak) short sword for use when a monster sneaks inside the whip range. Carrie uses small, weak fireballs, but can charge up to do a multi-target attack that basically trashes everyone in the local vicinity.

Unfortunately, the levels and enemies don't do much to make the use of any of these abilities exciting. The first level is exemplary of what the whole rest of the game is like - it has you going through a repetitive chain of finding switches to flip, which open gates to the next small area, where you have to find another switch. The background scenery is so bland, featureless and repetitive that you can easily get lost (every section looks almost identical to the last one), and of course there is no map feature. The camera is also handled automatically, and can be re-centered above and behind Neckerchief at the tap of a button; however, in some of the narrow areas where you have to make the tightest and trickiest jumps, the camera floats off to some random unhelpful angle and can't be adjusted in any way.

Konami seemed to be content with making the levels 85% boring chains of continually respawning weak enemies and frustrating jumps over instant-death pits (mostly the fault of crap camera positioning), and the other 15% being moderately interesting and visually impressive boss battles. Apparently they hoped the boss battles would carry the game, but they really don't. The regular enemies are mostly pretty stupid and weak, and tend to just repetitively run towards you. If you don't feel like fighting, however, Neckerchief and Carrie both have a Magical Fairy Leap that goes so far and so fast you can quickly dust even the fastest enemies, making fighting completely unnecessary and pointless in most cases. If you survive the tedium of the first couple of levels, you get a few alright moments later in the game, like being chased through a garden maze by a chainsaw-wielding indestructible Frankenstein, but this is counterbalanced by another level that is absolutely nothing but jumps over pits with bad camera making it way more difficult than it needs to be.

The level layout really feels like it was done by some amateur .WAD maker for an old FPS or something. Aside from the long stretches of boring flat ground and bland textures populated by boring enemies (and only punctuated by aforementioned shitty jump sequences), opportunities to heal your character are frustratingly few and far between. In the first area you fight two sub-bosses and go through a long stretch of terrain before even finding your first healing item, and that item is hidden inside of some random coffin in a little building you otherwise wouldn't even bother to go in. Healing is seemingly only done by finding random meat lying about, but every now and then you run across some statue of Our Lady of Blessed Chickinz or something - I don't know if it is supposed to heal you somehow, I could never get it to, but you frequently find an offering of roast chicken or something sitting at the statue's feet. Save points are also laughably half-assed - just some random bland white crystals thrown at random spots on the ground here and there for no logical reason.

As far as the music goes, I know the Konami Kukeicha Club and Michiru Yamane leave some gigantic shoes to fill, but this game doesn't even seem to make an attempt. The first level is played in complete silence, as is one of the later levels. The music in the rest of the levels is OK, but nowhere even near the quality you expect for a Castlevania game - no punchy, catchy baroque sorts of tunes or lush, haunting SotN-style orchestrations.

The game seems like it was either really rushed to market and incomplete, or that Konami just truly didn't give a shit about it and figured they could cobble together some half-assed weaksauce and trade it entirely on the Castlevania name. Whatever the case was, this game struggles just to be mediocre.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
* Dracula 3 Deee!