Super NES Mini Countdown: #6 | Super Castlevania IV

That pesky Dracula's at it again.

Nintendo's Super NES Classic Edition mini-console arrives at the end of the month, and the Retronauts writing team has voted to rank the 20 classic games on the mini. Unlike last year's Classic NES Edition, the Super NES mini doesn't have a single dud on it, so think of this as a countdown from good to great. Our last game before the top five sticks with Konami, only with whips and daggers instead of bombs and guns.

Previous entries:

6. Super Castlevania IV

Dev.: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action platformer
Release date: Oct. 1991 [JP] Dec. 1991 [U.S.] Nov. 1992 [EU]

What makes Super Castlevania IV a worthy inclusion?

A 'Vania anyone can enjoy

The Castlevania series is generally renowned for its challenge level, particularly on the NES -- the original was a tough cookie, the 2nd was notoriously obtuse, and the 3rd game was just vicious. Super Castlevania IV represents kind of a switch in approach -- while it's certainly no shrinking violent in the difficulty department, it is a much fairer game on the whole, and for anyone who doesn't have all that much experience with Castlevania, it's probably the ideal game to start with -- all that's strong about the series is here, and it's a game that'll give you enough of a fight without completely destroying you. In many ways, it's the quintessential classic CV game.

Simon's got skills

A great deal of Super Castlevania IV's relative kindness towards the player is because Simon Belmont, our hero, has a lot more skills up his sleeve. He can now whip in all directions, which certainly makes dealing with things such as bats and Medusa heads a lot easier. The whip can also be used as a grappling hook in some parts, and there is of course the classic "lame whip" which you get through holding the attack button down -- it might not be the most useful attack against enemies, but even this has its uses in a pinch. Simon isn't quite as defenseless on stairs as he used to be, and he can even moonwalk! Not that you can blame him -- the ability to whip diagonally warrants a little bit of swagger.

Hang on, Mode 7 can actually be used tastefully?

It was very common for Super NES games to really lean on Mode 7 as a gimmick -- there are the likes of PilotWings and F-Zero that rely on it heavily for the game, but then there's games such as Super Tennis or ActRaiser which, while great in their own right, tend to have all these fancy flashes on Mode 7 just to remind you that the SNES could do it -- as if there were a chance that you'd forgotten. SCIV uses a fair bit of Mode 7, but it actually deploys it in ways that work, that are subtle and actually have an effect on the game -- whether it's the Revolving Room or the giant chandeliers. It's quite nice to see a game on the SNES that didn't just rely on Mode 7 for a bit of pizazz here and there, and that incorporates it nicely into the gameplay.

A soundtrack to die for

Super Castlevania IV might just have the best soundtrack of any game on the SNES Mini, which is no mean feat -- Castlevania as a series is known for excellent music, but this is still a standout OST. Right from the classic first level tune, every song fits so well with the level, whether they come with a recognisable melody that's more classically 'Vania, or if they're more ambient and used to emphasise the location. There's also the excellent remakes of classic 'Vania tunes, which put an exclamation point on this game's status as a loose re-imagining of the original game. Super Castlevania IV feels, in many ways, like a melting pot of every single thing that makes the series good, with virtually none of the bad -- for that reason, it's my personal favourite game in the series and worthy of such a high place in our collective ranking.

Interesting facts about Super Castlevania IV

 A new direction

Super Castlevania IV was the first main game in the series to be directed by Masahiro Ueno (credited as "Jun Furano", because Konami did not allow people to use their real names in credits back then) following the departure of Hitoshi Akamatsu, who directed the first three Castlevania games. Development on the game started in late 1989, and was carried out by a relatively small team, all of whom contributed their own ideas to the game, and Ueno also doubled up as lead, enemy and boss programmer. While Ueno would stay with Konami for several years, later moving to the American branch and then to EA, he would never take lead on another Castlevania -- which perhaps explains some of SCIV's more unique elements.

Ueno's motivation

Masahiro Ueno was a great fan of the original Castlevania, which in many ways explains why SCIV is both a partial reimagining of the original as well as a walk back to the game's action platform-based roots. Ueno purposefully eschewed the RPG elements that existed in both CVII and III (the development of which dovetailed slightly with the beginning of work on SCIV) while also making certain changes that he felt would have benefitted the original game, such as being able to jump on and off stairs. SCIV was also worked on by Mitsuru Yaida, who would later help to form Treasure and program Gunstar Heroes.

Early promotions

There exists on YouTube a promotional advert for Super Castlevania IV which uses a fairly early build of the game, in which several differences from the final product can be observed. The video in question also contains an easter egg from Contra III, and is amusingly corny. Sadly, the beta that this video uses is currently lost, but the video is available to watch here:

Those damn crosses again

As ever, crosses that were prevalent in the Japanese version of the game would be taken out of the International versions. The password screen of the Japanese version features a stained glass window with a cross, and a representation of Jesus Christ -- both of which were removed later on. The opening graveyard scene also features a great deal more crosses, including a big one in the foreground on top of a tombstone with the word "Dracura" on it -- the cross and the word were, again, removed. The biggest change between the Japanaese and International versions, however, occurs on the title screen -- blood drips from the game's logo in the Japanese version, but does not on International releases.