Following much the same story as the first NES Castlevania, the first SNES outing for the Belmont family has Simon Belmont heading off into the depths of evil in order to save the world from the dark engulfing shadow of Dracula’s cruel hand. The story is that an evil group of people hold a ceremony in an old destroyed abbey outside a small town. As the ritual is performed dark clouds begin to form then just as the group reach a crescendo of chanting, lightning strikes the ground splits it in two and once again Dracula rises from the confines of his tomb.
Following in the foot steps of previous releases, Castlevania IV has the heroic Simon Belmont storming through a number of vertical and horizontal scrolling hack n' slash levels, as he makes his way towards Dracula’s castle. Most levels involve a fair few precision jumps, a bit of stair climbing, swinging from skyhooks with the whip and the general destruction of all things evil. Most (but not all), levels are rounded off with an impressive boss creature.
The launch of the Super Nintendo heralded much hype about the capabilities of the machine in terms of something known as Mode 7. What Mode 7 amounts to is that the machine can set things in a seemingly three dimensional world when it is actually only two dimensional. It can also scale sprites differently and a number of other dull technical things that are of little interest. Castlevania IV uses this strategically through certain key areas forming a stunning showcase for Nintendo’s new found trickery.
Most notable are two sections of level four. First of all the player finds themselves inside a giant spinning tube, even now the graphics are good enough to make you feel dizzy meaning you really have to concentrate to stop from falling to your doom. Next comes a huge rock monsters at the end of level, upon striking said monster it gradually shrinks before finally expanding to fill the whole screen and disappearing into the distance, not as impressive as it once was, but back in the day this truly was as good as it got.
Mode 7 aside, the rest of the graphical content of the title is of an exceptionally high standard. Each level offers something new to be impressed by. Level one sees a huge metal fence come out of the ground at the start of one section then as our hero progresses through, vines and leaves begin to sneak slowly up it. Level two has some beautiful running water effects, and the small droplets that fall from the stalactites in level three have a subtle beauty all of their own.
Each level looks different from the last, ranging from the expected castle environments to marshes, underground caverns and murky dungeons to name a few. Inhabiting each area are unique monsters as well as the standard bats and skeletons that appear throughout the game. All creatures are well animated and surprisingly detailed for a sixteen-bit title and it all adds to the games a very distinctive look and atmosphere.
Along with exceptional graphics comes an even more impressive use of music. This is easily one of the most sonically impressive title ever to be released on any format. The sheer range and depth of sound present is outstanding withsound gradually building in each level before erupting into a full on gothic/classical experience. At times you may find yourself listening to the music instead of concentrating on what you are doing as the amount of layers each work contains is staggering, a truly exceptional achievement which gives the game so much atmosphere that even now certain parts can seem quite sinister.
While at first appearing to contain fairly standard and uninspiring gameplay, playing the game for more than five minutes soon reveals an astonishing amount of flexibility and depth in the control system. As well as the standard jumping and straightforward monster slaying action, all of which can be carried out with ease due to responsive controls, comes the new addition of Simon's whip. The whip can be used to attack in a three hundred and sixty degree field.
Furthermore, after the initial attack with the whip is made, if the attack button is kept held down the whip looses its rigidity and can be flicked around, something that proves useful if you miss a small target with your initial strike. Apart from attacking, the whip can also be used to swing from hooks located around the levels, while most of the time the player is required simply to swing from one side of a drop to another, on the odd occasion more skill is needed and this helps to keep levels varied and the action constantly surprising.
Overall, it is plain to see that Super Castlevania IV is one of finest titles ever to appear in the gaming market. Very rarely does a game come as a complete package of graphics, sound and gameplay. Add to that a very well developed learning curve and the sheer variety to be found in level design and you are looking at an ageless classic that every single Super Nintendo owner walking the earths surface should own. With only Symphony of the Night and the PC-Engine version of Dracula X possibly being in the same league, for Castlevania fans the series has never really got any better than this.