Everyone has a game or game series that makes their skin crawl, be it Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or any number of very easily defined “horror” games. I’m not much for the horror genre. I’ve never really been a fan of scary movies or spooky stories. While I’ve enjoyed the odd horror game, they have never been and will likely never be a staple in my normal gaming routine. There is one exception to this: The Castlevania series.
Castlevania games are sometimes categorized as horror due to the supernatural themes and, by some who really try and analyze game design, enemy placement and level design. I don’t normally consider Castlevania games to be part of the horror genre, as they aren’t really particularly scary…but then I remember back to my first experience with Super Castlevania IV.
I had played Castlevania games before Konami’s first SNES entry into the whip flicking series, and I really liked the supernatural enemies and dark atmospheres of the games. Despite the “horror” themes, they never really gave me the creeps or scared me. This was likely due to the limited graphics on the NES. They looked and still look great, but the experience just wasn’t that chilling.
When I finally got to play Super Castlevania IV, I was blown away. The graphics and sound are so good in the game, and at the time, the only thing that rivaled it in my mind was the great Link to the Past. Castlevania IV was the most atmospheric game I had played up until that point. It’s dark, haunting, and to a younger kid, kind of frightening.
The SNES is capable of a better audio/visual experience, and the developers at Konami really did all they could to crank up the fear factor as much as technologically possible. The title sequence really gives you an idea of what to expect when diving into the game, with lightning cracks, spider webs, creatures scurrying about, and the incredibly creepy music and sound effects that accompany it all.
The opening area to the game has a very slow and dark flow of strings playing over a foggy moat and a castle gate while a skull rock formation overlooks your approach. After crossing a drawbridge that closes itself, you find yourself in a garden courtyard and immediately an iron gate quickly rises out of the ground. A creepy yet rocking track begins to play and your adventure begins. Super Castlevania IV has effectively set the mood for the game within just the first minute of gameplay. This game is going to use all the visual and audio tricks in the book to keep you on the edge of your seat while playing.
One of the more striking visuals for me as a youngster happens near the end of the first stage. When you lead Simon to a barn, suddenly a lot of dead horse imagery begins to appear. Horse heads lying on the ground come to life to attack you. After climbing the stairs to the second story, you are able to see what probably creeped me out more than anything: the pale dead looking horses lounging about in the moonlight.
I’m not sure what it was about this visual that stuck with me and made me shudder as a kid. I remember being frightened enough by it that it kept me up at night, wondering what kind of creepy horse business they were plotting. Were those guys just regular white horses hanging out in an obviously dangerous and dead land, or was it something more sinister like the skeletal horse the end boss rides in on? Were they zombies, with rotted flesh hanging off their bones? Were they plotting to come and eat little kids living in the real world?
Something about the organ music playing in the excellent Simon’s Theme track over a full moonlit farmyard just stuck with me. This could be because I grew up in an area with a lot of farm land and scary stories and urban legends about ghosts and specters surrounding farmland were always told around cold fall evenings. The visuals of the game were just real enough that my active imagination started running wild with how these dead horses could be real and they could want to come eat me at any time.
The rest of Super Castlevania IV is excellent, and has a ton of great creepy things to take in. The music in the second stage just really sounds excellent and fits the graveyard and swamp areas perfectly. The dungeon areas where half skeletons are rattling around in chains gave me a bit of a jump the first time I got that far into the game. The final areas bring back excellent renditions of classic Castlevania music tracks and are suspenseful with gameplay that rushes you but forces you to be careful and deliberate at the same time.
All these parts of the game are great, but they just never suck with me the same way as the horses in the first level did. Call me crazy, but they are always the first thing I think about when someone mentions Super Castlevania IV. The game is excellent and a great one to play during this spooky Halloween season, and you shouldn’t overlook it when lining up your horror games to play any October.
- Released: December, 1991
- System: Super NES
- Developer/Publisher: Konami