This review will focus on the SNES classic, Super Castlevania IV. First released in 1991, this was one of the SNES' first games. It is a testament to its quality that one of the SNES firsts turned out to be one of its best. To the Japanese, Super Castlevania IV is a remake of the original CV game and does not occupy a different space in the official timeline. But what a remake it is! Everything is improved. The graphics and music obviously benefit, but it is the gameplay that has been the most finely tuned, with Simon having midair jump control and 8 directional whipping. All of this serves to make the game a very polished and well done job.
As an established remake, the story is the same as the original Castlevania with Simon being the 3rd Belmont to challenge the evil Count Dracula and his reign of terror.
The graphics is this game really take advantage of the new capabilities of the SNES with Mode 7 stages that were impossible to render on the NES. These present a visual challenge to first time players. Quite exciting and still fun visually to this day are stages like the rotating cylindrical rooms with enemy coffins that are visible in the background and emerge as you made your way forward. Jumping from the huge chandeliers while the background flashes red and black is a visual feast.
The music, to me, is really the first Castlevania score that sounds like something a neophyte might mistake for something other than game music. The SNES sound chip is working overtime in this game putting out great remixes like Beginning and Vampire Killer, one of the best versions of Bloody Tears in the entire game saga, and new classics like Simon's Theme and the Caves. A great composing effort by Souji Taro and Masanori Adachi and a wonderful sign of great SNES scores to come!
In addition to the above on gameplay, Simon's whip also plays a hand in maneuvering through the stages with grasping points used to swing from point to point. Sadly this would be the only CV game to use such a neat innovation this extensively. It may have been designed to bolster the status of this remake, but it is a great bit of gameplay design.
As neat as whip grasping is, there were some unfortunate removals from Dracula's Curse: There are no more partners as Simon is the sole protagonist. There is also less variety in the stages, 13 in total with one linear path compared to the 18 in Dracula's Curse with multiple paths. A disappointment that I only fully acknowledged as a downgrade recently.
As with most remakes, Super Castlevania IV is made easier due to the gameplay elements, your whip can also be used as a surprisingly effective shield to up your defenses, making the game much easier than the earlier Castlevanias. This definitely serves to make Dracula easier at the end, along with a famous secret that most people surely know about.
As with most Castlevania games, IV continues Nintendo of America's policy of censoring religious content in domestic releases. The Cross subweapon is referred to as a boomerang, statues have more clothes, and dripping blood is replaced with acid. That last one actually makes sense though, why should dripping blood hurt Simon? I'm pretty sure there are no Alien Xenomorphs in Castlevania.
This censorship was a necessary evil due to Nintendo's continued position of gaming as a family friendly activity, which would ultimately hurt them in the Nintendo 64's days. When you are no longer number one, people notice your flaws, both real and exaggerated.
Replay value is another diminished aspect from Dracula's Curse as there is only one way to play through the game. Using different subweapons doesn't count as replay value for me.
In summation, I once called Super Castlevania IV the best traditional Castlevania game. I've since come to realize the superiority of Dracula's Curse, but the many innovations that CV IV brought into the mix continue to hold a special place in gaming history for me. This game is still excellent and deserves a place on any top Super Nintendo games of all time!