When Castlevania for the Nintendo 64 was announced as being the first game in the series to take place in 3D, I (like many other gamers) had emotions ranging from skeptical to cynical. Screenshots revealed blocky character models and bland environments. There were endless complaints about the camera. Plus, with the release of Symphony of the Night still fresh on the brain, I wrote off all Castlevania titles on the Nintendo 64. In other words, I judged Castlevania 64 as a title not worth my time without giving it the slightest chance. I recently (and legitimately) played Castlevania 64 and I am happy to say that it’s not as bad as I thought. Is it the best Castlevania in the franchise? Of course not; far from it. However, it’s not as bad as others make it seem and fans of the series should find some enjoyment with it.
In the year 1852, the people in the Province of Wallachia have enjoyed years of peace and fortune. However, their hearts have begun to turn dark and have awoken Count Dracula from centuries of slumber. Two heroes have been tasked with putting a stop to Dracula’s plan to plunge the world into darkness. The first is Reinhardt Schneider, a vampire hunter that has been given the legendary whip from the Belmont clan. While he isn’t a member of the Belmont bloodline, he is a capable and pious warrior that will do everything in his power to stop Dracula. The second is Carrie Fernandez, a descendant of the sorceress Sypha Belnades. Armed with two magical rings and mystical powers, Carrie is a pint-sized power house that wants to avenge her family. At the beginning of the game, you can select to play as either Reinhardt or Carrie. There are subtle differences with boss battles and stages between the two, but the overall plot remains the same no matter which character you select. Surprisingly, there is a fair amount of dialogue and exposition in Castlevania 64.
Castlevania 64 plays like a traditional game in the franchise with standard level progression. However, each level is littered with secrets and exploration is rewarded. Both characters have the ability to run, slide, jump and attack with a long-range and/or short-range weapon. Reinhardt uses the Vampire Killer whip as his long-range weapon and a short sword for his short-range weapon. Carrie’s long-range “weapon” is actually a magical bullet that can be charged for extra damage. Think of it as a homing Mega Buster. She can also use her two rings to thwack enemies. Long-range weapons can be powered up by finding certain items. Finally, sub-weapons have returned. You can use the dagger, the axe, the holy water or the boomerang cross. These are used with Red Gems (in lieu of hearts) that are hidden in breakable objects. You can also find money, restorative items and Sun and Moon Cards.
Castlevania 64 utilizes a somewhat unique day and night system. Certain areas won’t be accessible if the sun or moon is in the sky. This system also dictates the power of certain enemies. While interesting in theory, it doesn’t have much impact on game play. In the event you need to change the day, money is easy to find and can be used to purchase more Sun and Moon Cards. Money is also used to buy restorative items. Despite all of the resources available to Reinhardt and Carrie, Castlevania 64 is a challenging game with controls that take some adjustment. Much of that challenge has to do with the enemies you face. Enemies in Castlevania 64 are fast and love to attack in groups. Boss battles are very challenging, but at the same time, very fun and rewarding. Castlevania 64’s biggest challenge comes from the vast amount of platform jumping you need to do in nearly every level.
Indeed, the camera in Castlevania 64 can make your hero fall to their death over and over. Sometimes, the camera works in your favor. As you are frantically moving from enemy to enemy or trying to avoid a huge AoE attack from a boss, the camera does a good job of keeping up with you. However, during various stages that have trap doors, spiked floors, and moving platforms, the camera has a tendency to get messed up. This results in missed jumps or getting hit by traps. The sad thing is that both Reinhardt and Carrie are excellent jumpers that can make some impressive leaps. By holding the jump button, you can hang onto ledges and pull yourself up. The resources for success are there, but the execution is faulty due to the camera.
One of my nitpicky problems with Castlevania 64 is its look. Sure, I’ll always favor 2D graphics, but Castlevania 64’s 3D presentation leaves much to be desired. Reinhardt and Carrie look fine, and the bosses you face are creative and intimidating. There are also some interesting levels to explore (Tower of Sorcery and Villa come to mind). However, most of the game has that “first attempt at 3D” bizarrely blocky look. It was a noble effort to bring a cherished franchise to a new dimension, but the results were poor. The thing I find most disappointing about the graphics is the lack of enemies. You’ll be fighting the same skeletons and bats for most of the game, which is a shame because Symphony of the Night had such a vast bestiary. To add insult to injury, the music in Castlevania 64 is lacking. When there is music playing, it’s fantastic. However, most of the time there is nothing playing in the background. The sound effects, such as the cry of monsters and the scarce voice acting, somewhat help with the atmosphere. However, there should have been more music. This is Castlevania; it deserves it.
Despite my gripes, I will happily say that Castlevania 64 isn’t that bad. Clearing the game with Reinhardt will unlock a new outfit for him that pays homage to Simon Belmont. Similarly, clearing the game with Carrie will grant her duds that pay homage to Maria Renard. By finishing the game on the normal difficulty level, hard mode is unlocked. Not only do enemies take more damage to kill, but sub-weapons cost more Red Gems to use. Interestingly, playing the game on easy mode only lets you get to a certain stage before a message pops up telling you that you have to play the game on Normal to get the full story. Furthermore, Carrie and Reinhardt have 16 days to vanquish Dracula. Failing to do so will result in a bad ending. A typical run with either character usually takes about four hours. If you aren’t able to finish in one setting, you will need to use the Nintendo 64 saving accessory to make a back-up file.
As a huge fan of the Castlevania franchise, I am glad that I gave Castlevania 64 a chance. Sure, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Symphony of the Night. Sure, it’s not as polished as Lament of Innocence or Curse of Darkness. And sure, it’s evident that the developers were attempting to try something new. However, it’s still a fun and challenging title that captures most of the aspects that makes this vampire hunting series so fun.
Overall, 6.5/10: Castlevania 64 is a game with more than meets the eye, even if what immediately meets the eye is a messy presentation.