Certain transitions simply arent meant to succeed. Whether it is a book being adapted for the big screen, a singer tempting fate in acting or vice-versa, there will always be cases where the newly created product or effect will tarnish the initial reputation. As the Playstation and Nintendo 64 gradually left the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo to rest in peace, it became a common practice to take video game series, which had made themselves well known on 8 and 16-Bit systems, and to create three dimensional sequels for them. Among these sequels can be found highly successful titles such as Super Mario 64 or The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. This, however, isnt to say that every sequel to bring a series in the third dimension has been well received. When Konami followed in this trend, it did so by introducing, among others, its whip slashing, vampire hunting line of games known as Castlevania. The result, Castlevania 64, shows that the series is better off remaining a two-dimensional side-scroller.
The fact that over ten sequels branded with the name Castlevania have been released does not mean that newcomers to the series will be lost in an ever-continuing plot that complicates itself with every new game. This is one of the positive aspects of the series, as it has always been faithful to offering players a story that doesnt get in the way of gameplay. In Castlevania 64's case, the plot is as simple as they come. Dracula has awakened from a century of enforced sleep and it becomes the players mission to journey into the Counts castle in Transylvania and destroy him. While other games in the series are connected through their stories, Castlevania 64 offers no ties with any of the previous sequels.
Before embarking on this quest, the game offers the choice of two playable characters. The first of which is Carrie Fernandez, a young girl who uses magical projectiles as her main weapon. The fact that this long range weapon can be charged up handicaps the character since an ordinary shot will not make any noticeable damage and fully charging a shot will leave Carrie vulnerable for a few seconds. The second character found in Castlevania 64 is Reinhardt Schneider, a descendant of the Belmont clan of vampire hunters whose members have starred in most games ever since the series beginning on the original Nintendo. Reinhardt uses the traditional whip as his weapon of choice and making use of it isnt always trouble-free due mostly to the targeting system the game offered. Ocarina Of Time had only been released a month or so before and anyone who had played both games couldnt help but notice how drastically different the targeting system in each was. While Ocarina Of Time's system was simple to make use of and see, Castlevania 64 was programmed with a terrible targeting system. Reinhardt will always target an approaching enemy and not always the same as the player attempts to attack. This often leads to confusion, as the character will slash his whip through thin air while taking damage. Im not sure whether those who created Castlevania 64 were new to the world of 3D programming or if they simply wanted to rush through certain parts of the game. What remains however, is that they could have learned a thing or two from Ocarina of Time.
I was initially attracted to this game when playing its third level for the first time, called the "Villa", in which either Carrie or Reinhardt would venture into what seemed to be an old abandoned mansion. Upon entering, it was obvious that the main hall was a cheaply plagiarized version of a room found in Resident Evil. Still, Castlevania 64 offered the freedom of movement Capcoms survival horror title lacked and the idea a haunted mansion attracted me. Sadly enough, this was the only and somewhat short level of the sort, as the other sections of the game consisted of the same poorly designed platforming sequences.
What was once the series strong point now becomes its primary weakness, as Castlevania 64 seems determined to preserve its 2D predecessors platforming aspect in its entirety. This could have been done with more subtlety now that the series realism has been pushed up a notch, yet floating rocks and levitating platforms are seen everywhere. To complement this are the controls which in no way help the experience. Never quick to respond or stop any movement, they can become a real nightmare for anyone without a memory card to save the games progress. Attempting to jump and hold on to a ledge is a challenge that will most likely force the most patient of gamers to lose his calm. In fact, the combination of slow and inaccurate controls with an insane level of difficulty in most areas will give players the desire to offer the controller as a sacrifice to the nearest wall.
Another area that greatly suffered in Castlevania's first 3D installment is sound. Players remembered previous games in the series for offering memorable tunes. Unfortunately, since this game took its three-dimensional nature a little too seriously, it sacrificed music in favor of ambient sounds. For example, the first level, set in the forest outside Draculas castle, offers only the sound of the wind, the main characters fast pace and the rustling of skeletons rising from the ground to satisfy the auditory senses. For one or two exceptions, the musical themes found in levels, that actually have any music in them, are average at best.
Seeing as how the sequels following both Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Legacy Of Darkness dropped the three-dimensional aspect altogether, it is safe to say that Konami realized its errors and adopted the classic line "Why mess with the good things?" Hence, this proves that the third dimension isnt always the savior it claims to be when attempting to offer game series another shot at glory for a new generation.
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