Let me first say that I wanted this game to be great. The first Castlevania was one of the first games I played all the way through (in one sitting, mind you) and that remains one of my proudest video game accomplishments. I loved that game. It was simply a classic. In that context, I wanted the N64 game by the same title to be just as great. Although Castlevania doesn't quite live up to my expectations, it is still a good game.
The story in Castlevania is, well, the mind-numbingly simple Castlevania story. Every hundred years Dracula returns to Transylvania to mess things up, and the local Belmont has to go kill him. At least this year's Castlevania gives you two characters to choose from, though. Oh, and the Belmont's last name is Schneider. How did that happen?
The team at Konami obviously did their homework before sitting down to develop Castlevania. When you want to develop a great N64 title, which game do you emulate? Zelda 64, of course. Castlevania's gameplay mechanics (they way characters move and the environments in which they move) closely resemble those of Zelda 64. In fact, if you took Zelda 64 and made it darker you would roughly have the Castlevania universe. Unfortunately, Castlevania's actual gameplay can't make the same claim.
Castlevania's gameplay is almost identical to the original NES Castlevania, meaning that you walk five steps, kill a bunch of enemies, make some jumps, and then repeat. It worked back in 1987, so why change it? The problem is simply that few modern gamers have the type of patience it takes to play this sort of game, especially in its new 3D environment.
Let me say this right now, Castlevania is one of the most frustrating games you will ever play. Just like its predecessor, this game will cause fits of controller throwing rage. Missing the same jump three or four times in a row in the first Castlevania was enough to drive one insane! Add some less than optimal camera angles in this year's incarnation, and you've got a downright asylum filler. Here's a little compensation for you young tykes, though; the original game did not have a save feature! At least in the 1999 Castlevania you can save your progress - assuming of course that you have a free controller pak (or DexDrive), that is. When will developers start using EEPROM?
Controls in Castlevania are slightly looser than those of Zelda, but they are still more than adequate. After playing the N64's last horror(ible) title, Nightmare Creatures, the controls in Castlevania seem to be downright perfect. It won't take long for gamers to get comfortable with the control scheme, and move their characters deftly around Castlevania's spooky environments.
Castlevania has some of the most atmospheric environments ever to grace the N64. Right from the start, the game immerses players in unearthly surroundings. From the dead villagers that litter the ground, to the infamous Clock Tower, to Castlevania itself, this game provides some of the spookiest places to explore that N64 gamers have ever seen. That is, assuming the game's camera will let you see them.
Castlevania's camera system, although generally not a problem, goes dumb at the most inopportune times. Whenever players are forced to go platform hopping, the camera resorts to a fixed view. What was Konami thinking? I guess they wanted us to relive the controller-throwing moments of the first Castlevania, but (for Konami's information) controllers were a lot cheaper back in 1987!
Players will often find the faulty camera angles more deadly than the marauding skeletons. To Konami's credit, however, the camera in areas other than the platforms is very well done, and even includes a camera straightening button ala the "Z" button in Zelda. Hopefully Konami will straighten out (quite literally) the platform camera before Castlevania's next venture onto the N64.
Castlevania's music sets the mood perfectly for this dark adventure, although a few classic tracks would have been nice. Nevertheless, Castlevania's audio is very well done, and fits into the Castlevania universe perfectly. The game also uses quite a bit of speech, although most players will skip this speech after the first time they listen to it. The violin track that accompanies the game's title screen is a nice touch.
Castlevania's graphics are sort of a mixed bag. While the game's animation is smooth, and there is generally a constant framerate, the textures are sort of muddy. I'm not sure about the technicalities of texture wrapping on the N64, but it seems Konami isn't quite sure either. Generally, though, the graphics are acceptable, and at times they are downright stunning.
Castlevania is a great throwback to a bygone era, an age when games weren't meant to be easy, and beating a game was a proud accomplishment. While Castlevania doesn't take as long to complete as its predecessor (probably because the original didn't have a save feature) it is still quite difficult. The addition of a second character, with a separate story line, adds even more difficulty. Castlevania isn't perfect, but it is a good game. Just make sure you have a straightjacket handy.
Overall 8.8 out of 10