Celebrating 25 years of Castlevania

Yesterday was¬†the big day– even though Konami¬†didn’t really publically celebrate it whatsoever. 25 years ago gamers in Japan were introduced to the gothic world of Castlevania. The game launched on the Famicom Disc System on September 26, 1986 to the surprise of many gamers– who at the time were accustomed to colorful and overly-expressive games like Super Mario Bros.. With Castlevania, Konami gave owners of Nintendo’s home console a different type of action-platformer: one that would go on to become one of the medium’s most prolific and cherished properties. Yeah, it’s a bummer that we don’t really have a new game to play this year to commemorate the series’ 25th, aside from the PSN port of Harmony of Despair tomorrow, but we still have a huge list of classic titles we can whip out for this very special occasion.

But let’s go back to where it all started. To the game that introduced us to this world of Dracula and his creatures of the night and to the lone whip-wielding warrior that would stop him (for the time being, at least): Simon Belmont.

At the time of its release, the original Castlevania served as more than just an action-oriented platformer; it was also a horror game in and of itself. You had the aforementioned lone warrior (Simon Belmont or Simon Belmondo as he was known in the game’s original, Japanese release) breaking into a full-blown house of horrors: Dracula’s Castle. Right from the very first level you were met with a stream of zombies, looking to cut your visit short. Simon held his own, though, thanks largely to his iconic weapon: the Vampire Killer whip.

This now symbolic whip has played a large role in many entries in the franchise, usually at the hands of a Belmont– with some exceptions, of course. It was the only way for Simon to successfully put an end to Dracula’s immediate threat in the first game– and I say immediate because as we all know, Drac’ doesn’t like staying dead for too long. And before you knew it, he would be back in the next game, better than ever, to begin his plans for global domination anew. But don’t think that just because you wielded a weapon that was strong enough to take down the Prince of Darkness that you’d be instantly able to plow through enemies unscathed, nope, not at all. And as any hardcore fan can tell you, the original game is widely known for its notorious difficulty.

Yeah, the classic main hall– pictured above– may look easy, but be warned: things get much, much harder quicker than you’d expect. And before you know it you’ll be at the mercy of a giant bat (Bat Company), jumping around, throwing axes (you’re welcome), tying to get hits in on the giant creature. After you down him, and collect the magical regenerative orb at level’s end, you’ll definitely walk away with a strong sense of satisfaction. But that’s just the first level, my friend. You still got an entire castle to mend to. But that’s where the game’s, for lack of a better word, ‘gothic’ charm comes from: it’s truly a horrifying experience when you take certain factors into consideration like its difficulty level and atmosphere amid other titles of its time. Yeah, it’s pixelated, but back then this probably scared Mario fans shitless.

And you can’t really talk about Castlevania without taking some time to mention just how downright amazing the series’ music is. Hell, even some of the lesser beloved games boast superb tunes. But let’s talk about the original’s music. This was the release that gave us many classic tracks, the most notable one being “vampire killer.” This song has become as known as tunes from Zelda and Mario have– it’s easily recognizable by gamers as beloning to Konami’s long-running classic series. And you know what? This classic piece also serves as my ringtone on my phone, so, yeah, it’s that awesome.

Now, I can go on and on talking for hours on end about this series, or more specifically the original game, and how much it means to me. But that wouldn’t feel right for this particular anniversary column. Why? Well, the main reason why this series has become as widely regarded and praised is because of one major factor: the fans. Without the fans, this series may have gone unnoticed after the initial launch buzz wore down and we would have never gotten to experience 25 years of gaming bliss. So, having said that, I’m going to end this piece with a special tribute video that was made by my friend and fellow ‘vaniac, Cecil Kain. Happy hunting, ‘vania fans. Here’s to 25 more years.

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