Castlevania 64: Mediocre Step Into 3D for Famed Series

Castlevania on the Nintendo 64

The highly influential, and critically acclaimed, Castlevania series had its N64 debut in 1999. Alas, this SOB didn’t turn out to be SNES level Super Castlevania in waiting…

No, instead it was a bit of a hodgepodge of mediocrity. Like so many 3D romps from this era, it was an awkward take on the classic series. With Konami struggling to master its first effort at action-adventure fun and games.

The Ups and Downs of Castlevania on the Nintendo 64

Castlevania on the Nintendo 64 (often just called Castlevania 64) launched in North America in January 1999, with the Japanese release (unusually) following in March.

Then we got it in Europe from May 1999. We’d never actually played a Castlevania game by that point, so upon seeing the mediocre score in N64 Magazine we didn’t pay the thing any further attention.

However, we’ve since understood just how incredible this series is. Its efforts across the NES, SNES, and PlayStation are legendary.

And that this N64 version must have triggered the hype machine! Unfortunately, as with so many developers in the late 1990s, Konami couldn’t quite grasp how to transform its 2D platforming masterpieces into a similarly glorious 3D world.

Nintendo’s set the benchmark with Super Mario 64 (1996) and very few developers got anywhere near that. Only British developer Rare did, really.

This left the likes of Konami looking a bit amateur in comparison. In the game, you take control of the protagonist and you set out to stop Count Dracula in his grant estate.

It started well enough, with a nice intro, some violin, and that classic Castlevania score sweeping over the top.

Once you start playing the game, its limitations become readily apparent.

Despite the graphics being good (for the era) and the atmospherics on it, too, the main issue is with the gameplay. Which is just a bit… flat.

There are strange, weird, sections with backtracking to complete tasks. The control system is fiddly. And it doesn’t engage—that makes it underwhelming.

Part of the disappointment here is this was the first (!!) 3D Castlevania game. The PlayStation classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had launched in 1997 and was still fresh in the memory.

But now here was Konami failing to master 3D first time out.

There’s no denying Castlevania 64 has its moments. As we’ve mentioned, it certainly looks the part. And it really conjures up a feeling of isolation in Count Dracula’s castle. The combat system can be rather satisfying, too.

But there’s a dodgy as all hell camera to go with the action. Those control issues come back to haunt you time and time again. And it’s monotonous as a result.

Over two decades on it seems trivial to flag all this up now, we suppose, but it does lump Castlevania (rather disappointingly) into the category of, “Developers struggling to make the transition to a new era of gaming.”

The Fate of 3D Castlevania Games

There are 30 games from this series and the last was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. It launched in 2014 and met with mediocre to negative reviews.

Prior to that, numerous 2D titles in the series (many on the Game Boy Advance) maintained a high-quality to them.

There’s just something about this series and an awkward transition to 3D. Although Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005) met with above average reviews. But the reality is, there were no 9/10 or 10/10 type experiences here. Not even close.

We’d like to say that’s because Castlevania works best in 2D style.

You can play Castlevania (1986) on the NES and still have a fantastic time of it, even if the difficulty levels are notoriously high.

We hope if the series makes another return we get a proper 2D outing again, as Castlevania is part of the brilliant Metroidvania genre of indie games that continue to impress. And it feels about time for it to make a return and prove why it was so influential.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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