Castlevania for the Sharp X68000
Review by Jorge D. Fuentes
Editor's Note: This review was written based on an emulated version of the game. As this game was originally released for the Sharp X68000, a computer system only released in Japan, playing it in its original form (and not in the re-issue for the Sony Playstation) is a near-impossible feat for American audiences. Notes are made in the review about possible differences the emulated version may have from the original form of the game.
The Sharp X68000 computer system was a pretty nifty computer that came out only in Japan in the late 1980's. It was one of those "cool computers" with a high-color display and pretty decent resolution. Some applications were made for it, but it was mostly used for gaming. In 1993, Konami released Akumajo Dracula (the Japanese name for the early Castlevania games in the series -- roughly translating to "Demon Castle Dracula") for this system (thus the game is usually refered to as Akumajo Dracula X68000 or simply Castlevania X68000, CV68K for short).
CVX68K is a remake of the original Castlevania game for the NES with some distinct differences. Instead of the regular six stages that came out on the NES, CVX68K boasts eight stages. Some stages were kept pretty close to their NES counterparts: the Castle Entrance, the Chapel, and the Dungeons. However, the Chapel is the second level in the original game, while in CVX68K game is the fourth level. At other times, other stages in CVX68K resemble related areas in Castlevania -- the Courtyard is back, the Clock Tower as well, and the Bridge -- but they are radically different and usually lead to new areas.
Many new/remixed areas were added: Swamp, Ice Caverns, Tower of Dolls, Hall of Mirrors, Armory, and Servants' Quarters. These new areas have very nice details and thematically appropriate enemies, which givs the remake a fresh look.
As far as graphics are concerned, this game is top notch. Because of the Sharp X68000's ability to use high-color, the stages are more polished looking than, say, Super Castlevania IV or Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. The backgrounds are very detailed and in some areas can get downright beautiful; in the area with the Long Bridge, before crossing it, one can see the Castle Keep in the distance with a full moon behind it. At other times, like in the Dungeons, they have animated prisoners doing different things -- alot of very cool details.
Don't let the graphics catch your eye too often, though -- this game is tough. It will have you pulling your hair at times due to the cheapness of some enemies (like certain Evil Eyes which have been strategically placed by Teeter-Totter style platforms at one of the Clock Tower's sections). Some of the bosses after the second stage can get down-right annoying at times as well.
As for the bosses, well, some of the bosses are hard, and will require careful precision and pattern-finding on the player's behalf. Not to mention the fact that at Level 4 (The Chapel) and after, the 4-hit rule takes effect, and you are allowed only four hits before you die.
Thankfully, Simon does have his full stash of sub-Weapons at his disposal: dagger, holy water, axe, boomerang, and the pocket watch to freeze time for a few seconds. And then there's the herb. The herb is a revolutionary new item used in the same manner as the rest of the sub-weapons CVX68K. However, this Herb will refill a nice chunk of your life meter for a cost of 10 hearts. Those who are lucky enough to find the herb, or know the one candle in the game that holds the elusive herb, will be able to violate the 4-Hit Rule, provided that they have enough hearts. This item is pretty awesome, and can downright be a life saver at boss encounters.
Simon Belmont has a couple of new techniques over his original appearance, such as the ability to whip in three directions: forward, diagonally down, and down. This is a step back from Super Castlevania IV (with a near 360° of whip wielding, plus the brandish). This Simon is more old-school, which, since this game is an in-continuity remake of the original Castlevania, fits perfectly.
As far as music for the game, I don't know if the actual computer has these options (it most likely does) but the emulation version (which Americans have to use to play this game) has a menu at the beginning of CV68k which asks "Which Music Type Do You Prefer?", and gives the player three choices:
The first choice is original X68000 sound chip. Choosing this option will have you listening to the tunes using the original sound chip that the X68k had, which makes most tunes sound like something out of the Sega Genesis, but with slightly higher quality. The drawback of this option is that it is emulating the sound, so if you have an older machine likely your machine will get bogged down (as this is yet another process the system has to emulate). Use this option if you're nostalgic about old sounds.
The second choice is MT-32/CM64. This was a certain setup used by older sound boards that would hook up to computers via a MIDI cable. The music is better, but uses old-style percussion, like Toms and KickSnares. The problem with this choice is that if you currently don't have a souncard that has an MT-32 or MT-32 compatible sound set or sound bank, you're not going to enjoy the tunes as they were meant to be heard, and will instead hear mostly percussion and lots of missing parts. Don't listen to this unless you've got that actual setup. If by some chance you do have that setup, the music is great, better than the X68000 option because it uses your MIDI card's instruments, but still sounds vintage because of the old-school percussion.
The third choice is RolandGS MIDI. RolandGS is a notch above the regular MIDI standard. This means that the music you will hear will take advantage of your soundcard's full MIDI instrument lineup, as well as the extra instruments used in a RolandGS set. Translation? It uses MIDI, and it uses it well. The drawback is that a lot of people don't have RolandGS-compatible soundcards, so they will be hearing "Instrument Replacements" at times. For example, at the end of the game, the song calls for a "HeartBeat" sound sample, which is only available to RolandGS-compatible cards, and isn't part of the General MIDI set, so instead of hearing the HeartBeat, the player will instead hear something like "Seashore" and miss out on the effect. It's annoying, but most newer sound cards are GS compatible. Either that, or if you have an SB-Live! card you can look for a GS compatible soundfont. Or, as a last resort, download Roland Sound Canvas in order to get the full effect (at the CPU's cost).
Having said that, I will say that all three choices have different versions of the same song, so those who are musically intrigued should listen to all three versions of a song if they can -- they all sound pretty nice. I happen to like the RolandGS version myself, but that's because I'm set up for it. The vintage stuff is very nice, though.
As a bonus, the game has a nice handful of original tunes: "Thrashard in the Cave", "The Tower of Gears", "Moon Fight", "The Tower of Dolls", "Etude for the Killer", and a new battle theme called "Creatures in the Depth" are all stand-out, rocking tracks. The full suite of songs are all great to listen to, from the stages, to the loading songs, and even opening screens. Plus, there are the top-notch remixes. "Vampire Killer", "Wicked Child", "Bloody Tears", and "Theme of Simon Belmont" all apear in the game, to the delight of Castlevania music-philes.
The graphics are very well done, and the enemies are well animated, given the time in which the game came out. The high-color graphics helps out as well, with very rich colors. Lastly, the stages are all nice, varied, different and theme-based. The graphicst keeps the eyes nice and entertained while the player goes and defeats the hordes of the undead.
The player gets three different versions of every tune, and there are lots of tunes. The tunes themselves are nice, and most of the remakes are really good. However, with so many options, even the pickier players should be pleased.
I like how Simon controls in this game. Like in Super Castlevania IV, Simon has control-able jumps. Additionally, Simon has solid whip moves and the classic sub-weapon controls. He can't jump on stairs or off of them, though, and he's got less directions on his whipping ability and no brandish ability, so the controls, though nice, are a bit of a step back.
Fun Factor: 7.5
This game is hard. I'm talking really hard. Seriously challenging hard, although sometimes a little cheap even. The later stages are long, and (with the four-hit rule) the player should make sure he takes the utmost minimum amount of damage in each area, especially since the bosses are also huge and difficulat as well.
Oh, and if you beat the game you can keep on playing successively harder modes that starts you off on level one and ups the speed of enemies. If you can beat this game, even once, you're a pretty good platform player.