Let me preface this by saying that I didn't really grow up with the series, being a sega kid and all. I had Castlevania I for DOS, and liked it, but it was nowhere near my favorite game. Years later, after the series had already been changed into a metroid-vania, I picked up Bloodlines and played it, and thought it was pretty fun. Thats when I began noticing the hype surrounding two particular titles in the series: Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania IV. The more hardcore crowd seemed to claim Rondo of Blood was better, while virtually everyone else (read: those who didn't even know what a PC Engine was) claimed Super Castlevania IV was the best in the series.
About 10 years ago, I picked up Rondo of blood, after hearing for ages about how great it was. And goddamn did it blow me away. It took everything I liked about Castlevania I and Bloodlines and just amped it up to 11. One of the greatest games I've ever played.
But what of Castlevania IV? For one reason or another, I just never got around to picking it up. Over the years, as Rondo of Blood became less obscure, I'd see people who had played Castlevania IV before Rondo of Blood hold on to their claim that it was the best in the series, and that piqued my interest. This christmas, I finally got the game, and I can't express what a complete let down it is.
I'll stop short of saying it's outright a bad game - it's not. It's perfectly playable, and there is nothing technically wrong with it. At least it's not broken. But it is lifeless as hell. This looks, sounds, and feels absolutely nothing like castlevania. It feels more like a completely unrelated game which uses the castlevania theme. The graphics are ugly - I don't mean "oh man later SNES games are so much better" ugly, I mean "castlevania III had a much more appealing art style" ugly. In fact, in just about every aspect, the NES-only Castlevania III is a much better game. I repeatedly hear people praise the game for it's "8-direction" whip, but the game is such a cake walk anyways that it's useless. Speaking of difficulty, this game is the easiest castlevania I've ever played. I popped this game into my SNES, having never played it before in my life, and an hour and a half later, I had finished it, without ever getting a game over. On my first damn try. Admittedly the second half of the game, the part which appears to be a castlevania I remake, is a bit more difficult, but it never approaches the difficulty of Bloodlines, let alone Rondo or Castlevania III.
The most disappointing aspect has to be the music. Castlevania games have killer synth-driven soundtracks... this game sounds like bad midi impersonations of public domain "scary" music. It's all the most boring organ music I've ever heard - the main theme from Columns blows all this crap away. The signature theme remixes at the end are pretty alright, but perhaps I was spoiled by the wailing synth rock renditions that Rondo put out, because I'm of the opinion that those are light years better.
The level design is really, really poor. Again, ignoring how much better Rondo was with it's multiple paths through each level, this is the blandest level design in any castlevania game I've played. Enemies seem like they're just there, with no rhyme or reason. Platforms never present a challenge, and a large porition of the game feels like I'm just trudging slowly in 1 direction. Bloodlines had wicked stage layouts, Castlevania IV does not.
I can't believe people get down on their knees and blow this game, yet bitch up and down about Sonic 4's changes. For all the complaints people levy about that particular game, they apply just as much to this game - it makes no attempt to be like any of the other games in the series - aestheticly, audibly, or gameplay-wise. I can only conclude that the hype for this game is a combination of nintendo fanboyism, nostalgia, and group think. What a disappointment.