Total time played: 30 Hours
Short review: Easily the hardest game I have beaten on the NES. Everything that made the first game great has been refined to make this game even better. The music rivals Mega Man 2 for the best on the system and the game showcases many innovative gameplay features that push the NES to its technical limits.
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The music, the graphics, the controls, and the innovative gameplay are all unmatched by any other game on the NES. Castlevania III took everything that made Castlevania great and improved it. Each level features its own unique gimmick; some levels auto scroll up, some auto scroll down, some to the right of left. Some levels require you to learn a pattern as bricks slowly fill a room so you can reach the door at the top of the screen or jump on clock gears as they rotate. In the early stages of the game you pick up a 2nd playable character that can help you along your journey. There are 3 different characters you can pick up depending on which of the stages you choose to play. I ended up with Alucard who possesses the ability to turn into a bat which came in handy more than a few times.
Along with all the innovation the game designers also amped up the difficulty making the game near impossible to beat. This game is without a doubt the hardest game on any system I have ever beaten. I died more times playing Castlevania III than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. The game features unlimited continues but that doesn’t make it any easier.
When I started out I wanted to play through the game with no help, no internet, no walkthroughs, no youtube videos, nothing. I was able to fight my way through the first 5 stages of the game but then got stuck on stage 6 for a couple of hours over a few nights of playing. I finally broke down and watched some speed run videos on YouTube and read through a walkthrough and learned that there are a few different paths to take and I had chosen the hardest. But, after stage 6 the game is pretty much the same no matter which route you took. I decided to stick it out instead of starting the game over. After I finally beat the super long stage 6 and the bone dragon boss I figured the worst was behind me; I was wrong.
Stage 7 was ruthless and after a few days of struggling and hundreds of continues later I made it to the final boss, two mummies. I died, as per usual the first time I play pretty much any boss. I struggled back through and after dozens of attempts beat the mummies only to discover you then fight a cyclops (it looks like a hunchback holding a hammer to me but the internet says it is a cyclops so what do I know? I died. Dozens of attempts later I beat the two mummies and the cyclops only to discover I then have to fight a huge demon thing. After a week or more I finally am able to beat stage 7. I figure the worst has to be behind me now; wrong again.
Stage 8 wasn’t so bad or I got lucky but stage 9 was insane. This stage features the hardest room in the entire game. Demons attack from the right and left flying towards you in a parabola pattern as you ascend a staircase that has a bone dragon shooting fireballs at the top of each set of stairs. I finally discovered that Alucard could fly through about 90% of this room but the last 10% caused me to die at 100 times. A week of tries later I finally get to the boss which is a mirror fight where you fight yourself. I tried a few times unsuccessfully and ended up relying on a cheap tactic where I would switch back and forth between Trevor and Alucard causing the mirror fighter to do the same. Each time the mirror would change I could get in a couple of hits. It was tedious but allowed me to beat the level.
Stage 10, the final battle. The stage itself wasn’t too horrible compared to some of the others and it wasn’t super long either. When I finally got to Dracula I died, of course, only to discover I had to start pretty close to the beginning of the stage. After a few tries of this I decided to cheat a bit and used my Retron 5 to create a save state right in front of Dracula’s lair so when I died I would just reload the fight. It is cheating but all it did was save me time from having to replay the stage over 200 times. Dracula is another 3 phase fight similar to the stage 7 boss. Finally after hundreds of attempts and probably over 1,000 deaths throughout the game I can finally say I beat Castlevania III: Dracula’s curse and for some reason celebrating by putting the controller in my mouth (see below).
I have nothing bad to say about the game. There were no cheap deaths, just unrelenting and unforgiving programming. The only thing keeping it from being my absolute favorite game on the system is the insane difficulty.