With the Halloween season fading into recent memory I cannot let the holiday pass completely without recounting my first exposure to my favorite of all "horror" games, Castlevania. While your Resident Evil and Silent Hill may give more outright fright for the dollar, Castlevania has always relied more on theme and environment to give chills rather than an angry zombie eager to eat your brain. While the series has evolved into a Metroid-type adventure in recent years, my first Castlevania was, fittingly enough, the original Castlevania, but the encounter didn't take place on the trusty Nintendo Entertainment System.
As a child growing up in the tiny town of Titusville, Florida circa 1987, the entertainment options were small. We had a dinky two-theater movie cinema, one dead shopping mall, one nearly dead shopping mall, and (for a brief while) mini-golf. Every now and then my parents and I would go out for dinner to the dead mall (home to a drab Sears and the aforementioned dinky cinema) and walk past all of the closed out and empty stores to a little local Italian place, Valentino's. While most of the place was filled with tables and a bar, the back of the place was home to two arcade games, one of which was Castlevania. I was well versed in platformer games by this time, so while waiting for the food to arrive I was allowed over to the games to drop in a few quarters courtesy of Mom and Dad.
I learned quickly that Castlevania was no Super Mario game. Jumping on the skeletons and zombies didn't work. By the time I reached the end of the first level I was fully taken in by the castle's torn red curtains and memorable music. Everything about the experience just felt "right" somehow, and each time we'd go to Valentino's I'd set up shop at the Castlevania machine for a while before the pizza reached our table. Time was always a factor while playing, because as soon as dinner had arrived it was time to walk away and eat. In the year or so I spent playing the game before meals I'd only ever managed to reach the third level of the castle. That's the point where the difficulty began to increase and, inevitably, dinner would be ready.
Eventually I learned that Castlevania was available for the NES. At the time I was borrowing the NES on loan to my father from Nintendo, and since actually buying games didn't make much sense at the time (since the NES would one day have to be returned), I rented them instead. Once I found Castlevania at the local Movie Gallery I rented it as often as I could. It was during the rental sprees that I finally reached the mummy bosses of the third level.
After the NES was returned I saved up my allowance and gift money to purchase my own console. For whatever reason, by the time I could afford my own copy of Castlevania in 1988 the game was nowhere to be found. Leave it to my parents, however - they found a copy late in October and slipped it in with the other goodies I'd gathered on Halloween. Now that I had my very own copy of Castlevania I knew I could surely work my way to Dracula! Unfortunately the bosses of the fourth level, Frankenstein's Monster and Igor, put a stop to that plan, and it was actually ten years later that I finally defeated the ghoulish pair and moved on to the next level. I started my Castlevania training at the age of seven and didn't actually finish the game until I was seventeen. How's that for gaming longevity?
I moved on to the sequels, of course. Most of them are great in their own special way, but I always find myself returning to the original Castlevania. Maybe it's the relative simplicity of the game that keeps me coming back, or maybe it's the familiar music, or maybe it's the fact that after all these years I know each and every passageway, monster, and power-up in the game. For a game about the undead Castlevania definitely has a lot of life in it.