Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse
System: NES Publisher: Konami Developer: Konami
Genre: Action Type: Sidescrolling Platform Circa: 1990
After saying a prayer, Trevor begins his mission...You'll never see a more realistic rotting pirate ship on the NES

The last of the NES Castlevania games, Dracula's Curse is the biggest, and undoubtedly the best. Unlike Castlevania 2, which emphasized puzzle-solving and exploration, CV3 returns to the straight-forward action of the original Castlevania game. However, it takes that gameplay to a whole new level and beyond.
The graphics of Castlevania 3 are about as good as they can get on the NES. The level of detail in the settings and characters is just about unmatched. There's a huge variety of backdrops, ranging from haunted forests and towns, to a pirate ship and Dracula's multi-level castle. There is even one part where you travel through a church with stained-glass windows in the background, which just looks absolutely amazing! Other areas are equally as impressive, with excellent attention to every detail, such as moss on rocks, eerie swamp fog, ominous shadows, rotting wood, and spectacular lightning flashes. There is a lot of unique scenery, especially the backdrops during boss fights, like caskets, statues, crosses, etc. This is a definite step up from Castlevania 2 which often tiled the same backdrop over and over again. The graphics do still retain a bit of that "blockiness" that's common to the NES Castlevania games, but I've come to accept as part of Castlevania's style. The enemies and bosses look much better than they did in the previous Castlevania games, and that's saying something when you consider that they looked great in those games, too. The animation is one thing that is much improved, as many of characters now have more than just one or two frames. A good example is the fishmen: Compare how they look when they leap out of the water in CV1&2 to how they look in CV3. In CV3 they actually look as though they are leaping, and not just being shot up straight. Minor details can really add to the atmosphere, such as one level where you cross a bridge and there's a shimmering sunset in the background. Overall, the graphics are really nice, and they just don't get any better than this.
Giant owls in the forest!...Those nasty skull pillars are back
SOUND: 8.5/10
The music is CV3 is not quite as high-quality as that of Castlevania 2, but there is a lot more of it. There's no one real stand-out piece of music like CV2's "Bloody Tears", though. But even so, the music still greatly adds to the atmosphere, as it is fast-paced and exciting in some areas, or slow and moody in others. The music changes for each level, too, so it doesn't get repetitious. Many of the sound effects were taken from previous Castlevania games, but some are new, such as the groans of the boss monsters when they're defeated, and Dracula's evil laugh on the password screen.
The play control for Trevor Belmont is exactly the same as Simon's control for the previous two Castlevania games. I never really had much of a problem with the play control of the Castlevania games, although I've heard that some gamers do. But in CV3, you now have spirit helpers that you didn't have before. Trevor, Syfa, and Alucard pretty much all have the same control, but Grant is different. Grant jumps much higher and farther than the others, and you can control him in mid-air, which is something you've never been able to do in a Castlevania game, before. Grant makes a lot of areas in the game much easier if you use him, because he can often take shortcuts, or reach high enemies easily. This does not mean the game is unplayable without Grant, though. The controls for all characters are very precise, and it might just take a minor amount of practice to get used to how they jump. Castlevania's control still is, and always has been, best suited for its style of gameplay.
Your first encounter with a cyclops boss...If you see a casket, you can be sure that something big and evil is gonna pop out of it
STORY: 8/10
The story of Castlevania 3 takes place several hundred years before Castlevania 1 & 2. You play as Simon Belmont's ancestor, Trevor. Along the way, Trevor will meet up with other vampire hunting spirits, who will join his quest if he wants them to. This game also marks the first appearance of Alucard in the series, who is one of the spirit helpers. Like Castlevania 2, this game has multiple endings, but this time it depends on what spirit helper you beat the game with, rather than how long it takes you. Although the basic storyline of Vampire Hunter vs. Dracula is similar to most other Castlevania games, never before has it been portrayed with such great atmosphere as this game. Castlevania 3 also earns some brownie points with me for having an opening sequence with a film-reel that explains the game's backstory, and some of the dialogue is kind of cheesy, such as, "Dracula wanted to create a bad world filled with evil."
Of all the Castlevania games, this one definitely has the best balance when it comes to challenge. First of all, you can take several different paths through the game, and each path varies in difficulty. The shortest route is also relatively the easiest, but it's still a challenge. The longest route is the most challenging and can be very difficult for many players to get through. The level design for almost all of the routes is very good, and there are lots of challenging enemies and obstacles. Some of the bosses are hard, too, but for the first half of the game, if you have a somewhat full health meter, you can probably beat most of them with little evasive maneuvering. The bosses get tougher towards the end, though. Using the spirit helpers can make the game somewhat easier. Grant's ability to leap farther and climb walls can make a lot of areas much easier, and so can Alucard's ability to turn into a bat. Some tough obstacles you'll come across include a sunken temple that fills up with water, a clock tower full of dangerous jumps, collapsing bridges, areas with automatic scrolling that force you to move quickly, swinging pendulums that you have to jump across, and an area where blocks fall from the sky and you have to wait until they pile high enough for you to move on. There are lots of other areas, too, like forests, swamps, castles, dungeons, etc., that are reminiscent of the earlier Castlevania games. Another great thing about this game is that it has an incredible amount of replay value! Once you beat the game, there is a second quest that is harder. You can also take different routes through the game, as mentioned before, or take different spirit helpers. You could even choose not to use a spirit helper at all. Castlevania 3 also has passwords to save your progress.
FUN: 10/10
When I first played Castlevania 3, I didn't really know what to expect. I admit that I don't like Castlevania 1 that much, and I'm probably one of the few NES fans that feels that way about it. I enjoyed Castlevania 2 a great deal, but I knew that CV3 was going back to the CV1 style of gameplay. If you're not familiar with that style, I can describe it as an action sidescroller in which you walk, jump, and whip your way through various levels and boss fights. Castlevania 3's gameplay captivated me from the very start, and held me enrapt to the very end. Many elements, such as the spirit helpers and multiple paths, give the game more depth than previous CV games. But the true greatness of CV3 lies in how the stages kept forcing me to come up with new strategies. Levels with flowing water, disappearing blocks, and automatic scrolling cannot be conquered in the same way that the simple walk-through stages can. Some levels emphasize speed, such as the Sunken Temple, while others emphasize patience, like the area where you have to walk up multiple flights of stairs while avoiding enemies. When I finally reached the final boss for the first time, it took me numerous attempts to conquer him. When I finally came close to doing it, my hands were trembling so badly, I could not hold the controller. I had to pause the game, and wait until I was calm enough to hold the controller, again. No game before Castlevania 3 had given me a thrill quite like that! And even after I had finished it, there was still a lot more to do! There are so many levels and so many ways to play CV3, that I never get bored with it.
Don't these guys look a little like that dragon boss from Zelda 2?...Medusa's gaze can turn you to stone, of course

Castlevania 3 is a challenging, fun, and long-lasting game that has tons of replay value. It has great graphics and sound, and is the best of the NES Castlevania games. I highly recommend it, as it belongs in every NES gamer's library!
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 10/10



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