Top 100 Retro Games: Castlevania III
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Nintendo Entertainment System
I had no idea that the RPG influence on Castlevania II was controversial under years later when I began viewing fan websites on the internet. Castlevania III’s “return to form,” so to speak, modeled itself after the side scrolling platform aesthetic of the first Castlevania game. I felt, and still do, very comfortable whipping my way through levels of this game. The major shift, which to an extent was a prelude to the “Metrdoivania” game style of Symphony of the Night and the amazing Rondo of Blood, was the ability to choose which path you took through the game. Eventually, the paths merged, but a gamer could weave through different paths and maybe never even see some parts of the game. I did a replay of the game a few years ago and ran into a level I had never seen before.
I was so excited about this level of choice because it felt new, even though it really was not. Choose Your Own Adventure books had existed when I was a child and so had text adventure games like Adventure and Zork. A few years before, I had felt quite daring running around the top part of Legend of Zelda near Death Mountain with only a wooden sword and a lot of luck. It felt so unruly and like I was breaking some set of unwritten rules. I loved every moment of it. I have had the same experience with Breath of the Wild. Probably 75% of the 67 hours I have put into the game so far has been picking a section of the map and “going for a walk.”
Unruly is, despite clinging to the aesthetics of the original Castlevania, a good way to describe Castlevania III. Do you take the upward or downward path? Do you keep doing that or alternate? Do you get Grant again this time, or go the lower path to get Sypha?
Something else that Castlevania III inadvertently did was influence the direction of my academic career. When I got to college, I was introduced to hypertext fiction in a course. I had known about it as a teen, but was not super familiar with it until the class I took where we read classics like Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, a retetlling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Staurt Moulthrop’s Victory Garden, so heavily influenced by my favorite author Jorge Luis Borges, and others. When we began reading the first one, which I think was Patchwork Girl, the thought that popped into my head was “cool, this is just like Castlevania III!” Despite games becoming more and more non-linear, perhaps too much even today, Castlevania III was the game that stuck out in my mind. My fascination with the forking paths of Castlevania III led me to my academic research interests years later.
It is going to take a few minutes to set this up, so bear with me, okay? When I was in 5th grade, I had a premonition that things were about to take a turn for the worse. I was sitting on the floor in science class. We were watching movies all day at the end of the year because all our classes had wrapped up a week early. One of the “bad” kids in our grade, who even had a Bart Simpson haircut that was supposedly “banned” from our middle school, was goofing off, messing with a few other kids. I was minding my own business and suddenly he turned to me, this nasty grin on his face, and dumped a pile of pencil shards on my head.
Everyone around me, including the kids that I had spent the year hanging out with after meeting them in summer camp, totally turned heel on me and laughed along with them. I went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, and puked in a toilet from the anxiety flooding my body.
I just knew I was doomed.
That fall, after spending the summer hanging out, playing many NES games, even attending the Nintendo World Championship, I felt pretty good about myself because I made the final round of kids at my event, despite having never played Rad Racer before, and was even in a picture in Nintendo Power, school began. This is where the direction of my life changes forever. About a week into the school year, I forgot to go to the bathroom at the end of Resource Room like I normally did. My third period teacher, for science class, made it clear we could not go to the bathroom during class. I had never had a teacher who made such a statement, so I took it seriously and began a routine where I would go before class.
I forgot that day. I had to go bad during science class, and I wet myself after my teacher did not acknowledge my raised hand for a few minutes. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with my classmates.
A lot of bad stuff happened after that…a lot of stuff that I did not deal with well until I was an adult. I ended up so psychologically damaged by the bullying and shame that I began going to the bathroom two or three times a class because of my own paranoia. Most teachers rolled with this, a few did not. I ended up with a kidney infection, or something like that, and had to go to a urologist. This is where Castlevania III comes into the story.
My urologist was in the same strip mall that the Shop Rite we went to was. On a rainy early evening, I went to my appointment with my mother. On the way out, my mother suggested we go to the video store and rent a few games for the weekend. That sounded good to me, and we headed to the town next to ours. This video store often had games right when they came out, although back then it was difficult to pin a date to when games came out. Release dates were pretty fluid back then and if you see a date on say Wikipedia, it does not mean the game was everywhere like today.
When we got into the store, I immediately saw the game I wanted. Castlevania III! I had loved Castlevania II. It was one of the first video games I beat. I loved the RPG elements, before I even really knew what that was, and impressed my child study team case manager with the map I drew of different parts of the game. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the back of the car, I think we picked my brother up from CCD on the way home too, staring at the game, so excited to play a new adventure with the Belmonts, this time, with Trevor Belmont instead of Simon. Simon’s portrayal on Captain N The Game Master was so embarrassing that it was probably for the best to have a new protagonist. Trevor Belmont came with friends, who I was so excited to meet after reading about them in issue 18 of Nintendo Power, which had a huge guide for the game.
I got home and played Castlevania III for hours. I got Grant, and escaped the clock tower and its gigantic swinging hands. I went a bit further in the game, but didn’t have enough time to finish before having to return it. My password remained tacked up on my wall. I did not beat the game until that summer, when I rented it again after watching a friend, beat the game at their house. This was a new friend I had found after embracing fantasy novelists like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and that Tolkien guy, although I liked Eddings and Brooks more than Tolkien. I literally took notes. I remember his younger sister calling me a nerd. This friend will come up a lot later.
So, The plot of Castlevania III goes something like this: Dracula is back…again…but this is before Simon’s time and the Belmont going after him this time is Trevor. Trevor encounters three companions along the way: Sypha, a sorceress; Grant, a pirate; and Alucard, Dracula’s son. Trevor can have one of them with him at a time as he makes his way to Dracula, making directional choices along the way.
The July 1990 issue of Nintendo Power had a preview for the game, along with a poster that hung on my wall until we moved a few years later. It got wrecked when I tried to take it down! In the September 1990 issue, Maniac Mansion and Final Fantasy are featured, so Castlevania III gets a 20 page guide in the November 1990 issue. I remember studying this to map out which way I could go through the game.
Normally, this is where we would play an ad in newer episodes, but I cannot find any online for this game. But let’s listen to this weird promo video for Super Castlevania with footage and music from the unreleased Castlevania IV for the NES.
I love the cover for this game. Seeing Trevor whipping away while Grant climbs in the background and Spyha attacks is pretty accurate to the game and looks cool. I like the combination of Trevor’s gold armor with all the yellow, orange, and red in the background. I would love to have a poster of this cover.
My most recent replay of the game was on the Virtual Console on the 3DS. This was a quick, breezy, replay of the game. I found a lot of the bosses to be straightforward to beat as I burned through the game.
A few things I noticed this time around: This game has the same odd design as Castlevania II. There are steps that go nowhere and a general sense of chaos in the game world. That is neat. I have been replaying Super Mario Brothers for an upcomign episode, and it has the same sense of random block placement that takes away any sense of sterility from the game that many modern games have in their DNA.
Many of the early bosses in the game are fairly easy. I was breezily moving through the game until Block 4, where I ran into my first real trouble. The jumps in this level are JUST a little too long. It can be tricky moving from platform to platform, but I got through eventually. Castlevania III gently transitions from easier to harder levels in ways that make it less frustratings.
Except for those birds in the next level. They suck.
A few questions: Why is Medusa on a pirate ship? I do not remember that from Greek myth or those Greek romances with all the pirates from that one class I took in college.
It turns out Trevor’s name in the Japanese version of the game is Ralph. Okay.
In general, Castlevania III is a wonderful game that is worth replaying. I go back to it every so often and enjoy the game each time.