Castlevania on the N64

2D or Not 2D?

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Previously in our season Castlevania content we’ve looked at the popular DS games, the less popular 3DS game, and even a newly announced collection for the PS4. What have all these entries had in common? They all focus on the 2D entries in the series. The best loved Castlevania games are undoubtedly the 2D ones. This week we’re going to be dipping our toes in the murky waters of 3D Castlevania games with the two games released on the Nintendo 64.

Castlevania is not the most imaginatively titled entry in the series and the game is better known as Castlevania ’64 (to distinguish it from the first game in the series). It was certainly ambitious for the first 3D entry in the series, attempting to preserve both the action-adventure and the platforming aspects that had worked so well in two dimensions. This is partly the main issues with these games. Not only have early 3D graphics aged far worse than their 2D equivalents, but combined with some challenging platforming makes this harder to enjoy. The game features an irritating timing mechanic: take too long to complete it and you automatically get the ‘bad’ ending. While the Castlevania formula does shine through every so often it does not feel like they were able to capture the spirit of the earlier games. There’s not even a Belmont to carry on the crusade; instead we have “Reinhardt Schneider” as the hereditary whip-wielder and Carrie Fernandez as a magic user.

Where the 3D level design, occasionally frustrating controls, and even the N64 era graphics do perform is in Gothic atmosphere. The difficulty of the game combined with some good level and audio design make this much more atmospheric than some of the better games in the franchise. There seems to be some inspiration drawn from survival horror games – environments frequently feel claustrophobic, sometimes you’re physically trapped when fighting certain enemies. It can be stressful, and makes for a very different Castlevania experience, but it is nice to know that the 3D entries do have something unique to offer.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness acts as a prequel to the other N64 outing, but in reality functions as an upgraded version. The game reuses a lot of the same elements but tells the tale of a new protagonist, Cornell, who sets out to save his sister and prevent Dracula’s resurrection. The big distinction here, and what should have been the chief selling point, is that Cornell is a were-wolf (as seen in the box art above). Unsurprisingly, with little else to offer players that the first N64 entry Legacy of Darkness did not fare much better critically. If you’re looking to pick up one of these now this version is probably the better of the two, but can be pretty expensive on the second hand market.

Ultimately the issues the the two Castlevania games with the N64 are shared with a lot of the early 3D games, and particularly platformers – they take a lot of getting used to and they have not aged well. The huge critical gulf between the 3D Castlevania on the N64 and the 2D one on the Playstation (Symphony of the Night) says a lot about how well the series works in 3D, particularly in a time where 3D was all the rage. If you’re up for a challenge and can look last the graphics, though, both of these titles do have something to offers fans of the series.

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Matt Crofts
Matt is the SFFN's Retro Editor, focusing on all things old but interesting, including (but not limited to!) books, movies and video games. As a researcher in Gothic literature Matt also has an affinity for black cats, Hammer horror, and all things Dracula.